Mary Leigh Enders is many things: a graphic and web designer, a professional stylist, and a small business advocate. Above all, she’s an entrepreneur and an out-of-the-box thinker.

MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price recently spoke with Mary Leigh about her latest endeavor, The Picnic Project.

NAN PRICE: How has your entrepreneurial experience led to where you are now?

MARY LEIGH ENDERS: My family has provided a lot of inspiration. I’ve worked closely with my parents, who are small business owners, and I’ve been able to develop my own creativity outside of my parents’ world and find my own way, entrepreneurial-wise. When I stepped into the family business and was able to develop my skills there, I ended up translating it into my own business, M.L. Enders Design, where I help small businesses to improve their operations, marketing, and web design.

I don’t feel limited by working in the family business. I feel like I have more opportunity to do what I want and create what I want. That’s how The Picnic Project came about. I was interested in the concept and I decided: I’m going to do it.

At a young age, that confidence was instilled in me to try new things and to always question: Do I like this? Do I not like this? My parents never made it an issue if we didn’t enjoy something and decided to stop doing it. Instead, they asked: What’s next? Not having that limiting belief from my parents has enabled me to translate my “what’s next?” into whatever I want it to be. And this year, it’s The Picnic Project.

NAN: How did you come up with the business concept?

MARY LEIGH: With the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions, I saw a lot of picnic companies pop up last year. I started formulating ideas late last summer to develop these curated styled events, so you could enjoy a full picnic experience brought to you, set up, and broken down. You don’t have to think about planning or cleaning up. All you have to do is invite your people.

I also wanted to focus on working with local vendors who are providing cool new things like charcuterie and desserts. There are so many interesting vendors in Connecticut who can help with events. I’ve been finding those people who want to work with me and fit my vision of bringing a well-rounded experience to my clients. I want to provide an experience that’s budget-friendly and uses as many sustainable, eco-friendly products as possible, whether they’re antiques, vintage, or thrifted.

The concept also came from wanting to provide something fun and different; a new way of enjoying the outside and seeing people you’ve missed over this past year or so. I’ve always enjoyed organizing parties and gathering with friends and family. I often like to add like a theme to a party. With The Picnic Project, I’m creating an experience and elevating it, but in a way that’s still obtainable, casual, and affordable.

NAN: Do you see The Picnic Project expanding into event planning?

MARY LEIGH: It’s more of a do-it-yourself experience that provides people with the tools and resources they need to have a good party. I don’t want it to be a complicated experience with a bunch of deposits and everything like that. Instead, I want to incorporate some different aspects of throwing a party to make it memorable and fun, so everyone can have a good party, if they want to.

Ideally, in the future, I see producing something like a coffee table book or a recipe book about how to throw a party—whether it’s a birthday party, a baby shower, a Fourth of July celebration, or Halloween.

NAN: What are some of the biggest takeaways you’ve experienced on your entrepreneurial journey?

MARY LEIGH: The biggest thing I believe about myself and also what I bring to a lot of my clients is that you always need to think about yourself first. A lot of people get involved in thinking about what their clients are going to think. But if you start from a place of authenticity in yourself, then you’re never compromising your joy. You have more fun and you’re always living your life how you want to because you’re starting from that place authentically.

I’ve also learned that you need to make the products or services you provide something you would want and something you would enjoy. And, be firm in who you are so you find your people. You won’t find your people if you’re trying to be someone else or something else, whether it’s your aesthetic or your brand or with the services you’re offering.

Learn more about The Picnic Project | Instagram

Photo of The Picnic Project Founder Mary Leigh Enders courtesy Amelia Ingraham