Style // December 30, 2013

If you’re reading this, odds are you are part of a very fortunate bunch. You obviously have access to a computer, the Internet, have a few leisurely moments, and are blessed with eyesight. I think many Made Women (myself included) can sometimes take for granted all the good fortune we experience day-to-day.

I was truly inspired when I spoke with a woman whose mission is to change the fortune of those who need it most. Azie Tesfai has traveled the world and sourced the most precious materials to raise awareness and share the stories of those in other cultures. Her company, Fortuned Culture, sells beautiful jewelry and allocates a percentage of the proceeds to charity. Her specialty is highlighting the tales of those who have had terrible experiences and turned them around into life-changing forces.

Made Woman Magazine: Tell me about your background and growing up, and how that led to Fortuned Culture.

Azie Tesfai: What shaped me the most was growing up in L.A. and going back and forth to visit family in Eritrea and Ethiopia. It was an extreme perspective. I knew I was lucky to be raised in the U.S. and that I needed to use that good fortune to help those where I am from. So when an opportunity came to fundraise, I took it. Traveling all over Europe, Africa and the U.S. was the perfect storm of culture, creative passion and good fortune growing up. It exposed me to several precious elements that could be used to help raise funds. These precious metals and stones were important to the culture they came from and I wanted to use them to give back to those people.

MWM: How does the media negatively portray the place your parents were raised in? Conversely, how can the media help causes like yours?

AT: My parents are Eritrean (the country to the North of Ethiopa that gained its independence in the 1990s). Growing up, I would get stereotyped as one of those African children you see on infomercials. But really, these parts of Africa are so beautiful. I didn’t stand up for myself and explain the natural resources and beauty of my homeland. When I got into photography, I got into showing how happy people were with a lot less. I would take pictures when I returned to Africa for a visit. I would see fifteen children with one run-down soccer ball, and you’d never see happier children. The things they valued were family, love, basic goodness and morals. 

Amazing companies are starting to give back, and media is helping those companies. Ryot offers news plus a solution, which is a really cool concept. We always hear about death and negative headline-grabbing stories that don’t have any resolve. I like presenting the news in a way that is effective. I grew up watching the BBC News. The local news just scares you. But everything is changing. Twitter allows for a means to rally and come together; the younger generation will change the way the media sees people. You can’t falsely advertise countries and people through skewed angles in the paper. People will have to tell the truth more.

Like what you’re reading? Join Made Woman Mag’s mailing list for updates, special promotions and more. Click here!

MWM: Why jewelry?

AT: In Ethiopian or most African cultures, jewelry has deep meaning. Ethiopian gold has been passed down throughout many generations. It’s extremely personal and possesses great meaning. I like to wear one piece very simply instead of wearing a ton of jewelry. I’ve always made jewelry, especially for events and weddings. Around the time friends asked for jewelry I came to know the Fregenet Foundation, whose meal program got cut. People who are hungry can’t learn. Slowly I realized that I could sell jewelry and add the cost of a meal. Lots of my friends were into quotes and affirmations via social media, so I decided to incorporate these into my jewelry. The “Health” bracelet, for example, is really personal to what they are giving. They know they are giving help to someone else in need and it ended up selling well. So I did a “Love” one benefiting teachers and a “Wisdom” one as well. I wanted there to be meaning for something lacking and a connection between the person buying and the donation. I wanted to make each piece with materials that highlighted the beauty of that culture.


MWM: Tell us about the work you’re doing in Mexico.

AT: My goal is to have a huge row of countries to click on for each charity on our website. I really want to advertise with the best charities, the ones who are giving the highest percentage. I met with the founder of an orphanage in Mexico before, and she is an orphan herself. There are over 800 children now she takes care of, so they have basic needs for things like diapers and books. She is just one person, but I fell in love with her story. Before I design I go down and see the place our jewelry will benefit. I spend my days seeing orphanages. Most have children who just want to be held. I created a necklace inspired by one girl in particular named Lupita. There’s a handwritten note from her inside the necklace. This young girl is so positive and optimistic about life. She and her brother were abandoned by their mother at the orphanage without any papers, so they didn’t know anything about themselves and couldn’t get medical treatment or go to school. The orphanage got them papers and Lupita got to pick out her birthday. She got to create her life and her own destiny as well as that of her brother’s. She looks at the situation in such a better light. She just wants to do well in school and help her brother. So the necklace says “Rebirth” in Spanish on it with a prayer inside. Lupita was so excited to help be part of this necklace’s creation.

MWM: What’s your advice to other women looking to start a similar organization?

AT: Go with your passion. Anything done right will take a lot of work. Helping anyone in a dire situation requires passion. I don’t know how people have companies that don’t give back.

MWM: Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry?

AT: I like the Ethiopian cross because I grew up seeing it. They are modern but have an old tradition. The rebirth necklace for Lupita in Mexcio is a little piece of art.

MWM: How can others help?

AT: On our website, there’s a link to the charities we work with, so you can always volunteer. Volunteering is so gratifying. Each piece of jewelry we make does something good for someone else, so buy some for the holidays. Wear these pieces proudly, because each one is a representation of the kids they help.

MWM: Tell us about your partnership with Tom’s.

AT: We are excited to be on the new Tom’s marketplace, opened November 5, 2013. It’s been so inspiring and has caused many people to intern and want to help. Fortuned Culture was even the first item to sell on the Marketplace. We talked about Fortuned Culture to Toms employees. Toms is the biggest socially-conscious brand, so we wanted to incorporate its logo in the Toms blue bracelet, which helps children to go to school. The collaboration was a long process that involved exchanging information back and forth about our company and work ethics. We were so happy Toms approached us. We can now make cooler pieces because we have a buyer and a larger audience. New pieces will be added throughout the year, too. The marketplace has been a really amazing and inspiring experience that has pushed us to do more on another level and reminds us that we aren’t doing this alone. There have been billboards in New York, commercials and lots of magazine features resulting from the Marketplace. Jessica Alba even selected one of our bracelets for her holiday picks. We will probably even have some Black Friday deals. This is bigger than us, and will hopefully change how we shop.

If you’d like to change how you shop, while changing the world, visit Fortuned Culture and make a difference this holiday season.






Published in Style
Monday, 18 November 2013 01:01

Style | Start-Up Spotlight: Fortuned Culture

Style // November 18, 2013

If you’re reading this, odds are you are part of a very fortunate bunch. You obviously have access to a computer, the Internet, have a few leisurely moments, and are blessed with eyesight. I think many Made Women (myself included) can sometimes take for granted all the good fortune we experience day-to-day.

I was truly inspired when I spoke with a woman whose mission is to change the fortune of those who need it most. Azie Tesfai has traveled the world and sourced the most precious materials to raise awareness and share the stories of those in other cultures. Her company, Fortuned Culture, sells beautiful jewelry and allocates a percentage of the proceeds to charity. Her specialty is highlighting the tales of those who have had terrible experiences and turned them around into life-changing forces.

Made Woman Magazine: Tell me about your background and growing up, and how that led to Fortuned Culture.

Azie Tesfai: What shaped me the most was growing up in L.A. and going back and forth to visit family in Eritrea and Ethiopia. It was an extreme perspective. I knew I was lucky to be raised in the U.S. and that I needed to use that good fortune to help those where I am from. So when an opportunity came to fundraise, I took it. Traveling all over Europe, Africa and the U.S. was the perfect storm of culture, creative passion and good fortune growing up. It exposed me to several precious elements that could be used to help raise funds. These precious metals and stones were important to the culture they came from and I wanted to use them to give back to those people.

MWM: How does the media negatively portray the place your parents were raised in? Conversely, how can the media help causes like yours?

AT: My parents are Eritrean (the country to the North of Ethiopa that gained its independence in the 1990s). Growing up, I would get stereotyped as one of those African children you see on infomercials. But really, these parts of Africa are so beautiful. I didn’t stand up for myself and explain the natural resources and beauty of my homeland. When I got into photography, I got into showing how happy people were with a lot less. I would take pictures when I returned to Africa for a visit. I would see fifteen children with one run-down soccer ball, and you’d never see happier children. The things they valued were family, love, basic goodness and morals. 

Amazing companies are starting to give back, and media is helping those companies. Ryot offers news plus a solution, which is a really cool concept. We always hear about death and negative headline-grabbing stories that don’t have any resolve. I like presenting the news in a way that is effective. I grew up watching the BBC News. The local news just scares you. But everything is changing. Twitter allows for a means to rally and come together; the younger generation will change the way the media sees people. You can’t falsely advertise countries and people through skewed angles in the paper. People will have to tell the truth more.

Like what you’re reading? Join Made Woman Mag’s mailing list for updates, special promotions and more. Click here!

MWM: Why jewelry?

AT: In Ethiopian or most African cultures, jewelry has deep meaning. Ethiopian gold has been passed down throughout many generations. It’s extremely personal and possesses great meaning. I like to wear one piece very simply instead of wearing a ton of jewelry. I’ve always made jewelry, especially for events and weddings. Around the time friends asked for jewelry I came to know the Fregenet Foundation, whose meal program got cut. People who are hungry can’t learn. Slowly I realized that I could sell jewelry and add the cost of a meal. Lots of my friends were into quotes and affirmations via social media, so I decided to incorporate these into my jewelry. The “Health” bracelet, for example, is really personal to what they are giving. They know they are giving help to someone else in need and it ended up selling well. So I did a “Love” one benefiting teachers and a “Wisdom” one as well. I wanted there to be meaning for something lacking and a connection between the person buying and the donation. I wanted to make each piece with materials that highlighted the beauty of that culture.


MWM: Tell us about the work you’re doing in Mexico.

AT: My goal is to have a huge row of countries to click on for each charity on our website. I really want to advertise with the best charities, the ones who are giving the highest percentage. I met with the founder of an orphanage in Mexico before, and she is an orphan herself. There are over 800 children now she takes care of, so they have basic needs for things like diapers and books. She is just one person, but I fell in love with her story. Before I design I go down and see the place our jewelry will benefit. I spend my days seeing orphanages. Most have children who just want to be held. I created a necklace inspired by one girl in particular named Lupita. There’s a handwritten note from her inside the necklace. This young girl is so positive and optimistic about life. She and her brother were abandoned by their mother at the orphanage without any papers, so they didn’t know anything about themselves and couldn’t get medical treatment or go to school. The orphanage got them papers and Lupita got to pick out her birthday. She got to create her life and her own destiny as well as that of her brother’s. She looks at the situation in such a better light. She just wants to do well in school and help her brother. So the necklace says “Rebirth” in Spanish on it with a prayer inside. Lupita was so excited to help be part of this necklace’s creation.

MWM: What’s your advice to other women looking to start a similar organization?

AT: Go with your passion. Anything done right will take a lot of work. Helping anyone in a dire situation requires passion. I don’t know how people have companies that don’t give back.

MWM: Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry?

AT: I like the Ethiopian cross because I grew up seeing it. They are modern but have an old tradition. The rebirth necklace for Lupita in Mexcio is a little piece of art.

MWM: How can others help?

AT: On our website, there’s a link to the charities we work with, so you can always volunteer. Volunteering is so gratifying. Each piece of jewelry we make does something good for someone else, so buy some for the holidays. Wear these pieces proudly, because each one is a representation of the kids they help.

MWM: Tell us about your partnership with Tom’s.

AT: We are excited to be on the new Tom’s marketplace, opened November 5, 2013. It’s been so inspiring and has caused many people to intern and want to help. Fortuned Culture was even the first item to sell on the Marketplace. We talked about Fortuned Culture to Toms employees. Toms is the biggest socially-conscious brand, so we wanted to incorporate its logo in the Toms blue bracelet, which helps children to go to school. The collaboration was a long process that involved exchanging information back and forth about our company and work ethics. We were so happy Toms approached us. We can now make cooler pieces because we have a buyer and a larger audience. New pieces will be added throughout the year, too. The marketplace has been a really amazing and inspiring experience that has pushed us to do more on another level and reminds us that we aren’t doing this alone. There have been billboards in New York, commercials and lots of magazine features resulting from the Marketplace. Jessica Alba even selected one of our bracelets for her holiday picks. We will probably even have some Black Friday deals. This is bigger than us, and will hopefully change how we shop.

If you’d like to change how you shop, while changing the world, visit Fortuned Culture and make a difference this holiday season.






Published in Style
Tuesday, 08 November 2011 07:30

Entrepreneur Spotlight | Lisa Marie Todd

November 8, 2011

When I met up with Lisa Marie Todd at her West LA jewelry studio, I thought I’d be sitting down with a former In Living Color fly girl turned jewelry designer. How cool to sit down with someone I grew up watching on one of the most iconic shows of our time? What I didn’t know was that I’d be interviewing a true business mogul. In addition to her Marie Todd jewelry line, she has multiple real estate ventures in the works, a production company and Marie Todd candle lines. And she even has plans to expand the Marie Todd brand to include fragrance and body product lines. I’m still trying to figure out when this woman sleeps!

With her insane schedule, you would think I’d have to rush through a short list of pre-approved questions, or be squeezed into a short window of time. On the contrary. Our conversation felt more like a (#Made) big sister putting her little sis up on game. I learned a lot from our chat and I hope you do too:

Lindsey Day: Tell me a bit about your background.   

Lisa Marie Todd: I was born in Palo Alto. I went to the University of Santa Clara. Then I moved down here and had a number of jobs [laughs]. My major was Communications. So I came down here and worked at a television production company for a while, worked at an ad agency. And then ran into a friend in San Francisco who used to be my dance partner and he says, “Why aren't you performing anymore?” I said, "oh, I'm working and doing this...." and he said, “no. you need to get back into it.” So I got back into it and started working, and started doing commercials, started doing some acting, and then In Living Color came along.


LD: How long were you with In Living Color?

LMT: From the pilot through two seasons, so a good two years and change. That was a great experience.


LD: You worked with J. Lo? I’m sure people ask all the time....

LMT: I worked with Jennifer, she was wonderful. It was an interesting time, because the sketch comedy was amazing. Keenan was amazing. And it still holds up. I don't think we knew what we were a part of when we were doing it, because I kind of went to work and went home, but it's kinda cool to look back at it. It was a great experience.


LD: How did you go from that to making jewelry?

LMT: I was looking for something to do that was creative, and I had always worked with my hands. I picked up a book one day on jewelry-making and I’m going through it and I’m like God, that's really cool, so I found a class. And it just became a passion, and a passion turned into a hobby, and a hobby turned into a business and so, that's where I am now.


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LD: That’s a huge step to go from a hobby to a full-on business...

LMT: Yeah, I just had a passion for it, and I felt that my daughter [who is now 15 ½] was at a certain age and I could push it. And there had been experiences in my life that...I’ll say “great losses,” that--you realize if you want to do something you'd better do it, because you may not be here anymore. And so, that really put a fire underneath me. And seriously, like 2009 I just said listen, if I'm going to do it let me do it.


LD: That’s something I think a lot of readers can relate to, including myself!

LMT: That period between 26 and 28 is reevaluation time. And you'll start weeding people out and you'll start...feeling what you really want and what you don't want. We usually know what we don't want, but we don't always know what we want. I completely remember that. It happens again, I hate to tell you [laughs], but it's better, because you have a bit more perspective. 


LD: What inspires you and your design?

LMT: I find inspiration in everything. I'll literally walk around with my iPhone and see a shadow and go, I may do something with that!


LD: What type of woman is Marie Todd Jewelry made for?

LMT: She's a modern woman, independent, strong. She has a strong sense of herself. I try to start with a big picture--some women don't like big jewelry, maybe big things overwhelm them. Other women want to be seen when they walk in a room. I take one design and mold it. Sometimes we have moods. You may want to be quiet, and you just want that little earring, or necklace, that little touch. Sometimes you’re going out and you want to make a statement. So I keep all of those things in mind.


LD: I’d imagine that it’d be challenging to learn the ins and outs of the jewelry business.

LMT: I'm learning as I go and it's a great journey. I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of people along the way who have been in the business and want to give information. There are a lot of people who have directed me: "you need this, go see this person, do that, go call this person." Early on I worked with a woman from Thailand and I said to her, “gosh, it's so refreshing to meet somebody that wants to tell someone something and isn't scared you're going to go off and steal their ideas or something.” And she said, “what you make, someone else will like and they won't like my stuff--and vice versa. The way I look at it, there's food for all.” And that always stuck with me; that we're our own competition. We should look at what other people are doing just to know what the market is, but it's us against us. Yourself against yourself.  Even now, if I can help somebody or guide them, I do.


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LD: What makes your line different?

LMT: I certainly think my jewelry is modern and timeless, and something you can put away and come back to--you want those kind of pieces. I think it's affordable. It's not super inexpensive but it's not outrageous, so most people can afford to have it. I like that. I get sometimes that people say it looks more expensive than what it costs, which is good; the value of it. So I would say those things are huge selling points. And there's a lot of love that goes into it, and energy.


LD: What’s your favorite piece and why?

LMT: I love the Paisley collection. I remember designing it, and it's kind of Indian, kind of Moroccan. I wear those a lot. It just feels good. It was fun when i was playing around and designing it, and people tend to gravitate to it. And it's different, you know, it has many influences and I love all that. At heart I'm kind of a hippie chick [laughs], being from the San Francisco Bay area.


LD: Tell me more about your candle line.

LMT: I started off with one candle, but since then I’ve created eight fragrances, and I have a men’s candle line that's coming which is really fun. There are three of the original scents that men just loved and I was like, "hmm, men need candles too.” I want a woman to buy it for a man to share it with him. And I want men to buy it because he wants that ambiance for his woman. They’re very masculine--there's nothing floral or anything about them. They've got some punch to them without being offensive. That's my thing: when people smell them I say okay, do ANY of these fragrances offend you. And I have yet to have anybody say yes [laughs].


LD: Busy woman. What else do you have in the works??

LMT: Ultimately, [Marie Todd] is going to be a lifestyle brand, so I’m trying to create products that I love personally, that I want to share. So, I love candles. I love lotions and potions so I'm working on a fragrance and body product line right now. So I’m taking baby steps. I'm not making a ton of it, but baby steps to build the awareness, and I'm blessed that I can do all this stuff.


LD: Is Marie Todd your first entrepreneurial venture?

LMT: No, I have real estate things I do, I have a production company now that we did a pilot with, so that's another area that's bubbling right now. There's a film I'm working on now that I had a meeting about, it's based on a short story. It might be controversial but, oh well. I just feel like why not. If there are things you want to do and try, try them. If it doesn't work you can try it a different way but at least you tried doing it.


LD: What is your business philosophy?

LMT: A. being flexible. you have to be flexible because stuff isn't always going to work out. I've learned how to think on my feet, and if something's not working I'm not the type of person to go well that's so and so's fault or to stay on that. It's about, “how do we fix it?” Nothing irritates me more than someone saying, “well, he did that!” I’’m just like, “I don't hear you, I don't care--fix it.” Then, after the fact if you want to go talk to them about it then go ahead. Let's fix it and move on. We can't stay there. 

Also, making time for yourself and your family and the business, finding that balance. It's a struggle. I have a teenage daughter and this is probably the time she needs me more than anything else these next few years. Not that she didn't need me before, but it's different now. And I'm just very aware of that and I enjoy spending my time with her. And if I'm working here and it's getting overwhelming, I'll go walk and I’ll see a cute dog or something. You know, you just trick your mind out of what's going on and you do come back better. Taking that 10, 15 minutes to get out of your head is important.


LD: What advice do you have for young up-and-coming women on pursuing their dreams?

LMT: Research what you're doing before you do it. Don't just jump in. If you can work in the industry, fine. If not, who cares? I didn't work in jewelry before but I think certainly researching and talking to people. At the gut level if you think you should be doing it or you should try it ,just do it. Don't even think twice. Don't listen to people saying, “Oh, you can't do that, oh the economy's bad.” Go do it. Because you don't know where it's going to take you. And on the journey you may think you're going from a to b but it goes a, z, p...[laughs], back and forth. Maybe you start off thinking that's what you're going to do but you meet something or someone or see something.... Just know you'll end up where you're supposed to be. So just start. Don't sit back and wish and hope. Wishing and hoping doesn't make anything happen. Just start. Just go. See what happens. Because it's a fun journey, I gotta tell ya.

Published in Entrepreneurship