So many of you wrote to let me know that you enjoyed last month’s woman of substance profile on my beautiful friend and TV producer Alison Kenworthy that I’m sustaining the tradition:
This month’s woman of substance is Christina Bryant, the big-hearted founder of the insanely chic, ethically-minded home decor company St. Frank, a purveyor of beautiful textiles hand-made by artisans in under-resourced communities. Christina and I attended the University of Virginia at the same time, but our paths never crossed while on Thomas Jefferson’s hallowed grounds. Still, over the past many years, so many mutual connections have referred me to the beautiful artisanal products her boutique carries that I knew I had to track her down eventually. I’m so glad I did, because I could tell right away that she was total badass woman of substance: convicted, dedicated to the welfare of others, and smart as hell. (In fact, something about her reminds me of my personal favorite literary heroine, Anne Elliott of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, whose merits I have previously extolled.)
I am always fascinated by female founders who have made it despite the many systemic obstacles women entrepreneurs face. Setting aside the fact that Christina has an impressive degree (an MBA from Stanford — sorta THE gold standard for business school excellence, and probably the toughest program to get into in the world), her business acumen is evident in even the most casual of correspondence. She is on top of things. She is driven. She is passionate about what she does.
And the story of the founding of her business is tellingly authentic: after pursuing a career in the museum world with an art history degree under her belt, she took a trip to Rwanda that forever changed her career trajectory. While abroad, she decided she wanted to find a way to pair her love of art with a new calling to economically empower the individuals living in the under-resourced community she’d visited. The solution emerged organically: she saw and often purchased beautiful indigenous artwork and textiles while in Africa, adding her own finishing touches and bringing them back to her home in the states, where these pieces often became the centerpoint of conversation while entertaining. Et voila. The genesis of St. Frank, a home decor company that sources and sells artisanal textiles and other beautiful handiwork and accessories.
One serious lesson I take from Christina’s inspiring story–and this echoes the stories of many, many entrepreneurs I know–is that there are often squiggly paths to success. You can start out in academia and end up in technology, or intend to become a professional ballerina but turn out a doctor (a classmate of mine followed this path!), or–in Christina’s case–begin with the intent to work in the museum world and wind up with your own textile business. The point being that life is malleable and that many successful people absorb unexpected changes in direction and fold them into new and meaningful endeavors. (P.S. — This jives brilliantly, though in a very different lane, with my recent reflections on the discovery that my daughter was breech.) Her story is a galvanizing reminder that there is no excuse for complacency, for feeling stuck: it’s just time for a pivot. Moreover, if we keep our eyes open, as Christina did, sometimes new and unexpected opportunities–ideas–present themselves.
That being said, we all know the old adage that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. So keeping our eyes open to opportunity is not the whole story. What her dope genesis story doesn’t expose: the innumerable challenges and complexities implicit in starting a business as a solo female founder. You can tell Christina has grit without knowing her for long. And she’s not only survived, but succeeded by every measure: I’ve seen her beautiful products featured in nearly every major glossy and digital magazine under the sun (including, recently, GOOP! — you know you’ve made it when you’re in the good graces of Gwyneth); she was profiled in Forbes; and St. Frank boasts not only an online presence but two brick-and-mortar outposts (on in SF, one in Palo Alto — go if you are local!). The magnitude of her undertaking–and the scale of her success in just a few years–is not lost on me.
And with that, Christina’s answers to my Proust Questionnaire, Redux:
Your favorite qualities in a woman.
Confidence, independence, warmth, and kindness.
Your favorite heroine.
I’m a fan of Frida Kahlo for many reasons, including the simple fact that I’m somewhat obsessed with Mexican culture and she’s part of it. She is my current favorite heroine because she was a profound non conformist. She was feminine without being tied to gender norms. She was an influential creative whose style and substance are palpable today. More, she’s a vibrant example of someone who not only overcame the challenges that she faced, but embraced her imperfections.
Your main fault.
I am so direct and focused that I can often come across as short / rushed when I’m in “get shit done” mode, i.e. all day at work!
Your greatest strength.
I’m optimistic and believe anything is possible. I don’t take no as an answer.
Your idea of happiness.
Time spent laughing with friends or family. But, honestly, I’m happy every day.
Your idea of misery.
Currently at the top of your shopping lust list.
Desert island beauty product.
Post 30, I’m all about the sunhat! Nothing beats a physical block.
Last thing you bought.
I feel most empowered wearing…
Fabulous ankle books with a heel and a blazer with shoulder pads (Smythe and Iro are my go-to jackets). I know I sound like the child of the 80s that I am, but I basically wear this every day with jeans and a blouse. This look takes me from day to night, plus I feel like a boss when I’m pulled together and have the help of a little extra height and shoulder. Ha.
Favorite Magpie post.
I love the Women of Substance series of course(!), but really enjoyed the post on embroidery as a trend. We’ve been looking for a way to incorporate non-preppy personalization options into St. Frank’s collection (the go-to monogram just isn’t quite right for our girl) and have been looking at this more irreverent and whimsical application. It was great to see so many examples in one place! Thanks for doing the leg work for my next inspiration board.
Ladies, you can snag some St. Frank goodness here, with epic framed textiles like this Senegalese beauty ($2850) or this Mexican otomi ($3,550). You can get the look for a little less with their beautiful prints or mini-sized versions. And P.S. — this for a nursery?!
I’ve also seen this St. Frank alpaca throw ($225) in many a well-styled home.
Finally, you can channel that Christina / St. Frank “global citizen” style with the pieces below — just click on the products shown below to get product details, or see the links at bottom! (The two textiles shown below are St. Frank specials, le duh.)
Mar Y Sol Pom Bag, $139 // Frida Kahlo memoir, $25 // St. Frank Cactus Textile XXIII, $995 // Iro Zlata Tweed Blazer, $610 // Kate Spade Tassel Earrings, $98 // Preston + Olivia Knotted Milford Hat, $230 // Peru cookbook, $32 // Mexico cookbook, $34 // Lizzie Fortunato Surrealist Collar Necklace, $290 // JADEtribe Pom Clutch, $90 // St. Frank Rose Suzani, $3,750 // Lizzie Fortunato Clutch, $390 // Temperley London Gown, $1,395 // Melissa Odabash Embroidered Dress, $253 // Lizzie Fortunato Tassel Earrings, $195 // Brother Vellies Burkina Slides, $285 // Nannacay Straw Tote, $255 // Malone Souliers Mules, $455
P.S. Follow St. Frank on Insta here. SO MUCH BEAUTIFUL INSPO.