Meet our next #FREDAGIRL, Christina Bryant, the founder and CEO of St. Frank, world traveler and art historian. St. Frank is a wildly successful home decor marketplace that partners with artisans around the world to source fair trade and one-of-a-kind art, decor and accessories. St. Frank’s story begins with Christina’s trip to Rwanda post-grad with NY MoMA, where she fell hard for the culture, the people and their unique craft. She later moved there with Partners in Health, before continuing to earn her MBA at Stanford. Her experiences abroad have shaped her career and today we sat down with Christina to learn more about her journey to success, who inspires her and how to be a powerful female in the business world.
Tell us about the beginning of St. Frank. Where did your inspiration for the brand come about? How has it evolved?
I studied art history undergrad and started my career in New York at The Museum of Modern Art. Then I realized that, in addition to art, I was passionate about international developed, so I moved to rural Rwanda where I worked for a healthcare NGO, Partners In Health, for nearly two years. While I was living in East Africa, I met artisans in my community who were working in traditional crafts that had really rich histories behind them. I started designing products with them for my own use. When I came back to the States for business school, I was decorating my home and I wanted to create a space that told my story and reflected my values. I wanted authentic and unique products with rich stories, items that shared my travel-off-the-beaten-path lifestyle, and pieces that were ethically sourced. There really wasn’t a go-to source for me beyond one-off products I made and sourced abroad. The idea behind St. Frank was to create a new luxury lifestyle brand that was built for consumers who share my values. That’s still the case. We work with artisans around the world who are working in traditional crafts in low and middle-income countries to produce our collection. I started small, selling just framed handmade textiles on our website. That’s how we built the brand. We’ve since expanded to a more comprehensive home line, selling through our site and, now, our own stores in San Francisco and New York.
What is the most fulfilling part of your job? Most challenging?
The most fulfilling part of my job is being able to build something that matters to people: a product that our customers love delivered with exceptional customer service, a supply chain that supports quality jobs for artisans and preserves traditional artisanal craft, and a team that is thriving, growing, and enjoying the ride. The most challenging part of my job is growing a business with limited resources. Right now, there’s just too much to do and too few people to do it. Shameless plug – we’re hiring!
Tell us about your design process. How do you source and collaborate with artisans around the world?
The majority of our collection we design and produce with contemporary artisan workshops. We start with a product – technique and motif – they’re already creating and edit it for our own preferences and product needs. All of the finishing is done by small businesses in the US to maintain quality and consistency. About a quarter of our collection are vintage pieces that we source from vintage textile vendors, also in resourced settings. With these products, we buy and finish them. We’ve recently gotten in to print reproductions, such as wallpaper and fabric by the yard, that still benefit the artists through royalties and our artisan support fund that invests in capacity building for our partners.
Top 3 places locally, or in the world, to escape and find inspiration? Top three on the internet or social?
In the world, my mom’s house is up there in terms of top places for me to find inspiration. I learned my love of collecting beautiful objects, especially vintage and antique pieces with stories, from her. Her home is rooted in hospitality and the sense that everyone is welcome; that underlying warmth is at the center of the St. Frank home. I also found a lot of my initial inspiration in East Africa, specifically on the island of Lamu off the Kenyan Coast. I visited years ago when I was living in Rwanda and completely fell in love with the Islamic-influenced architecture and design. I stayed in this magical guest house, Fatuma’s Tower, that is run by an antique collector with an amazing eye. That visit was an inspirational experience for me and had a strong influence on the development of my personal style. I have a book on Lamu (we sell it, but it’s going out of print!) that I keep by my bed, so that I can return to that experience in my mind often. The other place I go for inspiration is art museums. I was really influenced by modern art when I was first starting St. Frank. I wanted large scale pieces that have the power to create true environments, like abstract expressionists paintings, to be more accessible to people like myself. That’s why we started with “sublime” size framed textiles. I still visit museums regularly for inspiration on composition, texture, and pattern. In terms of the internet and social media, I find inspiration mostly on Instagram. I try to stay up to date on fashion trends because I think home follows fashion, so I shop a few well-curated sites including Moda Operandi and Net-A-Porter regularly. And, of course, in the world of home, you need Pinterest.
How do you define success?
At work, I’d define success as creating value for my investors, employees, and our artisan partners. But, for me in general, success means treating others well, enjoying every day I’m given, using my strengths to their full potential, and keeping a mindset of gratitude and positivity.
What are your words to live by?
Enjoy every day. That might sound indulgent, but because I’m very goal-oriented, I always tend to look to the future, move at a fast pace, and error on the side of being too task-focused. So, I try to regularly remind myself to live in the moment. To me, this mantra, “enjoy every day,” is really about appreciating each day of my life, knowing that those days are numbered, and connecting with and loving the people that are in my life today.