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Meet Brianna Bruderlin of The Fox and the Mermaid

Today we’d like to introduce you to Brianna Bruderlin.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Brianna. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Up until 3 years ago, I was an Executive Producer for reality TV and documentaries. It was the only job I’d ever had apart from part-time waitressing jobs in college. I didn’t study anything TV-related in school.

In fact, I got my master’s degree in Italian Art History in Italy. When I came back from graduate school I landed in a TV job and for a long time it was great-I got to travel, meet interesting people, work on interesting projects, and I was well-compensated. But after 18+ years of it, I started to become more and more unhappy, exhausted and stressed.

Sometimes I would wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding from stress, oftentimes I didn’t even know why. Also, as I got older and started thinking more about the future it started to feel like a dead end in that there were no 401k or retirement benefits, no health insurance, and no job security–not that anyone truly has the latter.

Add to that the fact that people around me kept getting younger and I started worrying about the day I would be passed over for fresher faces. It’s a common concern that I hear often, but the truth is, as long as you rely on other people for your livelihood, it’s a valid one. I had been dreaming of starting my own company for more years that I can remember, but it was always something I thought I would do in the future and I had no actual plan for making it happen.

There were three big things stopping me:
1) I believed that I had no skills or experience other than producing television which in retrospect is nonsense. We all have skills that we acquire in work and in life.

2) I didn’t have the “perfect”, risk-free idea. I had it in my head that unless I had marketing, e-commerce, and manufacturing experience I was not going to succeed, which also is not true.

3) I kept hearing other people say that it takes 5 years to be profitable (also not true) which was not a risk I could afford to take. I mention these things because I hear other people using those same excuses all the time for why they can’t follow their dreams.

One day, after a particularly tough and unfulfilling job, I had an epiphany that rather than continuing to passively wait for inspiration (because let’s face it, if it hadn’t happened already it probably was never just going to “just happen”) I was going to start designing a company. And that is what I did! I started brainstorming company names, a brand identity, arranging meetings with people who might have some advice to offer and soon enough the inspiration hit.

In other words, for me, waiting to be inspired was just a form of procrastination. I truly believe that one of the main keys to success is just getting started. I didn’t have contacts and I was not willing to risk a lot of money to get started so after a lot of internet research I found a family in India who was willing to create a small sample order of handmade home décor products for me.

So with an investment of just $160, my business was born. I can attest that you don’t have to spend a lot of money or go into debt to follow your dreams.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I don’t know that I would call it smooth, but it definitely hasn’t been as difficult as I imagined. Maybe I say that because I was so scared for so long to quit my job and take the plunge that when I finally did it I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t so harrowing.

But I also think that fear is an incredible motivator. I put it in my mind, and repeated over and over to myself, that failure was just not an option. I was determined to do whatever it took to succeed because the alternative would mean accepting defeat. It was sink or swim time.

One struggle and I hear this from a lot of entrepreneurs, was working alone. I started out working from my living room and it can get lonely. Also, not having someone to bounce ideas off of can be very restricting. I recently joined an all-female co-working office space which I have found to be very empowering and helpful.

Not only does it get me out of my house, it’s so nice to have smart, successful women to collaborate with and be supported by. And in a world where everyone else’s life and business looks perfect on Instagram, it’s nice to know that other people who appear to have it all are experiencing the same challenges you are.

There has been and continues to be, a big learning curve but that’s what makes it fun. I find that when business is doing really well it’s easy to get complacent and stop looking for ways to grow and improve. It’s in the lulls, struggles, and even mini-failures where you learn and develop skills and confidence you didn’t have before.

A lot of that won’t happen without obstacles turned learning experiences. It took me a long time to go from feeling as if I was an imposter who just got lucky to realize that I actually created something amazing from the ground up where there had been nothing before. It’s incredibly empowering.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into The Fox and the Mermaid story. Tell us more about the business.
My company is called The Fox and the Mermaid. I specialize in handmade, bohemian-style, one-of-a-kind products from around the world. Absolutely nothing is mass produced and I know all the artisans who make the items for me. I do a lot of custom orders where I work with the client and the artisans to create something special just for them. I think of my products as a mix of beautiful old-world designs with a modern spin.

Maybe because I grew up in the melting pot of Los Angeles, I have always felt strongly that cultural diversity enriches us, inspires us, makes society stronger, and just makes life more interesting and full. I think that is why I am so attracted to the artistry of other cultures, whether it’s that of our neighbors across our southern border who keep the rich, historical and artistic traditions of their Mayan ancestors alive through weaving or the artisans in India who painstakingly hand stamp their gorgeous fabrics with wood blocks when it would so much cheaper and faster to resort to mass-producible screen printing.

And this is exactly what I believe makes The Fox and the Mermaid special. All of the products have a unique history and a meaningful connection to the past which in turn makes those products much more than just another bag, dress, or necklace. The colors, historical symbolism, and centuries-old techniques passed down by the artisans’ ancestors, as well as the love put into them, are what makes each item unique and special.

That is what I am most proud of. Additionally, almost all of my products are made with re-purposed vintage textiles so, in addition to their beautiful history, they create little to no waste which is very important to me.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
To be completely honest, I’m not sure. At first, I thought that luck played an enormous role in my business because it took off right away at a time when I really didn’t have a plan. I was literally just making it up as I went along. I wanted to start a business quickly and I was impatient and chomping at the bit to get going and hadn’t done much legwork at all. When I sold my first few products I didn’t even have labels or a proper logo which makes me laugh now!

I just wasn’t very prepared and I think in retrospect that was because I didn’t actually expect to sell things as quickly as I did. I know many people struggle for many months without making a single sale despite having a great product, and fortunately, I never had that problem. While sometimes I cringe looking back at my early photos and website, I think there is a lot to be said for just going for it. Everything doesn’t have to be perfect before you can start.

My pictures weren’t very good (I’ll be honest, they were terrible), but I took them myself and they were free and they did the job they needed to do. My website was pretty bare bones, but it was functional. That is really all you need to get started. I always go out of my way to encourage everyone I meet who wants to start their own business to just do it. Don’t overthink it because that could prevent you from doing anything.

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