#BoldAndInspiring South Asian Women Series: Honours Rosena Sammi, Follow our hashtag, #mminspire for the conversation
As a mother of two daughters, CEO of Rosena Sammi, Sammi says one of the most important lessons she hopes to share with her daughters is: ‘invest time in yourself to figure out who you are and what you want.’
Sammi has certainly figured out how to make an impact not only on her daughters and in her own community but also internationally. A native New Zealander of Sri Lankan heritage, a Manhattan attorney, Sammi left her career to launch her own jewellery company in 2006. She says her transition to being the CEO of a global fashion brand was much less dramatic and more organic than anything else.
“I was taking night classes at Parsons School of Design while practicing law and gradually I saw an opportunity for me to turn my passion into a career,” says Sammi. “As for inspiration—I think living in New York helped. The energy in this city makes you believe anything is possible.”
So what’s her creative process?
“Every collection is different and inspiration has arisen from a variety of sources— museums to markets to historical images. I’ve been thrilled to combine my love for design with my love of travel. I’ve had some amazing adventures with my family from Marrakesh to Vietnam. I love designing around the colours and cues I see on these journeys.”
Her Sanskrit Collection is a masalamommas favourite and evolved from the idea of creating jewelry designed to wear your truth.
“I hoped that wearing the words would translate into my life,” says Sammi. “My first word was “Nirvanam” or bliss. That resonated with people, it remains my best selling Sanskrit necklace.”
Sammi’s collections have always garnered praise and it’s her creative process that has also changed the way traditional jewellery is being worn.
“My debut collection featured a fine jewelry statement necklace that I was thrilled to see featured in Harper’s Bazaar,” says Sammi. “That was back in the day when knocking on doors could literally lead you into a meeting with the top editors in the industry! Subsequently, Naomi Watts’ stylist called me to borrow it in consideration for the Oscars and then wore it on the red carpet for a premiere. I think it did so well because it transformed traditional Mughal Jewelry into something modern and wearable and that was groundbreaking at that time.”
In a business world ruled by men, Sammi admits launching her own fashion business was an eye-opening experience.
Nothing feels as good as supporting other women. I had some eye-opening experiences as a young woman starting my own business—familiar stories to those who have done business in India–men asking if my husband would be joining the meeting and so forth, says Sammi.
“It helped shaped my focus on developing relationships with women’s collectives and working to empower women and girls.”
The experience would pave the path for her most challenging role, being a mother of two little girls. Being her own boss, Sammi says provides a level of flexibility, that allows her to be there for all the big and little things that are so important to young children.Motherhood gives you incredible perspective, the important things suddenly become crystal clear. This outlook combined with the unique qualities women have are part of what makes women so valuable in the boardroom and in politics,… Click To Tweet
That passion drove her work as a women’s rights advocate. Over the years Rosena “grew increasingly concerned as she watched fast fashion and disposable lifestyles replace artisanship with exploitation, waste, and a disregard for the origins of what we consume,” her website says about that time. “That is not the world Rosena Sammi envisioned for her two young daughters, nor the direction she wanted for her company. After a decade of producing diverse collections, Rosena relaunched her jewelry line in 2017, redoubling her commitment to handmade and fair-trade pieces to do her part as a global citizen and to be a role model for her daughters. No compromises. No exceptions.”
It was after she became a mother that she would be inspired to create her signature charity collection, Who’s Sari Now? Rosena Sammi Jewelry partnered with the NGO Apne Aap to educate young girls rescued from the red light districts of India. The Bangles, use upcycled saris and are made with the help of the women of Apne Aap, directly benefiting the education of these girls.
“After many years in the business, I realized that helping people was more important to me than jumping on the next trend. I was fortunate enough to meet the founder of Apne Aap, Ruchira Gupta. She was so inspiring and since I was looking to give back to the community, her organization, which rescues women and children from sex trafficking in India and provides them with a job and education, was the perfect match!”
All sales from the “Who’s Sari Now” Bangles, directly benefit the education of these girls, with 20%-25% of the proceeds from each sale going directly to Apne Aap.
“Changing lives in this way has been so rewarding,” says Sammi.
Today she’s changing the lives of many including her two daughters. She says she hopes to impart important lessons on them as grow up to be young women in today’s world including: “Don’t underestimate the importance of financial independence and What you look like isn’t as important as the world wants you to think.”
Sammi reflects on these lessons but adds the impact of her own mother’s influence has kept her grounded in her own journey today and for her kids tomorrow.
“It’s not something she said, it’s something she did,” says Sammi. “She never focused on my appearance. I never grew up feeling any pressure from society’s expectations on what women and girls should look like. I know that sounds crazy, but she was brilliant at making me feel self- confident. It’s so hard to achieve that in today’s social media-driven world, but I’m trying!”
Other fun facts about Rosena:
What is the one thing people may not know about you?
I played Badminton competitively as a child. My father was the National Badminton Champion of Sri Lanka. My childhood was filled with many happy memories on a badminton court with my family.
Favourite TV/Netflix show?
My all-time favourite show is The Wire. My current favourite show is The Handmaiden’s Tale, although sometimes I feel it’s uncomfortably close to reality!
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