Be comfortable having a public persona. Life today happens on social media, so you have to be comfortable putting yourself out there.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Freida Rothman.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Freida Rothman is a second-generation jeweler, a mother of four, and an entrepreneur striving to remind every woman of her inner strength. Inspired by the legacy of four grandparents — all Holocaust survivors — Freida’s designs honor strength and resiliency through contemporary pieces that reflect her native Brooklyn. Taking design inspiration from the city around her, Freida’s signature sterling silver and mixed-metal pieces elevate Brooklyn grit into effortless elegance. Her collections are retailed at fine jewelry boutiques and departments stores nationwide, as well as at www.FreidaRothman.com.
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’m a second-generation jeweler. My father has been in the jewelry industry for close to 40 years. I started my career designing for private label, but knew I always wanted to design jewelry that that has meaning. All four of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors who taught me to see the beauty in everything and they’ve been my biggest inspiration. When I started my own brand in 2013, I wanted to keep their legacy alive and inspire women to pursue a positive outlook on life. All of our collections are inspired by my hometown of Brooklyn. I love taking unexpected details and the grit of the city and turning them into beautiful pieces of jewelry.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I am from a family of Holocaust survivors. My business coach actually encouraged me to share my family’s history within the brand. For me, it was always hard to combine jewelry with the story of my grandparents — I never wanted to overshare. But I have been so influenced by my two grandmothers, both Auschwitz survivors — by their incredible strength and resilience to rebuild their lives afterwards. Upon thinking through that counsel, I decided to create our STRENGTH bracelet. I designed it to celebrate and remind every woman of her inner strength, as every woman is strong.
As soon as I began sharing more of my authentic self through our family story, our following grew and became more engaged. That reinforced for us that you have to be proud of who you are and really stand for your mission. People know when it’s genuine.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the early days, I was traveling to one of my first Nordstrom events and went to the wrong location. I walked in ready to start selling and then quickly realized “this store” was not having an event that day. Thanks to that early goof, whenever I travel to meetings and events across the country, I’m extra vigilant about checking details before every trip.
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?
While I was working and designing for private label, my husband kept pushing me to start my own company. I always refused because I never wanted to be in the spotlight and was afraid to put my own name on something. I felt it represented a huge step I wasn’t ready for. One day, my husband walked into my office with thousands of dollars in jewelry displays with my name on it. His exact words were, “Get to work. You’re now the founder and designer of the FREIDA ROTHMAN brand.”
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?
Every day, I see more and more women founding their own businesses. It’s been incredible to help support the systems that are being developed to empower female leaders and business owners. Women came to the table a bit later than men so it has taken time catch up, but I believe we are getting there. For so long, women were still learning how to navigate excelling at motherhood and having a successful career. But we getting it done, learning to find balance — and our growth is explosive. As more females continue to support and mentor each other, those numbers will continue to grow.
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?
Starting a business is a personal journey for every woman, but having the support of other women who share their experiences, struggles and advice is extremely helpful. Creating professional organizations that empower and encourage is crucial to the growth and success of women leaders. Funding female-owned businesses is a long-overdue step. It’s time to focus on the many strengths women bring to the table as business owners and leaders.
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?
In my opinion, women can be excellent team builders who can be empathetic but firm, idealistic but also humble enough to listen to advice. They can get teams working as a cohesive unit. Women are also adept long term thinkers who are willing to take risks, but tend to ensure their decisions are cemented in what is best for the group versus themself.
Being a female founder also keeps women fully involved in the world around us, and teaches us to overcome daily challenges. By running a business, my brain stays sharp as I’m definitely exercising it daily. It also demonstrates to my children that I can run a successful business and be an engaged, present mother. For me, it’s important to be that role model — to show them their gender imposes no limits.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
Sure! The first myth is that anyone can start and run a business. It may be easy to start, but bringing the ideas to life — and to market — is difficult. Success takes perseverance, patience, flexibility, and time. You must have a tolerance for risk and possess the resilience to weather the many inevitable challenges you will face. If you are afraid to lose, you will never win.
Another myth is that you can’t be a present mother who prioritizes family AND be a successful founder/business leader. You absolutely can with appropriate time management and the strong team that you built around to help you succeed.
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?
Just like there are leaders and followers, not everyone is cut out to be a founder. Leaders possess certain personality traits such as being decisive and good communicators. They understand the importance of empowering others to succeed, valuing the opinions of colleagues and employees, and being able to take risks while still being able to sleep at night.
A successful founder believes in herself, perhaps before anyone or everyone else does. It’s important to be an optimistic person and positive thinker. At some point, every founder has looked at their business and seen a black hole. If that prospect isn’t paralyzing to you, you can be a founder. It’s not for everyone and the responsibility is immense, but if you 100% believe in your mission, you can achieve incredible success.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need to Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?”
1. Be comfortable having a public persona. Life today happens on social media, so you have to be comfortable putting yourself out there.
2. Having a support group or a mentor is very important. Learning from others and receiving advice from people who don’t judge you will help you succeed.
3. Pay it forward. Just as you need a support group, it’s important to mentor others. When you support others, it always comes back around.
4. Always do the right thing and stay humble. A big ego will come back to haunt you.
5. Self-care is crucial for your success. It’s important to take care of yourself because if you don’t, you can’t take care of others around you or your business.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
We created our Women of Strength bracelet and supporting campaign to celebrate and share stories of incredible women. Through it, we have inspired women around the world to believe in themselves and their own strength. Through the campaign, we have also been able to give back to important causes, supporting a variety of not-for-profit organizations both locally and across the country. At the start of COVID, in partnership with Nachas Health and Family Network in New York, we pivoted our Women of Strength campaign, with every purchase made on our website providing meals for the city’s elderly. I’m proud to say we donated over 20,000 meals in 2020. Because my family instilled this in me, our brand is built on giving back, and I will always use our success to do good.
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.
Our Women of Strength campaign has actually become a national movement. When we launched it to remind every woman of their own personal strength, we didn’t realize the impact it would have. Over the past year, so many women have come forward to share their stories of strength to help inspire others. We’ve been told by many that our STRENGTH bracelet is the ultimate gift, both to give or receive. We started the movement celebrating female Holocaust survivors and we followed up by creating our HONOR bracelet to celebrate women in the military and first responders — women who are never represented in fashion campaigns. Both campaigns resonated with women across the country, and our Women of Strength campaign has become a movement of optimism and positivity that honors women for all they do.
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.
The list is long as there are so many incredible women I’d love to sit down with! Recently, I became inspired by venture capitalist and founder/managing partner of Forerunner, Kirsten Green. Running the first all-female VC firm is quite an accomplishment. I strongly align with her mission in supporting underrepresented voices through capital and community.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.