Andrea Praet’s inspirational career path began when she pursued her childhood dream of living in Manhattan. After over a decade in trend forecasting, a meditation retreat to India led her to leave fashion and start The Uplift Project. Through The Uplift Project, Andrea curates positive and transformative programs and retreats featuring world leaders in the world of wellness. I’ve known Andrea since high school, and so I especially enjoy sharing her New York City story: what she loves and finds challenging in her work, what her life and wellness routine look like as an entrepreneur, and what NYC places and events she recommends for those of us who also want to feel happy, healthy, and inspired.
Joe: What was the path that led you into fashion?
From the age of 5, I always knew that I wanted to live in New York. When it was time for college I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study but NYC was a sure thing. I also knew that I liked clothing and loved to shop, so I figured fashion was a good fit. Our high school had a college fair and LIM, my alma mater, was there. I loved that the school focused on the business of fashion because I didn’t necessarily want to be a designer. I also loved that it was really small and located on 53rd and 5th. It was at LIM during a field trip to Promostyl, one of the original Parisienne trend houses, that I learned about trend forecasting. Little did I know then that I’d spend over ten years as a trend consultant before switching to wellness event production.
Joe: Two years ago I did a Q&A with our high school classmate, Jeanine Pesce, who credits you with getting her into fashion.
Yes! Once I started working in forecasting full time, I asked my best friend Jeanine, who was originally a designer, to join me. I said, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we ran the North American business together?” So we did! It was really fun and kind of wild. We sold trend books and consulted with brands, presenting trends around the country together. It’s a small industry and we both gained a reputation for being professional, knowledgeable, and friendly. The bigger companies pursued us and we both ended up at Stylesight, which is now WGSN. I still consult with Jeanine’s company, Range, when there are projects for which she needs me. I specialize in wellness now because it’s something that was a personal interest to me and then it became my professional focus as well.
Joe: Your interest in wellness led you into founding The Uplift Project. Please tell us about how it came to be and what the project is about.
Andrea: About 5 years ago there was a merger with two of the biggest trend companies and I was laid off as part of it. It was a blessing because I had been feeling uninspired and like I was going through the motions. It was around that time I had started meditating and went on a retreat to India with my meditation teacher, Thom Knoles. That’s when I really clicked with my Uplift Project business partner, Katia Tallarico. We came back from that retreat and said, “Why isn’t there anything like this available in New York? We should create an urban retreat!” And that’s how The Uplift Project was born. Katia and I felt like there should be some kind of accessibility to people who were awakening and interested in meditation and other self-care practices, so our first event was the Urban Retreat in 2015. That weekend we featured meditation, holistic beauty, nutrition with Amy Chaplin and The Class by Taryn Toomey. Since then we’ve had fifteen events that feature all kinds of healing modalities from sound meditation to breath work, and each one includes an element of meditation.
Joe: Through The Uplift Project you produce The Shine, how did you get involved with that?
Andrea: Katia and I were producing the Urban Retreat when she introduced me to Light Watkins, the founder of The Shine. It was wild because I had just finished working on a forecast for Reebok with Range and we included Light’s first book in the report. He approached Katia saying, “I want to bring The Shine to NYC. Do you want to produce it?” so, we started producing it through The Uplift Project.
Joe: It’s been a huge success, please tell us about it.
Andrea: I always describe The Shine as a mindful variety show. It’s a fun evening that’s alcohol-free, where a great meal is served, there is a performance by local musicians, guided meditation, an inspirational TED-talk like storytelling session, and a philanthropic piece called The Shine On Challenge. This is the heart of the event where an audience member wins $400 of the ticket sales and gets to pay it forward, helping their community in any way they feel inspired to (Check out this video of one of the excellent Shine on Challenge projects). The event’s byline is, “Do more, give more, and be more.” People leave feeling inspired; I’ve received feedback along the lines of, “Wow, that was an evening well spent.” I also love that the audience is comprised of diverse, talented, and interesting people, and the event is focused around more meaningful socialization that doesn’t include alcohol. That seems to be a pretty big trend now, which I feel is partly because of a younger generation coming in with a lot of motivation to do big things and people are beginning to realize that alcohol doesn’t really help with that. I also think The Shine’s success is partly because people are feeling like, “I want to be more engaged. I want to have more meaningful interactions.”
Joe: When is the next Shine Event?
Andrea: The next New York event is February 21st at WeWork in Bryant Park and I’d love your readers to come. (Tickets can be purchased here.) We have an incredible lineup in the works and Light Watkins will be leading the meditation and discussing his most recent book, Bliss More.
Joe: Thank you. What does a typical day look like for you as an entrepreneur?
Andrea: Well, everyday is different, however, there are consistent elements of my day like meditation. After waking up I meditate and always eat breakfast because it’s really important. I also like to get an AM workout in, like yoga or Soul Cycle or a Jillian Michaels DVD if I’m pressed for time. Then, I go into my day either working from home or at a co-working space like Soho House or Neuehouse. I work on producing the events we have coming up and there are always a few layers in terms of what’s currently going on and what we’re planning for the future. Meeting with potential performers and practitioners for future events is key to see if there’s a vibe and fit timing-wise. A lot of what I do relies on personal interaction and relationship building. Other days I might be scouting venues to see if they’re a good fit. In the afternoon I get my second meditation in and then my evening is usually spent having dinner with my husband. We shut off the screens at 10:00 and get into bed, and I read until around 11:00.
Joe: What do you like most about what you do and what is most challenging?
Andrea: I spent so many years doing sales and cold calling when I was working in trend forecasting and it always felt like I was asking people for money. Even though I was offering them a product, it always felt a little bit desperate having to make my numbers every month. I don’t feel that way about what I do now. There’s still an element of cold calling, putting it out there and taking a risk, but it’s more like, “Hey, do you want to collaborate on this awesome movement?” The best part about what I get to do is dreaming big about who would be a good fit and reaching out and seeing if they’ll go for it. When they do, it’s thrilling! One of the best examples of this was when I reached out to the comedian Aparna Nancherla after hearing her on the podcast “2 Dope Queens” and she said yes. She was awesome! Another thing I love, when it comes to The Uplift Project, is the creative element; I’m responsible for the branding and creative direction. I work with a mutual high school friend who is a full-time Art Director, Victoria Masters. She and I collaborate on everything from color to layout for all the collateral. While I don’t have a typical 9-5 job, I feel more fulfilled by living a more meaningful existence.
I’d say the most challenging thing is finding ways to consistently be relevant and create something that’s desirable and meaningful to our communities. That requires being aware of what the demands of our time are and finding ways to meet those needs. It’s about hitting the sweet spot. I want people to say, “I can’t wait to go to that event” and tell all their friends about it. I’m always looking at every event objectively, afterwards asking, “How did this go?” “What can we do differently?” I also tap into my trend training and thought process to see how future trends can impact each event. That’s the challenge: really making sure things are relevant and interesting and attractive to people so that they’re in demand.
Joe: Which other events and spaces would you recommend for people looking to connect with others in a more mindful way?
Andrea: Mindful events I enjoy include:
Daybreaker: a weekday early morning dance party
Club Soda: the website describes it as an event series for the “sober curious”
I also like smaller, more community-based events that take place at stores, for example, in Fort Greene there’s a store Jill Lindsey. She does a fantastic job of curating experiences and community within that space. She’s also opening a space in TriBeCa in the coming month or so. She has an entire area devoted to wellness. Her schedule is just going to blow up. To me, there’s both self-care and connection to community there.
Wellness Spaces I enjoy include:
MNDFL: A meditation studio
Maha Rose: Center for healing that includes acupuncture, reiki, sound healing, hypnosis
Kula Yoga: Yoga studios
Ra Ma Institute: Kundalini yoga
Rhemedy by Rhed: Massage therapy
Joe: What elements are included in your personal wellness routine?
Andrea: Meditation, sleep, some form of exercise. I love Kundalini which is a powerful yogic practice combining the mind, body, and breath. I’m a big advocate of self-care. If you’re not caring for yourself and getting enough rest, how can you care for others or give more of yourself when needed? Taking care of my skin is also a part of my routine; I really love beauty products, especially all natural and organic brands that you can find at CAP Beauty or Credo. I had a facial recently at Tulura that was incredible. Acupuncture, massage and floating are also other ways I rest and replenish my energy.
Joe: How has meditation impacted your life and career?
Andrea: In so many ways. I feel like meditation really set me on a different path in life. Things just started unfolding. I do believe I was more tapped into the flow of things once I started. It’s not only the physiological benefits, the stress relief benefits, but the larger picture. I just realized, I’m meeting this person and that person and this opportunity is coming up and I’m excited about it and this is amazing. I feel like that really happened because I began to have a meditation practice. It has brought some interesting people into the fold where we can do things like meditate together or be really productive or just enjoy one another’s company. I also find that the voice in my head – the chatter, the frustration, or the naysayer – the volume on that has gotten turned down significantly since I’ve had a practice. I notice even with working out. In doing a SoulCycle class, for example, there are moments when you have to push through and your mind says , “Ah, this is tough. I hate it. Bah!” And that voice can be so loud in my mind. But after meditating I started to notice that the voice wasn’t there because I had meditated before class or I was meditating after.
Joe: What are three of the main lessons you have learned as an entrepreneur?
First I’ve learned that for me, personally, money is not my main motivator. Being creative, collaborative, and productive are my drivers. Secondly, I have had more practice with being adaptable and flexible than ever before. To hone that skill is a huge plus for this lifestyle. For example, a few Shines ago, our musical performer cancelled due to illness three hours before the event. My focus and determination kicked in, forgoing any emotional despair or need to vent, and I said to myself, “I will find somebody within the hour,” and sure enough I did! Lastly, I’m finding more confidence in myself. I trust myself. I know I’m not going to drop the ball. I’ve developed a sense of, “I got this. I’m going to deliver.” The meditation just helps in all these things – I’m not going to freak out and be dramatic because that’s not going to help.
Joe: What are the last three books you read?
The Name of The Wind by Patrick Rothfuss; Please Kill Me, The Uncensored Oral History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain; and Bliss More by Light Watkins (highly recommended)
Joe: How long have you lived in NYC and what are your favorite NYC places?
Andrea: I’ve lived in NYC since 1999 and I’ll categorize my favorite places by type of location:
Grocer: The Garden in Greenpoint
and I just love Nitehawk Cinema
Joe: What are your favorite NYC buildings?
Joe: Where would you like to see yourself in 10 years?
Andrea: I’d love to see The Shine get bigger and have the financial support in order to reach more people on a global scale. The important thing is that we’re reaching people who will feel inspired to take action to help those around them. I want to take these projects to the next level. Getting them out of the New York/LA wellness bubble would be amazing. I’d love to bring them to places where people really need and want to feel uplifted and inspired. That’s the dream.
Joe: Thank you so much for taking the time to share your inspirational story with us.
Andrea: Thank you! It’s been great to catch up.
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