Val Sanders & Michelle Haner: “Draft a realistic business plan”

It’s all about balance. As business owners, we tend to work around the clock. It’s easy to get wiped out. When we feel drained, we change the scenery. Maybe just getting outside for a walk, moving and brainstorming or maybe a weekend getaway to Mexico. It’s so important to recharge and seeing new places and […]

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It’s all about balance. As business owners, we tend to work around the clock. It’s easy to get wiped out. When we feel drained, we change the scenery. Maybe just getting outside for a walk, moving and brainstorming or maybe a weekend getaway to Mexico. It’s so important to recharge and seeing new places and new things is a wonderful perspective shift, a great way to get inspired.

As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing twin sisters Val Sanders and Michelle Haner,the creators of Saint Owen eyewear, pull inspiration from their own worldwide travels to craft rebellious designs for the open-minded individual. Rooted in the music industry and steadily on the road, the twins have created an unparalleled brand of grit and grace, one which embodies the rock and roll lifestyle with elevated edginess.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

We grew up in Huntington Beach, California. We were active kids in sunny southern California where the mountains, the desert and the beach are all just a few hours apart. We were risk-takers: cliff jumping, dirt biking, surfing, snowboarding, wakeboarding. At local concerts, you’d find us in the mosh pit. Our parents loved to travel, so we started out exploring the world at a young age. I took off at 18 years old to tour manage a rock band and worldwide tours ensued. Michelle did a semester abroad in Italy. She backpacked through Europe for a few months. We have an insatiable thirst for travel. Which works out nicely since our husbands are musicians and we are constantly on the road!

What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?

Fashion in general has always resonated with us. When we were kids, we would make our own clothing; cut-and-sew type of attire. We would add some studs and spikes to our belts because back then finding a good studded belt was more of a mission than it currently is. Studded accessories were left in the punk rock world and the quality was always lacking because it wasn’t mainstream. We wanted accessories which would stand out, including the eyewear we wore. Sunglasses have always been essential for us, but we found it difficult to find an edgy and bold pair of sunglasses which also offered great craftsmanship and legitimate sun protection. We wanted to fill that void. So with literally no experience in the eyewear realm, we started designing sunglasses. We’ve gradually pieced the company together from there. But from the get-go it was purely from the heart, from a creative mindset.

There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

Teamwork! We’ve had the advantage of utilizing our close relationship as twin sisters to really divide and conquer, as well as encourage each other. In the beginning, it seemed daunting with so little knowledge of the back alleys of the industry and so many hats to wear in order to get the brand off the ground. But we had each other to fall back on. We just took it day by day and tackled a never-ending to-do list.

What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?

Dedicate a window of time to doing what you absolutely love every single day. Maybe it’s not reasonable to spend all day on your hobby; maybe you have bills to pay, mouths to feed. Life beckons. But if you make the decision to give yourself a few moments everyday to achieve your own personal goals, you’ll be a happier person and your passion will flourish.

It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?

It’s all about balance. As business owners, we tend to work around the clock. It’s easy to get wiped out. When we feel drained, we change the scenery. Maybe just getting outside for a walk, moving and brainstorming or maybe a weekend getaway to Mexico. It’s so important to recharge and seeing new places and new things is a wonderful perspective shift, a great way to get inspired.

What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?

We love being able to craft our own story, to build up a brand we truly believe in. Seeing our creative vision come to fruition is truly a fulfilling experience. Yet, steering your own ship and navigating the waters can be challenging. If the ship sinks, the captain of the ship is held responsible. That pressure is always in the back of your mind. When you run your own business, you carry the weight. You’ve got to have some serious fortitude.

Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

From the start, our main passion has been to design and create, but of course there’s more to a brand than the artistry. We’ve learned that we have to incorporate many skills, including being a salesperson for our own brand. You have to have a great pitch. You have to be able to sell your own brand or no one will buy into it.

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?

We’ve invested so much in this brand we’ve never even contemplated throwing in the towel. When we get discouraged or stressed, we problem-solve. Where does the problem stem from and what are the possible solutions? There’s always a fresh angle to be found.

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?

We’ve made plenty of mistakes and none of them were funny! LOL

Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?

Our father is our greatest inspiration. He has always instilled in us a sense of stamina and integrity. Nothing was handed to him. Our grandfather was a shoemaker who immigrated to the United States from Italy in his early 20s. He had five children, our father being one of them. They didn’t have a lot of money, yet our father managed to put himself through college, earn a degree in Civil Engineering, and eventually start his own successful business. More than thirty years later, our dad is still in the office maintaining his company despite having the means to retire. We are endlessly in awe of his work ethic!

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

We make regular donations to over a dozen charities. From saving the elephants to breast cancer research to outreach for disadvantaged children; we invest in the future by finding charities who are truly making a direct impact. We also craft our sunglasses from cellulose acetate processed from wood pulp, a renewable resource which is also biodegradable.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. Save your money when it comes to photo shoots. Our first shoot we were very ambitious. We went way over budget. Later, we realized we can create cool content which is also budget-friendly. For instance, we now do all our own styling on set.
  2. Conceptualize designs with tooling costs in mind! After we put into production our first few styles, we got slapped with additional fees for tooling. We were so naive to the manufacturing process that we took no consideration in the cost of manufacturing particular design aspects. Now, when we lay out a design concept, we also consider the feasibility and costliness of manufacturing it.
  3. Product development will always take longer than expected! Always have a solid release date on the calendar and work backwards from there.
  4. Draft a realistic business plan. Because we are self funded, we didn’t feel the pressure to lay out our vision on paper. But we’ve learned it has to be equal parts logistics and passion, and a proper business plan is an essential part of the process.
  5. Budget to hire! You can’t do everything yourself.

What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Small kindnesses for a greater good. The smallest seed can flourish into a huge tree with outstretched branches. If you take just one moment to truly see someone; to deliver some bit of kindness or joy to their day, you never know how that might unfold and how many more people might be affected by the extension of that kindness. We adore the idea of unprovoked kindness.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

We absolutely live by this quote from Maya Angelou: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.” It would be much easier to sit by and let life take us for a ride. But we find ultimate satisfaction in being the creators of our own ride. We can be multifaceted; we can be mothers and bosses, ambitious yet empathetic, hustling one minute and laughing the next.

Some of the biggest 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! There are so many people we respect and admire in different fields outside of our own. From the fashion world, we would love to sit down with Mike Amiri. He’s a powerhouse in the industry, breaking down the norms of that realm. But what we truly respect is where he came from, building a brand without constraints in mind, crafting pieces from the heart rather than adhering to retail expectations. From an intellectual standpoint, we would love to sit down with Sam Harris. We listen to his podcast consistently and believe he has such a well-rounded perspective. We would love to pick his brain on a plethora of topics!

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

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