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Name: Sandy Gingras

Business: How To Live 

Location: Beach Haven, New Jersey, U.S.

Industry: Arts & Entertainment

Reason for starting? As a single mom, I wanted to find a way to stay home and make a living. I also felt a need to express the way I felt about living on an island — about living simply and living in harmony with nature. After years of fighting environmental battles against over-development, I was exhausted by negative energy, and fighting against. I wanted to stand FOR something. I wanted to celebrate what I loved, what I believed in. I wanted my son to know what I stood for and be able to look up to me. So I drew a design called “How to Live on an Island.” I made the design into a tee shirt and sold it at craft shows. People read it and it struck a chord with them. I think it touched the same part of them that it touched in me — the love of simplicity and nature and living thankfully. I turned the design into cards and prints and did more designs on the “how to live” theme, and it became a wholesale stationery company with over 800 accounts nationwide, then it became two retail stores.

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How do you define success? I feel most successful when my work touches people and helps them along on their journey. I believe we’re all in this life together, and when people “buy” my products, they’re really saying, “I agree with you. I believe the same thing too. You’re not alone.” I feel especially successful when people are propelled forward by my story and ask me how they can do a similar thing — make a living through self-expression and creativity. I also feel proud that I “created” a business out of nothing but an idea. Once, where there was nothing, now there are hundreds of cards and prints out in the world spreading the “how to live” message. Now there are 25 books, now there are two stores that people can visit and be inspired by. I also feel successful owning a company that employs twenty people. I love being a supportive part of their lives. Many of them do creative work that I sell in the stores. I feel successful knowing that my stores are not only about “selling stuff” but about heart.

Biggest success: My books have sold over a million copies. They are sold all over the country and in England and Australia and in the Caribbean. I feel successful when I think that my one small voice has reached that far. It still astounds me that what I created, really for my own mental health — to figure out how to live — has touched so many lives.

What is your top challenge and how you have addressed it? I’ve had many challenges over the years. The first was that I was a single mom with no business training (or art training) whatsoever and no start-up capital. I’ve had to just figure it out as I went. For years, I did every part of the business alone because I couldn’t pay for help. Then as the business grew, I didn’t know which direction to take it. Should I expand the wholesale end of things, should I design products for other companies and license my work, should I start in the retail side of business? Every step I took, the deciding factor was life-style. I wanted to stay home when my son was young, so I wanted the business to stay small enough to work from home. As he got older, I sold my wholesale business (and now just design for them) and was able to open two retail stores to sell my products. I work hard and I work a lot of hours, but I can make my own hours and go for a walk on the beach if I want to. I can ride my bike to work!

I’ve had depression my whole life. It went undiagnosed and untreated until I was in my fifties. I’ve recently learned that depression means “a pressing downward” while expression means “a pressing outward.” I’ve spent my entire adult life “pressing outward” — my whole business is about self-expression and creativity. I created a whole business called “How to Live” because I really didn’t know how to live — I was just desperately trying to figure it out. But in the process of expressing myself, I created a whole career. It’s ironic. I’ve ended up being grateful for the depression to a certain extent, because it forced me to “press back.” If I didn’t have depression, I don’t know if I would have done any of this.

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Who is your most important role model? My father ran a company. He treated his employees like family. I always admired that and how, without any education, he climbed up the ladder from blueprint boy to president. I’ve only had one real job in my life — right out of college for a year. I never wanted anyone to tell me what I was worth — like no matter how good you are at your job, you get paid $40,000. That makes no sense to me. When you have your own company, you’re worth what you’re worth. There’s no ceiling. Of course, there’s also no floor — no security, no set salary. But I enjoy the challenge of that. I don’t believe there is such a thing as safe anyway… My creative role model is SARK. Also Natalie Goldberg. They have such free creative spirits. I always look to their books and their lives for guidance about how to live.

Twitter   @sandygingras 
Instagram   @gingrassandy 

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Edited by The Story Exchange