Nur-E Farhana Rahman, Age 26, from New Jersey. Cofounder of Knotty Gal.
What Is Knotty Gal All About?
Knotty Gal is a socially-conscious accessories business specializing in knotted, handmade necklaces, bracelets, and earrings. My mother and I co-founded Knotty Gal as a way to raise funds for the girls at the Bhandari Girls' School in Bogra, Bangladesh, founded by my great grandfather decades ago.
My mother and I design all of our pieces, and my mother makes them all by hand with love! A portion of all proceeds goes directly to benefit the girls at the Bhandari Girls' School!
Did you always know you wanted to start a business like Knotty Gal? When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Ever since I was really young, I wanted to become a fashion designer. I would sketch my "designs" in this little notepad and would tinker around on my mother's sewing machine. I've made some pretty, uhm, let's just say interesting things as a kid. Even though I'm not designing clothing, it's so great to be able to sketch and come up with new jewelry concepts with my mother. It's funny how life works out, and how ultimately, through it all, I ended up doing what I wanted to do ever since I was a kid – design things that reflect my personal style and that I would want to wear out!
Tell us about your journey prior to starting Knotty Gal. What was the first real job you had that you realized was the first step for your career?
After graduating college, I worked as a contractor for the US Agency for International Development (USAID). It was an amazing experience because part of my job was traveling to different countries where USAID had a presence. I worked in Iraq, Haiti, Egypt, and many more countries. In college I studied international development, so this job was a great way for me to learn first hand about development initiatives in practice. It also further fueled my desire to ultimately work in the international development space. I feel lucky that through Knotty Gal I can combine my desire for a creative outlet with my interest in social enterprise.
Tell us about the job you held right before you decided to go out on your own and start Knotty Gal. Did you walk into your previous job knowing you were eventually going to work for yourself?
Prior to starting Knotty Gal, I was working as a consultant at Deloitte. At that time, my mother and I had already come up with the idea for Knotty Gal, so I knew it was only a matter of time before I would leave consulting for this next adventure. Nonetheless, I was eager to work as a consultant because I knew it would bring me great experience and a unique skill set that I could take with me to all future endeavors. I didn't stay with Deloitte very long- just a little over a year- but in my time there I met some of the most intelligent and incredible people, many of whom I am still very close with. I learned so much from them! Though I quickly realized the consulting lifestyle was not for me, I am still so grateful I had the opportunity to be a part of the Deloitte family. I will always take the lessons I learned there with me throughout my career.
So you’re familiar with what it’s like to work within a traditional “corporate structure.” What were the advantages or disadvantages of being a woman in this environment? Did you ever feel like you hit a glass ceiling or work with others who did?
At the first company I worked for out of college, our CEO was a woman. My manager was also female, and to this day, she remains a model to me for what a great manager looks like. In this sense, I think I was lucky to have strong female leaders to look up to from the very start of my (young) career. I never sensed there was a limitation because of my gender. The same is true for my experience at Deloitte, though perhaps this was because I was a consultant and not at a more senior level. I'm not sure of the experiences more senior females may have had, but I was fortunate in never feeling like being female was a hindrance.
When did you first realize that working for yourself might be a good idea, and was there a certain event that made you finally take the plunge?
Ever since I was in college, I knew I wanted to be in the social entrepreneurship space. It wasn't until 2011 though that I got more serious about making it happen. When I was working as a contractor for USAID, I was sent to Bangladesh for a month. It was then that I got the chance to visit the all girls' school my great grandfather founded. During the visit I realized just how lacking in resources the school was, and I knew I had to do something soon to help. After that my mother and I started planning and preparing for the launch of Knotty Gal, which happened about two years after.
Do you feel that women who own their own businesses are faced with the same women-related issues as those in the corporate environment? If so how do you overcome it?
When it comes to gender issues in the startup community, I think that may be more prevalent in the tech startup world, just because it's unfortunately mostly male-dominated. In the accessories and fashion fields, there are so many female entrepreneurs that I think my gender may have actually been advantageous. I can only speak from personal experience, but the challenges I've faced as a business owner are really more common to all new business owners, regardless of gender. There are new fires to put out everyday, but I don't think any of those necessarily exist because I am female.
What advice do you have for those who want to start their own business?
Network, network, network! Relationships are everything, and building strong ones with people you can learn from will be one of the best things you can do for yourself and your company. I've been fortunate in meeting so many amazing entrepreneurs who have been able to provide me with invaluable insight from their experiences. You can't learn these things in a book. Reach out to people, take them out for a drink, ask questions, and have an open mind!
Thanks so much for chatting with us Nur-E. What’s currently happening at Knotty Gal that you’d like Feminist Wednesday readers to know about?
We're a fairly new company and are about to celebrate our 1 year anniversary on 5/30! We'll be launching new products around that time to celebrate, so follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram and check out the awesome new products we'll be unveiling!