Audra Sampson of Audra Style: “Women know how to get things done”

Women know how to get things done. Many of us carry the mental load of managing the household and a lot of us make do with what we have at hand. We are problem solvers by nature and more likely to collaborate and pool resources with other women to make things happen. I use my […]

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Women know how to get things done. Many of us carry the mental load of managing the household and a lot of us make do with what we have at hand. We are problem solvers by nature and more likely to collaborate and pool resources with other women to make things happen. I use my “mama” skills of multi-tasking all of the time in my business.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Audra Sampson, a North Carolina-based artist, designer, and CEO of Audra Style, a funky line of colorful statement jewelry, accessories, and home decor created from her original artwork. Her corporate headquarters and manufacturing facility is located in New Bern, NC along with her flagship brand store that features her full line of products and original artwork on canvas. Audra is best known for her colorful and playful mix of florals, animal prints, and graphic patterns. Her work is sold in over 500 retail stores across the country as well as Japan, Australia, Switzerland, and Puerto Rico. Audra’s artwork and jewelry are conversation starters and she loves that her work makes women feel happy and confident no matter their age, style, or budget.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

I have been a full-time artist since 1997. I have made jewelry since 1998 that I sold alongside hand-painted bricks and mailboxes at street festivals and craft shows to pay the bills while going to college. After graduating with a degree in Anthropology and history, I opened a jewelry and gift store in Greenville, NC called Artifacts in 2005 that featured my painted glassware and jewelry. I also sold my work in gift stores around the country for 16 years as well as on Ebay, Etsy, my website and festivals and craft shows to retail customers. In 2018, I decided to try to take my jewelry making to the next level and gave it my all that Spring. Since then, we have sold our line to over 500 gift stores and boutiques across the country. We also have a thriving online business as well as our flagship brand store in New Bern, NC.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

A year and a half ago at the market, a store owner was placing an order with us and she said something to me that changed the way we did things drastically and has made all of the difference in growing our business. I was chatting with her about whether we should automate some things and how I sort of felt guilty as an artist to not hand paint everything we produced but how it was taking all that I had at that point to do so. She said very matter-of-factly that “it just depends on what kind of life you want to live. There’s nothing wrong with staying small and working hard but if you want to grow, you also have to work smart.” Over the next few months, we were able to automate some processes that enable our business to grow exponentially and in turn, freed me up to create in ways that I didn’t otherwise have time for before. It’s funny that a simple statement of fact said in a non-judgmental way resonated so deeply that it changed our lives. I am forever grateful for her candor.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?

I don’t know about funny but the biggest mistake I made in my business not valuing the worth of my work. So often when starting out, we feel like we have to almost give things away to gain momentum but if you undervalue your product, so will everyone else.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

My husband. We started dating in 1995 so he’s seen it from the very beginning and has been right by my side the whole time. If I needed him to help me basecoat bricks at 2 am to get ready for a show, he would be right there. Any crazy idea I have, he’s gassing up the car ready to make it happen. He’s never doubted me or if he has, he’s never let me know it.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience, what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

My biggest obstacle is time. I have three kids and balancing the demands of motherhood with the demands of leading my company is a constant challenge. There never seem to be enough hours in the day to give myself fully to either.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

Small business loans designed for women with children. Childcare can cost as much or more than what someone actually brings in from working full-time. There is no extra money to even think about starting a business much less time to put towards it.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Women know how to get things done. Many of us carry the mental load of managing the household and a lot of us make do with what we have at hand. We are problem solvers by nature and more likely to collaborate and pool resources with other women to make things happen. I use my “mama” skills of multi-tasking all of the time in my business.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?

I think people think you have to know what you are doing from the start and that success is a straight line. I’m here to shout to the rooftops that it is not. You learn by doing and you WILL make mistakes along the way. Our jewelry line took off very quickly since 2018 and from the outside looking in, it may seem like an overnight success. But it took 20 years of late nights and lots of sacrifices to get to where we are. Those 20 years were full of trial and error and I have found that knowing what you do not want to do is just as valuable as knowing what you do want to do. You are able to say no to those things that don’t bring you closer to your goals but that is a privilege earned over time. And are still putting in late nights, making mistakes and learning as we go. I’m not sure you ever get to the point where you feel like you have it all figured out.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

I’m not sure about that. What I am sure about is that you have to have the audacity to put yourself out there and not be afraid of what people think. You have to be disciplined to be able to put in the late hours. You may not have nights or weekends off for years. And you have to be persistent. You are going to make mistakes and you are going to be told no. For some people, this lights their fire and for some, this makes them quit. That’s what sets people apart.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Conditions will never be perfect. You’ll never be completely ready. Start anyway.
  2. Success is not a straight line. Keep going.
  3. Not everyone will like you or what you are doing and that is ok. They are not your people. Don’t be afraid of looking silly.
  4. Save your money. Even if it’s just 1 dollar here and there. Every little bit adds up and time goes by so fast.
  5. Drink water and exercise. Do not take your health for granted. A sound mind and body are the foundations you need to succeed in every other aspect of your life.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

We like to hire women and mothers whose schedules may otherwise prevent them from other types of employment. We like to work around their schedules and needs by offering flexible hours. I also love to highlight other artists and creators on my social media platforms, especially those just starting out. I firmly believe in sending the elevator back down.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Access to comprehensive healthcare without the burden of cost and honest conversations from healthcare providers about the root causes of illness and how to prevent and treat them with diet and exercise first.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I would love to sit down for breakfast with artist Ashley Longshore. She inspires me daily with her unapologetic and crazy unique artwork and her mixture of art and fashion. She is so unafraid of being herself and sharing her happy and wild vibe with the world. She was a big reason that I went for the work-hard AND smart option because she believes that artists shouldn’t be scared to demand what they are worth and should eliminate the middle man by being their own advocate. I guarantee she’s a hoot to eat eggs with.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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