It was while she was on a backpacking trip in South America that Amáli Designer, Sara Freedenfeld, discovered her passion for making jewelry. While in Valparaiso Chile, she learned to combine natural elements with knotted strings, and while in Venezuela, she met an artisan who taught her how to link and mold metal. From there, Sara’s distinctive aesthetic was born. With pieces that look and feel like lingerie woven with precious metals and stones, her ever-expanding collection is inspired by natural landscapes and vibrant textiles. As a self-taught designer, Sara has faced many challenges in her career, and yet recently becoming a mother has been the most difficult–and rewarding–challenge she’s faced yet!
COUTURE: You’re a first generation, largely self-taught, jewelry designer. When you first entered this world and launched your company, did you feel there were any obstacles or roadblocks specifically due to your gender?
Sara Freedenfeld: I launched my company when I was 26 years old, with a deeply felt confidence (borderline arrogance) that I would be successful. I didn’t consider the obstacles or roadblocks I might encounter because of my gender (or any other obstacles for that matter), but along the way, I experienced the same sorts of things that women in all industries face. Some things are overt: requesting payment to no avail, and then suddenly receiving a check after my teenage cousin called with an “authoritative male voice.” Then there are the softer, perhaps more insidious, forms of sexism like having someone comment on your body or the way you look during a sales call, or feeling like you have to let offensive jokes slide in order to not be seen as humorless, or listening to men make sexual comments about other women in professional settings.
COUTURE: You named your company after your grandmother, tell us more about how she inspired you to strike out on your own?
SF: I named my company after my grandmother, Amalia, because she embodies the grace, sophistication, and strength that I want to see reflected, not only in my designs, but also the women who wear them. By the time Couture rolls around this year, she will have lived for 100 years! She is a no-nonsense, say what you mean kind of woman, and like her, my disposition is better suited for self-employment.
COUTURE: I’m sure you’ve had to overcome challenges as business a woman…given that hindsight is 20/20, could you tell us how you handled a challenging situation in the moment, and how you wished you’d handled it in hindsight?
SF: During my second year in business, someone who is well known in the industry for copying other designers ripped off my line. At my first major trade show, my designs were front and center in his booth, and he put an ad in a trade magazine with a copy of my earrings. He stole my designs before I really had a chance to show them to the world, and I felt like he ripped the rug out from under me. It destroyed me emotionally. In retrospect, I should have believed in my own success enough to know that he was not a real threat. Over time, I have learned to keep a razor sharp focus on what I’m doing and to not waste precious energy on things that don’t matter.
COUTURE: Did/do you have any mentors, male or female?
SF: I wouldn’t say mentors, per say, but I have my fair share of friends who have helped keep me going when things were difficult. This is a tough industry, and everyone needs people in their corner.
COUTURE: Are there any on-going challenges you feel you have to overcome specifically as it relates to being a female entrepreneurs?
SF: Once I became a mom, there was a whole new level of challenges I never dreamed of. All working and non-working mothers are warriors. Every day is a marathon. I never truly knew what tired felt like until I took care of a sick child all night, and still got up to face the workday.
COUTURE: What are some of the other challenges you’ve faced as a mother and a business owner?
SF: Because I own my own business and my husband works alongside me, I have been afforded a great luxury in our society: the ability to continue working while keeping Ella in my care during the early years of her life. Every day is “bring your kid to work day” around here. We have made decisions that some may find “unprofessional” like taking Ella along with us to important meetings, taking her to our staff trainings at major department stores, and to trade shows.
Once I became a mom, I realized that there is a lack of respect in our society for the breastfeeding relationship between a mother and infant. Breastfeeding infants are not allowed in all professional settings, which presents a real challenge for a mother who wants to be a successful entrepreneur while taking care of the biological needs of her child.
There are certain parenting decisions that are non-negotiable for me, like putting my Ella to sleep, which comes with some personal and professional sacrifice. It means not attending events late in the evening, and leaving shows for a few hours during the day. I think the most challenging part has been balancing my desire to dedicate myself fully to my business and to my daughter, and sometimes having to accept that I cannot be perfect at both.
COUTURE: If another aspiring female entrepreneur were to approach you and ask you for some words of advice, what would you tell her?
SF: As Henry Ford famously said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.” If you believe in your core in your eventual success, you can experience any rejection or failure along the way as just another part of your story. The more missteps and downfalls you endure, the more interesting your story will be.
COUTURE: Do you have a core philosophy for running your business?
SF: Personal fulfillment and happiness must come first. You can be of service to no one if you don’t make that a priority. Family comes second. Treat your people with respect and dignity, and the success of the business follows naturally from this.