How An Art Degree Helped Launch Kansas City-Based Health Food Company Rawxies

Mar 8, 2016

Callie England felt sick all the time. She went to doctors. She got her blood tested. By the time she was 21, she had taken more than 3,000 prescription pills and was at her wit’s end.

And then she changed what she ate.

“I sought out the help of a naturopath,” England says. “I would have done anything at that time. She put me on a plant-based diet. And within two months of eating vegan, I was off all prescription pills and feeling great. So I actually took that inspiration and that kind of health transformation that I personally had, and I wanted to share that story with my friends and family in hopes of transforming their lives just the way that my life had been transformed.”

England began to blog—and to cook. And as more and more friends and readers asked for recipes and samples, an idea was born. Four years ago, England founded Rawxies, a raw, vegan, gluten-free prepared snack food line. A year after starting the company in California, she moved the company to Kansas City, where she grew up and attended college at the Kansas City Art Institute. She says the products and the location have been a good fit.

“The Midwest actually has a decent amount of food companies, in regards to meat, grain, sauce,” she says. “But they don't have a lot of health-driven food companies. That's one of the reasons I actually started the company in California, and I was there for a year. And I brought it back to Kansas City because I knew that we could be a big fish in a little pond. And I knew that there was opportunity here. I knew that would come with some struggles and some kinds of cons, but I really saw that pro of being the only health food manufacturer in Kansas City as the reason to move back."

Being in Kansas City has also allowed England to take advantage of resources available to business startups in the metro, including Pipeline, a fellowship program that links entrepreneurs together in cohorts for mentoring and support. Since the company’s move, it has grown to include sales in 500 wholesale outlets from coast to coast. England says the company’s compound annual growth rate has averaged 84 percent over its four years.

Although much of her work today focuses on financials and strategic plans, England says she does not feel she has strayed far from her roots as an artist. After graduating with a graphic design degree, she spent five years as creative director for an in-flight service company doing industrial design and working with materials. She believes her background in art has helped her leadership of Rawxies.

“My mother is an artist, she has a ceramics business, and she's a painter,” she says. “So I always grew up drawing, that was really the thing that I loved. … I believe one of the reasons Rawxies is where it is today was because I was able to design and execute a brand that looks as big as something like a Justin's Nut Butter. So I think having an art degree has been one of the best degrees I could have in growing a business.”

And while it may not work for everyone—and while an art degree does not provide all the help needed to run a company—England says the artist’s perspective is perfectly compatible with launching a startup.

“I believe all artists can be great entrepreneurs, the way that we are—the way that we're wired and that we work and that we like challenges and we don't like doing the same thing every day,” she says. “So I think it's the perfect kind of harmony, those two.”

Rawxies’ business continues to grow, as well as to receive infusions of capital from investors. The company now produces nine different products, from curry chipotle crunch to lemon poppy seed cookies, with two more scheduled to launch in the next few months. Still, England says, it’s the creative aspects of the work that motivate her.

“People have always questioned how I got into cooking,” England says. “And they said, ‘But you're not a chef.’ And I said, ‘But I'm an artist.’ People who paint, they sell a painting into somebody's home. And I feel like every time somebody eats a Rawxies cookie or eats our crunch, it's consuming a little part of my creative vision.”

This story is part of Innovation KC, a series of conversations about innovation and innovators in Kansas City. To suggest Kansas City innovators for future interviews, send us an emailtweet us, or find us on Facebook.

Brian Ellison is a host and contributor at KCUR. You can reach him at brian@kcur.org or on Twitter, @ptsbrian.