Amy Slinker understands the sacrifices attached to military service, but her entrepreneurial spirit didn’t think fashion sense had to be one of them.
The longtime serving citizen-soldier launched an entrepreneurial venture in 2014 to give her fellow service members accessories with military regulations in mind. WILCO LIFE’s namesake combines the military jargon of “will comply” with inspiration from the unique military lifestyle. Now Slinker is setting her sights on growing her brand to include a larger national customer base.
Her military connection
Slinker, originally from the Midwest, moved to Alaska in 2005 when her husband Dustin received orders there with the Army. Today, Slinker is attached to the Alaska National Guard, but has traveled much of the world in her two-decades-long career.
“I spent most of my Guard career in public affairs and have had the opportunity to travel to South Korea, Romania, Mongolia, and Australia for missions with the Guard. I also responded to Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster,” she shared.
Like many military spouses, Slinker faced the daunting task of finding employment when the couple first relocated to Alaska. She started temp work that eventually led her to a present-day job with Pfeffer Development, a multidisciplinary commercial real estate development firm.
“My career before moving to Alaska was in photojournalism. When we PCSed to Alaska, I struggled to find a job. I understand firsthand how difficult it can be as a military spouse to maintain a career while following a military service member’s career,” she said. “I realized I needed to look for other opportunities outside of photojournalism. I started temping at Anchorage business offices to network and broaden my search for job opportunities where I could apply my marketing and public relations skills. That’s how I started at Pfeffer Development—I was a temp for the receptionist and eventually was hired as the Director of Marketing.”
Slinker says several things helped her turn her company WILCO LIFE into a reality, including mentorship from her firm and local resources from her business community.
“It’s an exciting time to live in Alaska—there is a strong sense of entrepreneurship here,” she explained. “It’s a feeling that anything is possible if you work hard and use the resources available. Last fall we joined The Boardroom, an entrepreneurial hub and co-working space in downtown Anchorage, and opened our new showroom here. There are several entrepreneur programs, resources, and events based out of The Boardroom, so our team is continuously surrounded by this exciting entrepreneurial activity that we’re able to participate in and learn from.”
Products that “will comply”
WILCO LIFE is an online boutique offering minimalist-style bags and accessories that meet military regulations. The company also carries products from veteran-owned companies that can be worn “off duty.” In order to find new products, Slinker analyzes industry trends and curates items with her customers in mind.
“It’s very important to me that at the core of what we do, we offer a range of products that meet the needs of all service members. We do our best to balance higher-end items with more affordable options. For example, we offer vegan leather as an alternative to our leather products,” she said.
Slinker is committed to putting veterans at the heart of what she does, so she looks for brands that are owned by veterans, employ veterans, upcycle military materials, and donate funds to military organizations.
“Two of our favorite brands are Sword & Plough and Stella Valle, companies owned by former military members and their families,” she added.
She plans to retire from the Guard next year and use the extra time to continue growing her business. Among her aspirations is pursuing collaborations with makers in Alaska.
And even though it is hard for her to pick one favorite item from her virtual shelves, Slinker did recommend readers check out the Mighty Purse—the purse that charges your phone on the go!
Check out Amy Slinker’s tips for anyone considering entrepreneurship:
- Gain first-hand knowledge and real-world experience before launching your business. The foundation I gained from my experience at Pfeffer Development has been extremely important in my entrepreneurial efforts.
- Write a business plan and continuously update it. Putting your thoughts on paper and devoting energy to planning the financial aspects of your business will help test the feasibility of your idea. When I wrote my business plan, I started developing new ideas and strategies I had not thought of previously. I refer to it and update it periodically to make sure I’m staying on track while also shifting with the marketplace.
- Use resources. There is a long list of people who have helped me make WILCO LIFE successful—I am thankful for all the time, energy, advice, and support that family, friends, colleagues, and other local entrepreneurs have given me.
- Go for it! Don’t be afraid to seek advice on how to start. Take tiny steps first to gain momentum. I was stuck on the WILCO LIFE idea for years, and starting the blog first was a great way to finally move forward.