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Rise’s Radical Renegade is a monthly series featuring interviews with trailblazing career mavens. Meet Desiree Casimiro, Emily Kane, and Carly Mayer of Forge & Finish, a distinctive jewelry company. This culturally diverse, women owned company is intentionally keeping things small. Each piece is infused with the spirit of the three founders and handmade. Pieces range from distinctive designs highlighting signature textures, mixed metals, and original silhouettes.
Why did you start your company and what motivates you every day?
We started this business to have design flexibility and creative freedom to make collections we love, rather than working for other companies and exhausting our energy elsewhere. Daily motivations vary for each of our members, but each of us is deeply creative and energized by the making process. We are motivated as a whole to work together to make our business thrive because the livelihood of 3 best friends depends on its success.
What are some of the major lessons you’ve learned along the way?
Communication is key! Having weekly meetings to make sure the team is on the same page is integral to running a smooth work environment and production company. Having three unique people working together as one has challenges, but we utilize the differences as a strength. We run a democratic operation and believe having differences leads to a beautiful outcome.
Tell us about a setback you’ve faced and how did you overcome it?
The covid-19 pandemic continues to impede on multiple facets of operating our business as we had become accustomed to over the years. Outdoor markets, particularly in the spring/summer season, had been a major resource for our brand in terms of outreach and revenue. As we all know, months have passed along with the concept of large gatherings being deemed a health risk, which is expected to continue into next year.
The shops that we partner with have been suffering equal blows, further severing ties to our customer base and stunting another vital source of revenue. What is left is our own Achilles heel-web sales. In a way, we were forced to hone in the area that has long called for our attention. Pivoting business strategies under the duress of financial hardship, worldwide health crisis, police brutality, and lack of government leadership, while prioritizing the wellbeing of each other and our loved ones has been a whirlwind of unprecedented challenges.
Our manner of processing has been to fortify our lines of communication in order to grasp a full scope of our stance, needs, capabilities and expectations. By April we were feverishly brainstorming amongst ourselves and with other small business owners in our community on ways to survive. We shared available resources for business stabilizing tactics and began applying to multiple outlets for financial aid. We shifted our focus to strategizing with a marketing consultant to beef up our web presence. This focus remains a work-in-progress, but we’re striving to adapt to the new norms.
What advice do you have for women who feel stuck in their careers?
Step back and give yourself time to reflect. By pausing movement, ponderings beget realizations, and shifted desires beget mobilizations toward a fresh start.
Also, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. The worst that can happen is someone says “no,” but you’ll never know until you try. Oftentimes you’ll be surprised by how eager others are to offer a lending hand.
We all know how difficult work/life balance is, how do you draw the line to create separation in these two spheres?
We have had a journey with this one since we are firstly friends and secondly business partners. In the past Forge & Finish has been a family affair, but over the years we have learned a trick or two.
Take care of your physical self— after all your business is nothing without you! Nourish the mind, body, and soul. Self-care can often take a back seat in a fast-paced, busy work life.
Try to eat good nourishing foods that give energy and support brain growth like berries, nuts, leafy greens, grains, and drink lots of water. Do not look at your phone first thing in the morning. Instead, put in place a relaxing ritual like 15 minutes of stretching, meditation, or a morning walk.
Last but not least with a capital B—create healthy Boundaries. Leaving work at work is much harder than it seems, especially if it’s your own business. Setting boundaries for yourself can be helpful in not transferring work frustrations on to your home life. For example, reserve dinner time for catching up with your partners or family members as opposed to laying a bunch of work stressors on the table. We try to not discuss work when we get together as friends, which is certainly a challenge at times but helps keep the friendship fresh.
We love to support women-founded ventures. Is there a company or product that you’ve come across and think more people should know about?
Recently, Carly started using Cora Menstrual products, which you can find at Target. “The reason why I want to support this business, although a bit pricier than store brand tampons, is because they are run by women for women. They use organic cotton and they are able to use their profits to provide women in underserved parts of the world feminine care.
Additionally, to keep the lady parts in the limelight, Parade undergarments have become a new obsession. They are made for all shapes and sized women, with many different cuts, styles, and colors to suit any comfort level and body type. I prefer the boy short best! They use recycled material where possible and donate a percentage of their profits to Planned Parenthood, and we love that!”
A newer discovery for Desiree is Dame Products. “I respect Dame’s culture that emphasizes body-positivity and sexuality. Not only are they designing state-of-the-art pleasure products, they also offer a comprehensive knowledge base for modern, curious minds. Societal norms tend to shove the topic of sexuality into a closet, but Dame busts down the door, flicks on a bright & inclusive light, and creates an open space to inquire and explore. Not to mention the gorgeous illustrations by female artist Sophi Miyoko Gullbrants. Her work is indubitably worth a follow, as well.”
Today more and more women are starting their own businesses and becoming successful entrepreneurs. Those who have a great idea are looking to start their venture and build a successful company despite the troubling times we are currently experiencing. Yet even putting aside the current health situation, female founders will be faced with many important decisions that they will need to make. Here are a couple of key decisions that you’ll be making when as a female founder:
1. If business is for you?
Starting a business can be overwhelming, especially when you come from a nine-to-five job. You may feel pressure from people around you, and some might even tell you that it won’t work out. However, if you have an idea that you believe in then cancel that negative noise. More women are succeeding in business than ever before. In 2019, the number of newly-funded startups with female founders globally rose to 20 percent, which is double the number just a mere decade ago. If you believe you are ready, take a chance and follow your dream.
2. The field and type of business you want to have ?
Once you’ve decided that starting a business is for you, the next thing to think about is what you want it to be. There are a number of thriving female-led industries in the world right now such as the cosmetic industry and fashion industry. Women in STEM are also making headlines as more and more female-founded science and technology companies are being set up. It is best to play to your strengths and enter an industry you are comfortable operating in. This will increase your chance of making a profit as you will already have insider knowledge you can put to use.
You also need to consider the structure you want for your business, too. Most new ventures start out as a sole proprietorship, which is the simplest structure as it requires very little paperwork. But if you’re looking to establish your company as an official business, then it is a good idea to set it up as a limited liability company (LLC) as this will give you more security. Forming an LLC allows female founders like you to separate their personal assets from their business ones, while still keeping things much more flexible and less complicated compared to incorporating. There are many risks to starting a business, and with this safety net around your personal assets you will be able to take more risks in the direction your company takes.
3. How you’ll fund your business?
Another important part of business is deciding where to get capital. Some get loans, while others use their savings. If you’re more risk-averse, pitching your business to venture capitalists (VC) or investors, especially those supporting diversity, may be a good idea. If they see its potential, they might just provide the funding you need to begin your business.
After this, you might feel pressured to expand and earn a lot right away, but that shouldn’t be your focus. There are good pieces of advice out there that recommend simply striving for authenticity and quality when growing your business. Once people see its value, it will start getting traction, and profitability will follow.
4. What kind of female founder will you be?
Lastly, it’s important to plan how you will handle your business. Some make the mistake of getting caught up in small business tasks instead of focusing on the big picture. As a female founder, you have to consider building a team and delegating. A good business leader focuses on setting clear goals and objectives then sharing them with their team. Training people and guiding them to work together toward your company vision is a great investment for the growth of your business.
As a female founder, there are a lot of decisions to be made in a constantly changing business landscape. In the end, it’s all about finding a balance between what you want and what you do best, picking the right resources to turn that into something authentic and of quality, and choosing the right vision and people to share it with.