Goose & Willow: A Veteran-Owned, Made-in-America Home Decor Company

Gretchen Pace chose to attend the University of Virginia Darden School of Business at the age of 31 because she realized she wanted to pursue entrepreneurship. After serving her country for nearly nine years in the US Army and completing an internship on Wall Street (where she received, and turned down, a job offer), Gretchen decided that she was ready to take a leap—leveraging the organizational and managerial skills she sharpened in her 20s, coupled with her childhood upbringing that emphasized resourcefulness and her artistic abilities—to focus on founding and running her own company, Goose & Willow.

At Darden she has applied classroom lessons, guest lecturers’ insights, and tools provided by the Batten Institute in order to launch her company, Goose & Willow. A female veteran-owned platform producing and selling home goods featuring unique designs by local artists, Goose & Willow is a company where all products are made in the USA. In an age in which consumers can get nearly anything delivered to their homes at the click of a button, it is increasingly challenging to find products that are made in America and offer unique works of art that elevate ones living space. Gretchen’s mission is to solve this market inefficiency by connecting customers with artists in one convenient, and curated, marketplace.

The formation of Goose & Willow was quite the journey for Gretchen.  Growing up on a farm in Orange, Virginia, creativity and making things from hand were the norm. After attending UVA for undergrad and commissioning out of the Army ROTC program, living in two countries, multiple states, and moving eight times, she decided it was time to get back to that.  Her sister Maria inspired the idea with her amazing portfolio of watercolor artwork, designs, and products. Gretchen decided she wanted to scale the operation and partner with several artists to curate six collections featuring distinct color pallets.  By using her own paintings to create Americana-themed designs printed onto textiles and sewn into kitchen towels – Gretchen produced a minimum viable product available for purchase today.  She has produced over 280 items and has already made numerous sales to customers as far away as Texas.

The Darden experience has been instrumental to the launch and growth of Goose & Willow, she said.  As “many people never have the time or space to grow a business, and I am so grateful that I have allowed myself to take a risk, deliberately not recruit a corporate job, and make an attempt to build a company while earning my MBA,” Gretchen remarked. Upon graduation she plans to pursue her entrepreneurial journey full-time and views Goose & Willow as the start of a larger effort to help inspire and grow entrepreneurship across the country. 

Gretchen believes in the Batten Institutes mission to inspire purpose-driven entrepreneurial leaders who will change the world and is also certain that she will be one of them.  Selected as the 2021 MBA Venture Intern, she provides mentorship and administrative support for Batten Institute programs run by Jason Brewster and Mary Andrews designed to help undergraduate and graduate students initiate and grow successful startups. Not only did this internship give her the tools necessary to launch and grow her own venture, but she also found significant purpose in helping other students do the same.  She believes that small business, startups, and entrepreneurship are foundational aspects which make America unique—and supporting others navigate the unclear path to building a successful venture is something about which she is passionate. 

About the Founder:

Gretchen Pace is a Combat Veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star and Combat Action Badge while serving as a military intelligence officer in the US Army. As Counterintelligence Special Agent, Airborne Parachutists, Special Operations Support qualified solider who loved serving her country, Gretchen continues to serve in the US Army Reserves as the battalion operations officer in an intelligence unit based out of Charlottesville, Virginia.  With nearly 10 years of entrepreneurial experience (in her youth she sold eggs, peacock feathers, livestock through 4-H, and art and produce at local farmers’ markets) and 20 years of painting experience (both watercolor and acrylic), Gretchen has a track record for creating and bringing unique products to market. She holds a BA in History and Religious Studies from the University of Virginia, an Associates Degree in Intelligence Operations Studies from Cochise College, and is currently earning an MBA degree (alongside her husband Will Blickle) at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.

To follow Goose & Willow as it grows, check out Instagram. To stay informed about the latest news on Goose & Willow, you can sign up for the mailing list on the website, www.gooseandwillow.com, or email her directly at thegooseandwillow@gmail.com.

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