Women Branching Out: Gretchen Cawthon

gretchencawthon Excited to have Gretchen Cawthon on the blog today.

Gretchen’s company, Girls Can’t WHAT?, develops products (apparel, cups, key chains, hats, magnets, etc) to inspire girls of all ages to follow their dreams.

Gretchen learned to draw, use Photoshop and Illustrator, and much more to bring her company vision to life.
But, as you’ll see, she’s no stranger to learning new things and accepting challenges.

Here’s Gretchen …

Tell us about Girls Can’t WHAT? What does your company do? What is your role in the company?

Girls Can’t WHAT? was created in 2005 after a business partner told me women can’t do web design. Shortly after leaving that job, I decided I would build my own business, starting with a web site, of course. I checked out books from the library, watched videos and asked for help in forums until I felt comfortable with my skills. A couple of months later I built the entire site myself. I also followed that same format to teach myself how to draw the designs I use on my site. Knowledge is power.

The purpose of the Girls Can’t WHAT? company is to inspire girls to take on their dreams no matter what the rest of the world thinks they can or can’t do. The Girls Can’t WHAT? designs reflect an empowering message that “yes, girls can!”. We also use 20% of every purchase to help other women entrepreneurs reach their dreams. It’s a great feeling to be able to help others help themselves.

girlscantwhatwebsiteMy role is quite diversified at the moment. I am the CEO, the secretary, the artist, the janitor and much more. I’ve been a one-woman show up until this year when I hired a friend to help me with product development so I could keep up with demand. Ultimately I would like to be at the place where all I do is work on Girls Can’t WHAT? design creation and delegate the rest. I have a plan mapped out to reach that goal and it’s a process I’m actively working towards. Currently, my time is very limited and I also use my web development skills to help others build their sites. It’s sort of  an off-shoot business that developed after building the Girls Can’t WHAT? site. My time is usually divided between the 2 businesses. I guess girls can be web developers after all.

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What experiences influenced the creation of Girls Can’t WHAT?

Clearly, my former business partner’s comment was the kick-starter, but it shouldn’t have surprised me, based on my childhood experiences. I grew up in a neighborhood of mostly boys. We played football, shot BB guns, and rode dirt bikes on a daily basis. I’ve never been a “girly girl” and if given the choice between things like baking or shopping versus playing sports or fixing stuff, I’d be outside with my ball bat and glove in a heartbeat. I was always trying to work my way into what might have been considered “boys clubs” because that’s what interested me. Girls sports weren’t nearly as popular or accessible when I was younger, so I joined Little League and made the boys basketball team so I could do the things I wanted to do.

Since my interests were so “uncommon” for a girl, I’ve lived through my fair share of firsts or being the only girl on a team. I was always the only girl on the Little League team. I was one of two girls to make the previously all-boys basketball team in the 6th grade and I was the only girl in the percussion department in college my Freshman year. The list goes on. I guess I’ve always had an attitude of “Girls Can’t WHAT?” which pushed me to ignore gender barriers and just go after the things I loved.

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Your designs are often inspired by people you know. What are your favorite Girls Can’t WHAT designs so far?

My favorite is the drummer. It’s on my tote bag, my t-shirts, my travel mug, my laptop bag, and my iPhone case. It represents me and was one of the very first designs I created so it will always be special.

girl_veterinarian_ornamentThe veterinarian design was created for my sister when she received her veterinarian degree. The pug in the design was my dog, Quest, and the German shepherd and cat represented her pets.

I have fun creating them all so it’s really hard to pick favorites, but I also really like the firefighter, police officer, hockey player, bass guitar player and the snow skier.

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What skills did you have to learn to get your business up and running?

A lot of my skill set comes from my natural interests in computers and creating things. I’ve been programming since the 7th grade so building a web site wasn’t that difficult for me to learn. I also love to build things and create systems. A business is a system in itself, so I had a natural desire to learn more about building a business.

Although I have a college degree in music business, I am mostly self-taught when it comes to computers and programming. I like to immerse myself in a topic by collecting resources from the library and the Internet and studying until I feel I have reached an appropriate level of learning for that topic or skill.

To get started, I had to learn how to draw. I’ve always been involved art to a degree but never on a computer. I had to teach myself how to draw cartoons on a computer screen and learn to use Photoshop and Illustrator to prep them for printing. It was quite a process, but I enjoyed learning and improving my skills. My first attempts at drawing were pretty hideous.

Even though I love the challenge of learning new skills, I don’t try to do it all. I have recently hired someone to help me with design development and marketing, and as the business grows I anticipate hiring additional help.

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You have a great blog post about Finding Your Super Power. What’s your super power?

In that post, I talk a lot about passion. Essentially your super power is a combination of your passion and what you like to do. My passion is helping people break through gender stereotypes. I also like to challenge people to think for themselves and discover their own path. When you combine those things, my super power turns out to be “challenging women to break through gender barriers to achieve their dreams.” And that is exactly what the Girls Can’t WHAT? theme is all about.


What do you love to do outside of your business?

I have two teenage daughters who are both into sports. I love watching them play and cheering for their teams. I also love taking long walks with my rescued Boston Terrier, Lola, and playing drums in my band Four Wall Flight.

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How has creating your own business empowered you?

Creating my own business has put me in the driver’s seat. There is no limit to how I have to spend my time, how much money I can make or what levels I achieve with my business. It gives me the freedom to be me and do the things I love to do and get paid for it in the process.

But beyond all that, it has empowered me to help other people.
For every purchase of Girls Can’t WHAT? gear, 20% is given to help empower women entrepreneurs through the KIVA micro-lending program. It’s immensely satisfying to know that my artwork has a greater purpose than selling a t-shirt. Girls Can’t WHAT? is able to change lives. That’s why I use the tagline “Empower a girl… change the world”. That’s my mission.

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You can find Gretchen Cawthon at her website: Girls Can’t What? and on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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Comment below: Has anyone ever told you that you can’t do something because of your gender? What was it and how did you prove them wrong?


  1. yiye zhang on at

    Gretchen, your work and message is sooo important for our young girls! thanks for doing what you do.
    And Christie, thanks for the interview!
    Much love

    • christie on at

      You’re welcome Yiye! Love what Gretchen’s up to in the world!

  2. Courtney on at

    WOW! I really loved reading your interview and I’m so glad you continued on your path in design work regardless of what your previous business partner said. Thank you for empowering girls!

  3. Gretchen on at

    Thanks so much for inviting me to share. 🙂

  4. Pam Pearson on at

    I don’t know that I was ever told directly I couldn’t do anything because I was a girl, but I certainly felt it! Especially when I was sitting in the board room as President of a company surrounded by all men. The obstacles and perceptions I had to overcome were mighty challenges. And I did it like a girl – empowered!! I love your mission. You go girl!

  5. Sarah Steele on at

    Thanks for introducing me to Girls Can’t What? I love it and am heading to the website next. I was always told as a child by my father what I couldn’t do – nothing much has changed unfortunately. But I think it just made me more determined to do what I want to. Sarah

  6. Amanda Daley on at

    I have vivid memories of a friend (boy) of mine as a child telling me I couldnt do something and that only he could. I dont think he said ‘because I was a girl’ but somehow I know I took that message on. Of course girls can do anything – I’m very passionate to encourage girls to do things in feminine ways however – not try and prove we’re equal by becoming ‘masculine’ in our output in life.

  7. Cathy Sykora on at

    I love this. My dad didn’t think girls belonged in business…so he left his business to my brothers. I can’t tell you how many times he told me how proud he was of me. Girls CAN…and we just need to show them how! Thanks Christie for letting us get to know Gretchen better…and thanks Gretchen for pushing this message out into the world in such a bright and fun way! ~Cathy

  8. Sabra on at

    I totally resonate with this post and with what Gretchen is doing. When I was in college I knew I wanted to major in mathematics – my favorite subject in school. However, when I was a freshman at my University, one of the professors told me “girls don’t major in math”. That statement just made me want to do it even more – just to show him I can! Well, I could, and I did. Graduated with my bachelors in Math and education degree to teach high school math.

    Then I went to law school and then I decided to go to law school and went into real estate law – an area of the law dominated by men – especially when I started. I love that now I could be at a real estate closing and everyone is women – what a difference in the conversations that we have at the table! Different than when I am the only female at the table.

    Anyway, great post. Great business. Great interview. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  9. Claire on at

    I love this interview, it’s so inspiring and such a great attitude to business and life. Girls can do anything and you’re living proof of that! Keep up the great work.

  10. I am not sure why I am surprised that in this “day and age” Gretchen would have had someone say “those words” to her…. But. That being said, they birthed this company with its supportive vision. So Kudos all around in your achievements.

  11. Leah Shapiro on at

    Growing up I was told things like-
    “you can’t ride your bike two miles to your friends house cause your a girl and it’s dangerous”
    “You can’t hitchhike cause your a girl”
    But the thing the drove me the craziest was when my Mom and Nana would tell me If I wanted to do all the big, amazing things I talked about doing, I better marry a rich man.

    I’ve never let the fact that I’m a women hold me back. I just always went for what I wanted full force.

  12. Teresa Deak on at

    Gretchen, I love your designs, your mission, and your connection with KIVA – all fantastic! Your superpower shines bright and beautiful in all you do!

    For myself, I pretty much don’t listen when people tell me I can’t do something – I can’t even imagine someone saying to me that “girls can’t do that”. But I know how it would be all the spark I needed to prove them wrong!

    Hugs and butterflies,