It takes guts to step away from a thriving business you’ve built from the ground up and start another company. But in 2015 Beth Bugdaycay left her post as CEO of mega fashion brand, Rebecca Taylor, which she had started with the designer when she was 23, to launch Foundrae, a fine jewelry collection that is based around the symbolism of tenets, or beliefs. At the heart of the collection are medallions and rings based around eight tenets–“each symbol is a tool for self-discovery and self-expression”. If this sounds a bit too kumbaya for your taste, you should first get acquainted with the jewelry. I can’t decide which I like more….the mille fleur diamond-encrusted pendant that stands for resilience or the snake charm that represents wholeness. (And Foundrae’s chains might be the best I’ve ever seen.) It is not surprising that Beth would chose this road as she seems like the kind of person who is truly engaged in creating personal bonds with others and fostering positivity. And it is paying off. Today is the official launch of her first boutique in Tribeca (and she continuously sells out on Net-a-Porter). Here Beth shares why she decided to pivot, the reason behind the lending library in her new store, and the appeal of vanilla.
Please introduce yourself. In terms of actually defining myself, sometimes I feel that those are the boxes we put ourselves in, that I’m actually trying to get out of, and trying to get other people to get out of. To say I’m a jewelry designer….. I’m more than that. I’m a mom, I’m a daughter, I’m a lover, I’m creative, I’m a businesswoman, I’m an entrepreneur. We have to get a bit more away from that and recognize how complex we are and the layers that we have.
Because then I think if we talk about pivoting [your career], if you recognize that you are more than just one description then pivoting probably won’t be as hard. For so long I was Beth, CEO and cofounder of Rebecca Taylor. That was amazing, but it was one aspect of me, and in the end I felt like I was putting on a drag costume to get into a role. I was letting some parts of me atrophy and other parts I was trying to do on the weekends, but I think if you present yourself as just one of those roles you end up not being complete.
I love to listen to how women change their careers. It’s fascinating. I think women are lucky in that respect, they are allowed to have many chapters in their lives. I have these conversations a lot because a lot of people know that this is my second career. I was just talking to a good friend yesterday who has her own company, and she’s had it for a long time. Basically she thinks in the next couple years, she’s now 50, that she wants to exit out of her business, but she said, “you know what, I’m good at a lot of stuff, and I can tell you I’m never going to do a apparel again.” She said, “I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I want to do something different.” I think a lot of people are thinking how do they pivot.
A lot of people are scared of losing too much of their competencies and experience they’ve spent so many years building, and I think that often times you’ve got to look creatively about, what exactly are those skills? Sometimes I think you fall into the trap of defining them in a way that is limited to whatever experience you’ve had, but then you realize that often times a skillset applies to so many different industries.
It’s true and not being afraid of letting go of what you’re comfortable with. Yes! That’s exactly what Foundrae’s about. One of the tenets is called passion, and the idea is it has wings. The idea is you can’t be earthbound all the time with your feet firmly planted. Sometimes you need to put the wings on and let yourself fly. It’s a little scary, it really is. But you have to take risks in order to continue to live life passionately, otherwise it’s like same-old, same-old.
One of my other tenets is about wholeness; it has a snake representative. You have to continue to grow and shed skin in order to find balance and wholeness. It’s like being on a seesaw. You can’t balance on the center of a seesaw and stand still. You have to keep on moving. To me that’s the whole real beauty of life. Learning and growing.
Talking about your background, why did you decide to leave Rebecca Taylor? Towards the end of my tenure at Rebecca Taylor I was not feeling as passionate about what I did. I was working really hard, I was very successful, but it wasn’t feeding me. You should be excited about going to work. I really believe that. When I started coming to the dinner table with my kids and husband and rolling my eyes about the day I knew I had to leave, because I didn’t want to teach my kids those values. I didn’t want them to think that you do something just because it’s successful and it pays well. You have to have a heart in it. You have to live what you believe.
Why did you want to start Foundrae? Where did the inspiration come from? I think that I felt very compartmentalized at Rebecca Taylor, where like I said, I defined myself as CEO and cofounder, and I felt a lot of the time I was kind of living a role. I went the opposite direction for Foundrae, where my studio and the retail space is in the same building that I live in. My “master plan” is I don’t really want to have a large team. I want it to stay very personal. There were many years at Rebecca Taylor that were just so beautiful, and so I think for me, the idea of the perfect size is less than 20. It’s important to have structure, people need defined roles, but in a smaller company there’s wiggle room and more excitement. People get to be part of the big picture, everybody really contributes. I like that collaborative energy.
Do you feel Foundrae is a more creative role for you? Oh shoot, yeah, it’s the opposite. I am the creative director of Foundrae, where at Rebecca Taylor Rebecca was. My whole life I wanted to be a designer. I know it sounds crazy, but a lot of people couldn’t imagine me in that [CEO] role, but I did it. I had to learn it, I was 23 and I was going to make sure I was the best CEO I could possibly be. It didn’t mean that it used all of my skillsets. It probably made me work harder to overcome natural shortcomings. Where now I feel really adept and comfortable in my role.
What do you love about jewelry? I love how permanent it is. I love it that people can invest in one single piece that lasts a lifetime and ideally a couple of lifetimes. I call them modern heirlooms and my whole point is that it’s the story that matters. It’s not about the weight in gold, but the idea that you chose the strength medallion as your base medallion, and that’s what you should be talking about with your son or your daughter or whoever will get it. I think that sharing those values that you hold near and dear to your heart is actually the best thing you could pass on.
Your jewelry is about positive messages, why did you decide to go do that route? It’s very much who I am. I am naturally a positive person, and when I say positive it doesn’t mean that everything is happy. It means that when something is negative in front of you, you use your energy in a more constructive way to solve the problem. I don’t see positivity as naïve. I think it is a really active and deliberate choice of how you live your life. That’s what I’m trying to communicate through the tenets.
It is like having a talisman that’s always there to remind you of something. Exactly, they’re reminders. The point is, the last thing I would ever think is that I’m a guide for someone. It’s more, I am a fellow student. I’m also learning this. I also need these messages to make sure that I remind myself that, for example, strength is within.
Do you help your clients pick out their pieces? Usually people start talking to you about what they value, or what’s going on in their lives, an often times it comes down to two tenets pretty quickly. When we talk about the stories–the necklaces with multiple medallions on them, it’s really for us a bit awe-inspiring to see what combinations people choose to put together, and how personal they become and how each one is so different from the other.
You must have some very personal introspective conversations with your clients. It’s incredible the memories we’re building. For example there was a woman who was dying of brain cancer and wanted to leave many pieces of jewelry that she hand-selected as heirlooms to friends and family. Just being part of the journey with her was incredible. She had a date that was a pretty tight, shorter than our normal delivery dates, that she wanted everything completely by, and as a team we all pulled together. It’s honestly such an honor to help somebody communicate the different chapters of her life. For her this was a closing chapter, and that was really the first time in my life I’ve experienced something like that.
What motivates you? Oh gosh, it sounds so lame, but I love stability believe it or not. In the end I’m a Virgo, I love to be earthbound. I can’t wait till I get a bit of stabilization in terms of the business, so that’s motivating me to kind of reach an equilibrium that allows us to breathe a little bit, where right now it’s a tiny team. From opening the store, to the press, and then to these super emotional experiences, everything’s been really full on. I’m hoping to have a little bit more space around each one of those activities, instead of having them kind of smashed up together.
I don’t know if that’s going to happen. I don’t know if it will! Then I can I tell you what the next problem is, is then it happens you’re freaked out because it means that you’re not growing, and you’re scared that no one’s interested in the brand.
One of your attributes that helps you succeed? I’m resourceful.
To date, what do you consider your biggest success, and then the other side of it, has there been something that’s surprised you or didn’t work out and what did you learn from it? The funny thing is about success, people have asked me before, “When did you know you made it?” They said that about Rebecca Taylor. I was like, “Wait, are you telling me that you think I’ve made it?” I didn’t notice! I would say that for me it’s noticing these small successes every single day and celebrating them, which I think I’m very good at. I feel like we celebrate every single day and the idea that, this is incredible. I don’t think I ever have any real end goal in mind that is a stopping point. It feels too much like a period at the end of a sentence for me.
In terms of failing, same thing, I fail every single day. Sometimes I fail with my own attitude, like if I’m short-tempered or I disappoint myself in how I communicated something to somebody. I try to improve upon it. To me that’s what failure is about, you have to be reflective of what you didn’t like and how can you change it and learn from the situation. I guess the beauty is that you just get right back up when you fall down. But you have to take risks and allow yourself to run at a pace that, really, you will fall down. If you’re not taking the risk and you’re just taking one meandering step at the time you might not get anywhere.
Role model: My mother. I think my mom has an incredible ability to always get me to look at my actions and my beliefs from a wider perspective. She’s never one time said, “You’re right Beth, that person’s such a pain,” or something like that. She always says to me, “I wonder what’s going on in that person’s life that’s making them respond this way to you.” She’s got a beautiful life perspective that has influenced me greatly.
Three words that describe Foundrae: Authentic, meaningful, classic.
Three words that describe you: Earnest…such a unsexy word. There’s nothing sexy about it unfortunately, but it is very, very accurate for me. An-insatiable-appetite-towards-the-idea-of-living-as-full-as-I-can. Is that a word? I don’t think so, that was a paragraph, right? I want to live life as full as possible. I just think that it’s a gift that we’ve been given that we need to honor with the best effort. The third is good friend. That’s really important to me. I love teaching other people how to felt, because I love when they get super excited about it and start felting, becoming felting maniacs. I like to share a book. At the new store we have a lending library that people can check out books. It’s all really the same thing, which is I love the kind of fabric that you end up making with these relationships, and how they all weave together.
Best career advice you have received, and-or would give to somebody starting out: I learned something that is important over the years, which is the idea of editing what you think and narrowing the focus in terms of what you’re working on. You can keep the big picture in mind, but take one step at a time rather than trying to take the whole armful. Over the years people would coach me on that and it’s very helpful. It’s allowed me to communicate something very complex that has a lot of layers, hopefully in a tight enough way that it resonates with people.
Why did you decide to open the store? What you want the store to be? It’s a place that I can have that interface with the customer, and the customer can be there with the jewelry and be inspired in general. They can read books, they can just be in the space. It’s also our studio. I think we’ve created this space that has an energy that really feels like a warm community.
It feels very personal. Very personal. I’ve talked about the idea that it’s an inclusive vision, which I know that in the end we have jewelry that costs $2,000, $5,000 so what’s inclusive about that? We’re trying to figure out other ways that we can be inclusive by, for example, having books that people can check out at no expense. We really wanted this to be collaborative, we get inspired by the people we work with and the people that purchase Foundrae.
Life goals: I already said, I love a good, nice, stable pattern so I’m just trying to get into a place where I feel like it’s sustainable financially.
Daily goals: I like to feel inspired every day and to feel like I’ve accomplished something in terms of defining something I like, working with the customer. I think that that helps me feel accomplished. Every day that you do something feels like it has a purpose.
Favorite inspirational/motivational books: There’s so many of them. I read a ton. I like taking sentences or words from each resource. There’s probably nothing that, cover to cover, everything made sense to me. If I can just gather a couple words of wisdom from every piece I read then I feel like it’s time well spent. I keep them in the Foundrae library. I literally check them out myself. I just went on vacation a couple weeks ago and I pulled out like eight books and brought them on the trip with me.
That’s a lot of books! I can’t help myself. Then I bought books while I was gone too by the way, because everywhere I go I love buying books and bringing them back as a souvenir. So yeah, we have a lot of books. I like underlining stuff. I don’t mind if other people underline.
Daily rituals: Nothing that I can say I do every single day, other than have tea in the morning and drop my daughter off at school. I read at least three to four times a week. I don’t say meditate, even though other people would call it meditation, but I sit in silence. I go to worship. I bake. I do a lot of crafts. I love wine. I like doing a lot of different stuff.
How do you unplug? Reading. I feel really inspired when I read.
Hidden talents/hobbies: Crafting. I’m good at it actually.
Biggest splurge you don’t regret: A portrait I got done of Jim, my son. Now the problem is, I can’t afford to get one done of my daughter!
Favorite small indulgence: I bring my own tea bags in my purse wherever I go. I like the tea that I drink, but someone told me the other day that if I’m going to go to the trouble of carrying around tea bags it should be from a better tea place. I was like, “Oh geez, I don’t know, I thought it was good.”
Album currently on repeat: I’m such a loser with music. That’s one area of my life I’m not growing in, I’m stuck in the same music from when I was 13 to 21.
Scent that brings back memories: Vanilla. We were baking two days ago with my daughter, and then I was showing her how you can put vanilla on as perfume on your neck, and I was saying how so many farmers’ wives and everybody have used that as a age-old perfume. There was no eau de toilette. If people wanted to smell good they had to kind of look around the house.
Lucky charm: You’re not going to believe it. For me, I don’t really think that there is such a thing as lucky charms. I think that everything is a very conscious choice that you make. For me, what I value in my life is those memories and those objects around my house that remind me of it. So I am sentimental when it comes to keeping objects from things that I’ve accumulated over my lifetime, or from my parents or ancestors, but in terms of, do I find them lucky?, no.
Favorite hour of the day: If I’m not working, it’s five to six, that haunting quiet hour when the sun is starting to go down, you feel relaxed, you’re not quite getting dinner ready. If I’m working, I’m working at that time, so then it’s not my favorite time of day. Then I’d have to say it’s morning. I love starting fresh in the morning and feeling like it’s another day in front of us.
Follow Foundrae: Instagram.
portait by Marsha Owett