Why I Needed To Move To Follow My Passion
St. Frank's Christina Bryant shares why she relocated from S.F. to NYC.
While "location, location, location" is the catchphrase for real estate, it also is an incredibly important factor for your career. While we do live in a time where working remotely is easier than ever, it's inescapable that some industries are based in certain cities. For instance, while the design industry has hubs around the country, there's no denying that its base is in NYC.
That's why Christina Bryant, the founder of the global home decor company St. Frank, recently made a cross-country move from San Francisco to the Big Apple. While she built the brand in the Bay Area, she realized that to take her company to the next level, she would have to uproot her life and head to NYC.
Making such a major move is a huge decision that you can't take lightly. Not only does it require money and extensive planning, but it also means having to find a new home and reshaping your community. Yet at the same time, it provides the possibility for growth and finding a new network of people that can become integral parts of your life.
We asked Bryant to share her story to give us perspective on the decision-making process, setbacks, and benefits of moving for your passion. Whether you're considering a major transition yourself or just want to hear an inspiring story, read ahead.
Can you share how you first became interested in the design business?
Christina Bryant: I have always loved art and design — I studied art history and architectural history undergrad, did a summer internship at Christie’s in their 20th-Century Decorative Arts department, and joined New York’s Museum of Modern Art as my first job after college.
I realized that I was also passionate about international development at that point, so I left Manhattan and moved to a small village in Rwanda for two years to work for a healthcare NGO. While living there, I met artisans in my community who were working in traditional crafts. I fell in love with the stories behind these crafts and their beautiful handwork. I wanted to purchase things and bring them home, but nothing would really work once I got home (I thought), so I started designing products with the artisans for my own personal use. First apparel and accessories, and then a couple things for my room. I even bought a vintage textile which I later framed.
I then came back to the states for business school and was decorating my home. I wanted to create a space that spoke to my values and my story as someone who travels around the world off the beaten path, cares about authentic products with stories behind them, and demands ethical sourcing. Short of the items I was finding, finishing, or creating abroad, I couldn’t find much that met my needs.
I realized that most of my friends had these same values, so I though I would create a new kind of home brand built for a consumer like me. We work with artisans around the world in under-resourced settings who are working in traditional craft methods to produce our line. Each piece supports quality jobs and cultural preservation and comes with a history.
What was it like to slowly grow your business?
CB: Hard! It’s been an adventure. I started small, working alone and bootstrapping, while selling framed handmade textiles on our website. The business really began to change when my co-founder Steph Peng joined.
We raised outside capital and began to build out our team. We started growing to be a more comprehensive home line — selling not just art, but pillows, blankets, rugs, gifts, tabletop, wallpaper, and fabric. We explored new sales channels including opening our first store in San Francisco over three years ago (today we have three stores!) and starting to work with Barneys as our first wholesale partner. Every year the business changes so much! It’s been a challenging, amazing experience so far.
At what point did you realize it would be necessary for you to move to continue growth?
CB: A couple years in, we began discussing how it was holding us back as a business to not be based in New York, where our industry is based. By 2017, I found myself of the East Coast almost every week despite the fact that I was living in San Francisco. It just wasn’t sustainable for me anymore.
In addition to traveling to NYC for investor and press meetings, the interior design industry, and networking with other consumer brands and wholesale partners, New York now housed our largest customer base and we were popping up along the East Coast with temporary physical locations.
Has it been hard to make such a major move across the country for your job?
CB: Logistically it was a little bit of a headache and I arrived on a one-degree day in January last year! But, overall, moving to New York was sort of like coming home for me. I’ve lived here already after college and in the summers during college and business school, I have a ton of friends here, and it’s closer to get home to my family.
What have been the positives moving to NYC? Any negatives?
CB: On a personal level, I am happy in the city. It’s awesome to be around other creatives and S.F. can’t compete to the culture and diversity of New York.
That said, I miss the natural beauty of California and the easy access to hiking and surf throughout the week. I’m traveling less, so I’m grateful for that. Professionally, it’s hard to have half our team based on one end of the country and the rest of the team on the other. Steph has remained in S.F. with our operations team and I’ve been building out our sales, marketing, and design team in NYC. It much easier to network and hire in New York because there’s a much bigger consumer industry here.
How important do you think location is when working in a more creative field?
CB: In some ways, there were benefits to starting in S.F. because the industry was small. It was a close-knit community to get to know other consumer entrepreneurs and design-focused media (like Lonny!) because there just aren’t that many of us. I found the S.F. design community and customers to be extremely supportive of us and I’ll always be grateful for that. That said, I didn’t realize how important access to the industry would be as we grew and, at this point, I wouldn’t start another company in a city that wasn’t a major hub for that respective industry.