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A Deep Dive with Aviva Shafor posted by: Dana Helms

Dana Helms: Thanks for agreeing to dish with me. I like to make this fun. Kind of a back and forth. I've got some questions for you and you feel free to throw a few at me.

Aviva Shafor: Dana, how did we meet each other?

Dana: Just so happens we met at a dinner one night in honor of the WOW Award for WithIt during the High Point Furniture market, fall 2016 I believe. You were wearing an amazing vintage dress and invited me to a pillow fight. Sounds crazy when I say it out loud like that.

Aviva: What is your spirit animal?

Dana: The Owl. It’s a highly intuitive animal, it can see in the dark, meaning I can get a pretty good feel for people even when they aren't telling me everything. It's also probably why I am up and my creative side awakens in the night. When I get really good ideas!

What motivates you to work hard?

Aviva: I come from a long line of makers – my mother is Japanese, and back in the day we made swords for the samurai that protected the royal family… for me, the motivation is that I am representing - not just my family I was born into, but my community of makers, artisans, creatives, representing the united states. I feel that it is a serious responsibility to keep applied textile design alive here, and generally making things and bringing them to market in the US is also super motivating. Then there is being a mom and wanting to make my kids proud... then there is being a woman, and as an entrepreneur, an artist, and a business person – I feel that it’s my duty to report to this post every day.

Wow – that was a lot! I guess if I were to answer quickly I would say that I am on my journey and I only know “being motivated” – I only have one channel in this regard.

Basically, I can’t sit still very well – not sure any entrepreneur can.

Dana: I’m a reader and always on the market for a new book. What is your all-time favorite book?

Aviva: Roald Dahl and dr. seuss “oh, the places you’ll go”

Dana: Tell me about the company you’ve created.

Aviva: My company creates products with stories. Most of those stories center around the beauty of imperfection. I believe in magic – I believe we all have that magic within us – it is in this imperfection that we all have in common that this company has found success. I bring products to market that are made by hand. We cannot repeat things over and over with perfection as artisanal makers. My customers and I are okay with this. I started in textiles for home – decorative pillows and throws. Now we offer minerals and crystals, lighting, wall art, and many other product categories - some which have become possible through our beloved licensing partners.

Dana: What were some pivotal moments in your career and life and how did they affect you?

Aviva: 1. When I paid back my dad the money I borrowed to start this company – I understood what kind of an independent being I wanted to be and the importance of pinky swears and family. It took me years to do it, but that feeling of paying that back with money earned from my own art was something that really stayed with me.

2. When the Brooklyn museum invited my designs to be part of their permanent collection of decorative arts – I was simultaneously honored, and filled with a sense of responsibility to continue on and be the best artist I could be.

3. When my husband and I decided to move from NYC to California to have a better quality of life 5 years ago – it was a conscious decision to have balance and live in a place surrounded by natural beauty and culture of calm. Ironically, this move to slow down has only enabled us to grow larger as a company – it’s really lovely to hardly ever wear shoes, be away from the hustle of big city life, and see my kids run all the way down the beach at sunset – with no parking issues. Today I describe it as “we earned it”. It fills me with a sense of gratitude and inspires me to share these good vibes with as many people as I can, we are all really fortunate in this country – please tell everyone to chase their dreams daily AND start today!


Aviva: How has WithIt helped you?

Dana: WithIt, which stands for Women in the Home Industry Today, is a women's organization set up 20 years ago by some really amazing women in our industry so that women could have a place for future leadership, growth, education. It's the women's spin on the "old boys club" but we don't exclude men from joining or supporting. WithIt is successful because our members are successful. We nurture the leaders in our industry today and those who will be our leaders in the future.

No matter what stage I’ve been at in my career, having a good mentor has been extremely valuable. We never stop learning and are hopefully constantly faced with new challenges. As I started being more involved, putting myself out there and officially mentoring others there were new aspects I needed guidance on. If I had to sum it up into three key aspects to how my mentors have helped and continue to help me I would say that it’s by listening, guiding, and directing. Whatever the stage you’re in your career you can always benefit with someone who can do just that. A person who can for example:

• Listen to you talk through work, explain a problem or situation that you are faced with.
• Guide you in the right direction with work, decisions, your career, suitable training, contacts, and how to deal with work-related situations.
• Direct you by being honest with advice and feedback, be it about your work, decisions, ideas, management, leadership, or other business skills.

Aviva: Mentoring is an important word at Withit– who can be a mentor?

Dana: Easy, Anyone! Everyone. What’s been the most rewarding thing to me was to Find a mentor & Be one.

Having a mentor should never be something negative and if someone suggests that you should have one, take it as a positive. It means that they want to help and invest in you. I try to encourage others if their work doesn’t provide a mentor, to ask for one, or try to find one on their own. A mentor can come in so many different forms. A key fact to remember is, it doesn’t necessarily have to be someone who’s been assigned to be your mentor. They are all around! Heck, you don’t even have to have just one! But make sure you have one and that you use them. If you keep your mind open there is so much to learn from others. You will learn as much from the person you are mentoring as that person will learn from you.

That dinner we met at, the following year I was nominated, by my peers and won the mentoring award! I still get chills thinking about it. Honored to be thought of by others for such a thing. Truly.

One of my favorite things to ask folks, if you had a superpower and could use it once a month, what would it be?

Aviva: We are Women in the Design and Home furnishings industry - isn’t that like being a type of superhero?

Dana: Completely! There is no question about it!
What are the struggles women face in the home furnishings industry?

Aviva: That’s a good question. I can only answer what I have experienced myself.

It’s no secret our industry has been predominantly male for many years and in that environment women will be treated differently. But don’t dwell on the differences. To move ahead, leave gender aside and focus on your strengths. Be comfortable with yourself. Don’t try to change who you are to fit into a man’s world. I think the challenges we face are not just in our industry. Instead of focusing on what the challenges are I think women need to educate themselves on how to maneuver around it to go further or stay ahead. Pay attention to your leadership style. I learned something from a manager recently in a sales training. To be successful you must understand the person and flex your style to the situation. Lead with the facts and listen to the corp culture. Once I change my interactions with management or the person I was engaging with and listened more carefully to their language, I was suddenly being heard.

Dana: I could go on and on with you. I think this deserves a follow up. We’ll do this again! I really appreciate you taking time out of your world and chatting with me! See you at the next trade show!

Dana Helms is a visionary entrepreneur, people connector, future beach bum and proud WithIt member whose day job is as a business development executive with MicroD. #SoMe is her virtual coffee club - #MugsUp Originator.



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Jana Platina Phipps

Home Couture Collective
I'm part of WithIt to have a direct "red phone" line to a brain bank of women with competitive intelligence, strategies, and problem solving experience--and to be at the other end of their red phones.
Together, we create powerful collective business momentum and our strengths can change the landscape of leadership in our industry to reflect sexual equality.
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