First and foremost, what we are interested in and what we care about here at Stand Up Speak Up is real people. We believe that everyone should have the confidence to show off what makes them awesome and unique and with that will come the strength that we all need to get through our more difficult days and to reach our furthest goals.
In our Inside the Mind series, we want to feature some people who inspire us to do more, dream bigger and think outside the box. And who better to start this series with than our very own founder and CEO, Karla Stephens-Tolstoy.
Brief Bio: Karla has been an innovator, motivator and visionary for decades, reaching success in Europe as a CEO in the world of telecommunications. But, where her real gift lies is in helping people to reach their own potential and become better versions of themselves. She has mentored dozens of young entrepreneurs, with many matching her own success and becoming CEOs and founders of their own companies. Upon coming home to Canada, she changed her focus to self-improvement and started Tokii, a lifestyle company that includes the iOS app Personality Profile Quizzes and the online store Stand Up Speak Up Apparel.
What Type of Teen Were You?
I slacked off a lot at school, beat to my own drum, was in detention a lot, talk backed a lot, felt misunderstood, and loved wearing queen street style clothing even though everyone wore Polo and Keds.. There are 4 kids in family – I was 3rd child. Good upbringing- my parents were really supportive and “cool” we were the party central house.
What Are You Most Known For?
Being fearless, curiosity and thinking outside the box. In business, now it’s coaching. They call it “Karla Bootcamp” and it prepares you to become well rounded – I have personally coached at least 20 people who have become CEO’s- maybe more. I am amazing at selecting talent and grooming it.. Always been easy for me to identify talent. As I push people to get out of their comfort zone and do new things they did not think they could figure out.
What Is It About Stand Up Speak Up Apparel that Most Appeals to You?
I love to feel uncomfortable and think we only grow through discomfort and I think that there is a lot of that in these designs. They are about pushing boundaries and shining a light on your own style and the things that are important to you, even if society tells you that you should hide. – I believe people need to have tools for hard conversations and that people need to take a more active role in understanding the issues we face as citizens of the world. Our clothes are like billboards advertising who we are and I think people should take control of that and take command of the message they are giving out.
What Demons Are You Fighting?
The Fear of failure – The fear of living a purposeless life- fear that I will make no difference in the world. It’s hard when you’re working in a virtual world to know whether or not you’re reaching people with the products that we are putting out there. So, I often fear that we won’t be noticed. But, then I hear about just one person loving a quiz or identifying with one of our designs and I just want to hug them. I think that feeling of wanting to do more is always going to be there but with this company, I try to stay focused on the potential and those little victories all the time.
There is a huge focus on mental health and inner demons at Stand Up Speak Up. Why am you drawn to those themes?
What people’s demons are is what I find more interesting.. I have had struggles with anxiety and depression in my life and I think those things make me as much who I am as my ambition or my creativity, maybe even more so. I love to ask people. So what is your demon? How do you cope? I think that we spend too much time and energy trying to present this perfect version of ourselves and it is just bullshit and fake. I am much more interested in getting to know the real true side of people. And I think that it can be really liberating and improve people’s lives when they are willing to show their scars and darkness as well as their happiest or “best” sides.
What are your worst traits?
Obsessive – Too Focused at the expense of other things
Always searching for something new and trying to make change is always an uphill battle. I want to pioneer and that can mean a lot of difficult days of always pushing and readjusting when things don’t go right (which is often!)
Relationships are secondary –– I am lucky that all my high school friends force me out- they know me so well they do not take no for an answer and they accept my eccentric style – and they know work always comes first and family
I hate small talk so I just leave a place if the topics are superficial – but everyone knows that about me- I am lucky they put up with me
Authentic – too much so- am always honest – too honest and direct
You suffer from anxiety and depression. How would you describe those to someone who has never experienced them?
Dark- hopeless- failure. It’s something that can really sneak up on you and put a dark cloud over everything and it seems impossible to get out of that cycle of bad feelings. It is also a creativity killer as I think there is a lot of hope and optimism that needs to go into creating something new and making it successful without giving up along the way.
What gets me up in the morning?
Feeling like somehow I am making the world a more understanding and compassionate and curious place. The loves of my life – my husband, Al and my son, Zach. They both ground me. And my dogs.
Work- walk the dogs with Al- watch film or shows – volunteer –chat with Zach before bed about life and his day- kiss the dogs a million times- do some house stuff start over..
I do not cook- Al and Zach eat frozen dinners almost every night and I have salad or cereal or a peanut butter sandwich – Our fridge is always empty but our Freezer is full.