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  • Entrepreneurship is the road best traveled.

    I grew up in South Africa during the dark days of apartheid. My upbringing was pretty sheltered. I was surrounded by loads of cousins, aunts and uncles and doting grandparents. As the eldest of 3 daughters my dad had and still has a huge impact on my life. We share a love of European history, family trees and old Jewish recipes but most of all we share a passion for entrepreneurship. An entrepreneur himself, my father built a successful business which provided many opportunities for our family. My dad worked hard and while he missed some family vacations he always exuded a sense of excitement and joy. I see now that that was largely because he had taken ownership of his path forward and that enabled him to create many choices for himself. Looking back, I can see how that sense of accomplishment, creativity and independence inspired me to forge my own path toward entrepreneurship.
    My path was not without detours. In my early 20s I still felt compelled to follow the traditional “safe” career path. As a right -brain, motivated student in the pre-digital age my choices for a career were limited. Like so many like-minded women of my generation law school felt like the best option. Following that route I eventually left South Africa and set myself up as a practicing attorney in Israel. I was not that thrilled with my career choice but I was finally enjoying the benefits of a decent paycheck. My life then took an unexpected turn, I met my future husband and ended up living in New York with very few professional prospects. I felt completely unanchored. I learned that my law degree was pretty useless “as is” and would need to be converted if I wanted to practice law in New York. At this stage I already had an infant and we could not afford the enormous expense of law school. I needed to contribute financially to our family and so I maneuvered my way into a couple of paralegal jobs. But aside from zero fulfillment my paycheck basically went to childcare. I had spent years educating myself and I suddenly found myself in a new country with limited skills and very few job prospects. I was in my early 30s at the time and my dreams of a career had basically collapsed.
    Starting my own business seemed like the only option available to me. I had witnessed my father’s journey growing up and he had always had that “sink or swim” attitude. I believe that that is what pushed me forward. I spent hours researching viable ideas, none of which evolved into much. Like many things, the turning point came very unexpectedly. I ran into an old friend at a local market. We chatted for a while and she complimented me on a necklace I was wearing. When I told her I had made it for myself she asked if I would make one for her. She offered to pay what seemed like an enormous amount of money at the time and I suddenly had a moment of clarity -I realized that I had a product! It felt real and it felt viable. Ironically I had spent months chasing business ideas and all that time I actually had one literally in front of me at my kitchen table. From that moment on I went full steam ahead. My head was buzzing with ideas. I took myself off to a local store, I spent a few hundred dollars on supplies and I simply started making jewelry! I had two young children at the time and I was pregnant with my third. My attic became my studio and I worked around my children’s schedules. My first customers were friends and family. They gave me the confidence and support that I needed. I slowly expanded into the local stores in my neighborhood and within a couple of months I had a few regular accounts. My business was still very small I was making everything myself and selling what I made. My margins were high and my overhead was minimal — An MBAs dream, only I had no MBA! This was a grassroots business.
    My next inflection point came when a buyer from Henri Bendel called me to see some samples. I never found out how she found me but I can only assume it was through word of mouth which is how so many things happen in the world of entrepreneurship. Henri Bendel at the time was one of the best retailers in Manhattan located in a gorgeous landmark building on 5th Ave. That was a light bulb moment; the moment that every entrepreneur lives for. It was a feeling of recognition, of legitimacy. Henri Bendel took me on as a new designer and gave me the platform that I needed. I developed my brand and within a year or two we were sold in most of the major retailers both in the USA and many abroad. I went on to open my own retail stores and we service customers all over the world. As my business grew so did my team, most of whom are still with me. I have met incredible people along the way and it has always felt very personal.
    There were many magical moments as I grew my tiny business into a commercial success. Moments that come to mind are seeing my name in the headlines in the New York Times style section or getting a call from Oprah Winfrey’s team telling me that we had been chosen for Oprah’s favorite things (and then getting that call again! — a year later). Another moment that still feels surreal was getting a call from the White House telling us that the First Lady Mrs. Obama was going to be wearing our earrings to a few White House events.
    These are moments that make the journey not just fulfilling but exciting as well. Running a business is grueling at times as you have many hats to wear. For many years I was creative, marketing, sales and finance all rolled into one. Besides all that I was back office too! — I read routing guides, packed boxes and took inventory. But those moments of wonderment make it all so worthwhile.
    My message is simple: have a dream but make it an attainable one. Keep things simple at first. Grow organically into your business, nurture it and you will grow both as a person and as an entrepreneur. Have a role model to look up to. For me it is my father not just because he was successful but because he always found so much joy in it. Entrepreneurship can be a magical journey, embrace it and it will be the best gift you will ever give to yourself!

     

     

  • Innovation, Artistry, and Design: They are Still There, You Just Have To Look a Little Harder.

    When I opened my store five years ago, I had no idea what I was doing. It was an impulse move. I had launched a branded line of jewelry five years prior, but it was a wholesale enterprise back then and there was no direct line to the consumer. It was a different retail environment. Large department stores partnered with new designers, giving them a foothold in their retail space and access to their consumer. This was a great way to build a new brand as it could propel a designer rather quickly into national brand recognition. The focus back then was much more on the product than the brand story. Retailers tended to invest in new designers and the partnership was truly strategic - there was guidance. Retailers did not expect instant sell through and designers were given opportunities to grow. The instant gratification model and price downward spiral was an anathema back then. 

    So many amazing brands came to market this way. Kate Spade, Alexis Bittar, Kendra Scott and so many more started off as department store partnerships before scaling into venture backed brands. The 2008 recession changed the old retail model. The inflection point came when department stores, reluctant to carry risk, started cancelling purchase orders. They stuck with the established entrenched brands and the newer ones were shut out of the market. The results were twofold: department stores bereft of fresh innovative designs evolved into limp and duller versions of their former selves and designers were left deserted, unanchored, and carrying merchandise with nowhere to sell. Many of these designers, not yet savvy with the rising ecommerce wave, sank into bankruptcy or ceased to be relevant. And this is where the designer and the department store split up, never again to be reconciled in a meaningful way. Fashion became disruptive and, together with a percolating ecommerce, an entire new sales model came to be.

    Abandoned by the department stores, designers were forced to deal directly with their consumers. The consumer now held an elevated position of power. Price became the new dictate and brand stories replaced quality. The marketplace became flush with new brands with very little differentiation. Instagram, the ultimate equalizer, became a platform for both new and established brands all vying for the consumers attention. Suddenly, instead of innovation, design, and quality, brands were battling for their consumers attention with lifestyle pictures and edgy photographs. The rise of Influencers on social media created a seismic shift whereby Influencer became the new leaders of fashion. A new age of marketing emerged. Influencers dictated fashion trends with designers now vying for their attention. Influencers, realizing the power of their reach then began to morph into would-be designers. These Influencer brands focused not so much on innovation, artistry, or design but rather on an aspirational look measured by followers and likes.  

    The female consumer should be aware of her reach. Her power to follow and like is her currency. She has the ability to decide which brands stay relevant and which ones will not. She needs to be mindful when picking her fashion leaders and to choose those with a viable product where artistry, originality, and design reign supreme as opposed to simply following a personality. In addition, consumers should gravitate toward designers with a social mindset; those who genuinely care about waste and sustainability and those who are aware of labor practices in the countries where they manufacture. Fashion need not just be eye candy but substantive as well. As the department store giants have receded into the background, the consumer is now the strategic partner.

    As for myself, I am still learning to steer my own ship. Having come of age as a designer in the pre-social media blitz, I am still adjusting. Learning to find my voice on social media was a challenge at first. Somewhat guarded and reserved, it was not something I was initially comfortable with. Still shrugging off this reserve and putting myself out there as a face to my brand has been liberating. I have learned to control my own narrative and connect with my customers in a visible way and this connection has become very personal. My feed is filled with causes I care about as well as personal highs and lows as I journey through life. My customers challenge me, and I feel accountable to them. We are living in an age where everything feels personal, the barriers of anonymity have broken down. Try as they might, the big box retailers cannot bring this personal experience to their consumers – they are big box by definition; be aware that there are reams of soldiers steering that ship all accountable to shareholders and not to you. By definition a big box store’s personal voice on social media cannot be personal; it's a well-tuned fabricated tale.

    So to my fellow designers I say, show us your authenticity. Put a voice to your artistry and tell your story. To my beloved customer, I am forever grateful that in this immense, infinite sea of personalities on social media, you have chosen to follow me. I vow to never take you for granted and to always be transparent. Use your judgement wisely and make smart choices as you pick those who deserve your attention and loyalty. As we elevate each other, we can take pride in our partnership which will benefit not only us but the world at large. 

  • My Beloved Mother January 15, 2021

                                                                                                                                                                 

                                                                                                                       

    Hi my friends,

    I wanted to check in with you all to let you know that I am fully back in the store. It has been a rough 6 weeks as I sadly lost my beloved mom. She was a guiding force in my life throughout my childhood and well into adulthood. She showed me how to be the best mom I could possibly be and was the most devoted grandmother. Sadly, she was stricken with Parkinson’s disease and the last few years had been very difficult for her. We miss her fighting spirit every day.

    The loss of my mom has made me realize, even more, the spectacular responsibility I hold as a mom to my own kids.  I am their life’s teacher and I am accountable for this. We hold enormous power as parents and we have to use it responsibly and lovingly with a whole lot of wisdom.  Fortunately, motherhood is very intuitive – I am always struck by the selflessness and courage mothers innately possess. I grew up in South Africa and watched young moms, often living on the margins of extreme poverty, perform their mothering tasks so admirably and with such consideration.  No matter the hardship and no matter the challenge, I saw incredible devotion as these women used everything in their power, sacrificing their own needs to fulfill the needs of their children.  It’s universal and it has been this way throughout the ages. The joy of motherhood is indescribable.  It is no wonder that Instagram and Facebook are flooded with pregnancy pictures, baby pictures and cute smiling faces.   

    But here is the interesting part - the pendulum swings right back. Our childhood self grows up and that’s when we as kids-of take on the role our mothers took on for us.  It is a beautiful cycle and I experienced it as my sisters and I nursed my mom on her last days.  We did so with selflessness, just as my mom had done for us. It was our last chance to show our love and our gratitude for all she had given us. It made me realize that by teaching us to be great moms she had taught us to become great daughters too.

    I carry this lesson on.  My hope is to one day show my daughter the miracle of motherhood and with that the joy of daughterhood too. It goes hand-in-hand. I have received countless messages and texts from so many of you who have gone through the heartbreak of losing your own moms   I say to you right back - your moms were clearly blessed with incredible daughters. The descriptions of your moms and the unity you shared has shown me something - having a great mom is a gift; the greater the gift, the greater the loss. The teachings however are never lost and I will forever hold them close.

    Xo

    Susan

  • Reflections 2020

    2020 changed us. Most of us had never lived through a pandemic, In fact we barely knew what it meant. It took us a while to adjust. We had felt invincible for far too long. Familiar Sound bites like - it’s no worse than the flu; It’s just another virus; it’s seasonal, it’ll be over soon - were persuasive and pervasive.

     Eventually it sank in. Our world had made a shift. We adjusted. We slowly came to terms with our vulnerabilities. There was no quick fix. People were dying -the elderly and the compromised. But there were young and healthy victims too. The virus was an anathema. We solve puzzles using logic and yet this one evaded us for a long time. Fortunately, things changed toward the end of 2020. Our super-human scientists solved the riddle and help is on its way. We are going forward with much hope.
    But we have lost our innocence, our naïveté. With our vulnerabilities and fallibilities exposed we have experienced a collective trauma. And yet with trauma comes healing. We need to emerge from this not just with compassion and gratitude but with awareness and a sense of responsibility. Responsibility not just for those in our immediate pod but for those strangers we don’t know - Our fellow humans. By simply wearing our masks and taking the vaccine we protect those we will never know. We must pay it forward. We are the lucky ones. We survived the pandemic of 2020 and we need to give back. Embrace that feeling and you will be a part of our better angels.
    So while the pandemic has stifled us and taken away it has given us a sense of collectiveness, a feeling of connection -of being a small part of a whole. It has given us the opportunity to give back, to contribute.  We are all responsible for keeping the pandemic at bay, the healthcare workers and scientists cannot do it alone They need us to carry them forward. It’s a unique and privileged partnership.
    So as I write this on my birthday of 2020 – this year has been about the gift of giving. It’s not just the thought but rather it’s the action. And that my friends has been the incredible experience of 2020!