Today’s Living With Kids mom has so much to offer. Her name is Sandra and she and her husband both grew up in France and met in Paris, but now live and work in San Francisco. Sandra is the Creator of Happy French Gang, a textile company that you’re going to absolutely love. And Sandra has some really lovely advice about being a mom and a business owner — and about the wonderful surprises that life brings your way. Welcome, Sandra!
MOTHERHOOD & THE MAKING OF HAPPY FRENCH GANG
Hello, My name is Sandra and I live in the vibrant Mission neighborhood in San Francisco — just in front of Dolores Park — with my husband and my son Léon (7). My husband and I are both French and met in the suburb of Paris where we were studying at that time. We were both students in Engineering schools, me in the industrial field and my husband in computer science. We had always wanted to live abroad, so when my husband got an opportunity to work in SF, we didn’t hesitate. San Francisco was just so perfect for that, we couldn’t let the opportunity pass us by!
The process took almost 2 years, and when we finally got the visas I was pregnant. At first we wanted to have the baby in France where we had family, but when we got our visas, we had to use them in the first 6 months we got them. That’s how we got our first American in the family! We moved to San Francisco in 2010 and since then have had an amazing experience immersing ourselves in the San Francisco culture and getting to know the sights, sounds and people that surround us.
Our vibrant neighborhood is in the center of San Francisco. We love this place because you can walk to everywhere and have no hills. You do not need your car to get bread or groceries. Everything is close. The neighborhood itself is happy and inviting. People here are always nice and smiling, and it’s the warmest neighborhood in San Francisco.
Our street, Dolores street, is the only street in the city with Palm trees in the middle, and it’s just beautiful. I like to say we live on the most beautiful street in the city. The park just in front our home has been rebuilt recently and is beautiful as well, with a magnificent view of the city. We like to call it our garden since we don’t have a real one! When it’s really warm we will go out to the park and enjoy a nice picnic with friends.
Just a block away from our house is the Mission pool. When it’s nice and warm out, I love being able to walk over and enjoy the water — it’s my secret spot. It’s a really small outdoor pool, and they often will play some great music like Bob Marley or Beyoncé while you swim! That’s perfect for me! I try to go there 2-3 times a week just for 20 minutes. It feels good to swim outside!
Further down our street is Bi-Rite Grocery, my go-to place for meat, fish and groceries when I have nothing in my fridge or if I’m missing something. Every thing is so delicious — although it is a bit expensive, so I’m trying to restrain myself! Not easy! In December they also have all the good traditional cakes and various sweets from European countries that are not easy to find. And I never can resist a “marron glacé”— a delicious candied chestnut confection popular in France.
If I work from home instead of from the studio, but need a change of scenery, I go to Le Marais Bakery on 18th St or just next door to the Dolores Park Café. If I’m looking for a quiet place I just go to Maxfield House on Dolores & 17th.
When it comes to bakeries, my go-to for years was Tartine Bakery. These days I feel like the quality/quantity versus cost isn’t as appealing as it used to be, but if you’ve never been you definitely should go! I also like to stop into the Marais Bakery sometimes with my son after school, it’s a nice little bakery with some good selections for when we’re a bit hungry. Otherwise on weekends we go get our chocolate croissants at Thorough Bread & Pastry. They have an awesome back yard. Awesome for kids! It’s also the best place to get King’s Cake and Bûche de Noel — a couple other French favorites!
When we arrived in the U.S. we had no credit score so it was super hard to find a place because typically you need one— and a good one — to get a place! One day, after 2 months of research and living in a hotel, we finally got lucky and found our apartment. That afternoon I saw an ad on Craiglist for a visit at 6pm. The ad was created at around 3pm that day, so I was excited because I thought not too many people would come visit with such short notice. To our amazement nobody came at all, not even the manager! He wanted to make us visit again during an open house later that weekend, but we insisted on having a tour right then, since we came already. We toured the house and immediately fell in love with it. They said they would give the apartment to the first applicants to put down a deposit. So we ran like crazy to the bank, got our check and gave it to the agency that day! Finally it was our home!
When it comes to strategies for buying in the area, I wish I had some tricks for myself! We got a rent controlled 2-bedroom apartment in a great location and even though I sometimes think it would be nice to have my own house with my own garden, I honestly just can’t afford it. And prices are just so crazy right now in San Francisco, I’m not even sure this is a good time to buy! When I think of what I could have in France for a small cottage here it drives me crazy!
When we moved here, we were on a budget but I didn’t want to have all Ikea in my house. I know it’s convenient, but in Paris most of our friends had Ikea for plates, furniture, beds, curtains, etc. — I couldn’t handle it anymore! So I visited a lot of thrift stores in the Mission and independent stores in the city, bought few great pieces and the rest came little by little. Establishing our home decor this way was certainly a bit more challenging than finding everything at a a big store, but it has definitely given a lot of nuance and character to our home, and has created a really cozy atmosphere to live in.
When I was living in France, I worked as a Consultant Engineer in Project Management. I learned a lot from these experiences, but in 2010 when my husband received a job offer in the US, I saw an opportunity to make a change for myself as well. In the end I decided to make a career change that would allow me more flexible hours and a more exciting job experience, and I haven’t looked back since!
Starting a business like Happy French Gang can at times be very difficult, but in the long run it is very rewarding! One of the biggest challenges is that you don’t have a blueprint for your success unless you create one. You’re not just doing work in some sort of formulaic way, you’re innovating and creating and learning along the way. It can be tough being on my own and making difficult decisions, but when you own your own business it’s up to you to make those calls.
STARTING HAPPY FRENCH GANG
And even though that’s a great challenge, it’s also one of the most rewarding parts of being a business owner. You get to have full control over what you do day in and day out, and you get to decide what’s important to your business and what isn’t. I love the fact that I started Happy French Gang from scratch and have now created something that is vibrant and thriving. And as far as the work itself goes, I love learning the ins and outs of every aspect of my work, whether it’s designing, sewing 101, photography, marketing, learning new software — each new challenge within my business is one more opportunity to learn something new.
I’ve certainly learned a lot about myself through this process. For one thing, I’ve learned that I’m way more creative than I ever realized! But that’s kind of how the process of starting a business goes; you have goals you want to achieve and as you pursue them you learn that you had skills you never knew about that were just waiting to be utilized.
It might seem like this kind of big career change would be scary, but actually founding Happy French Gang was more exciting than anything else! Sometimes when life circumstances change it can be an opportunity to try something different and to explore things you’ve always wanted to venture into but haven’t been able to. For me, the career change was more about lifestyle than anything. I wanted to be able to have more freedom in my work and in my day to day activities. Ironically, the plans for what would eventually become my business hadn’t really even taken full form yet. But I knew the direction I wanted to go in, and I knew what my inspirations were, so I found that as I followed those two things I was able to see the path to establishing my business step by step, a little at a time.
I think that’s one of the reasons creating Happy French Gang wasn’t frightening to me: it wasn’t like I was trying to accomplish this huge ominous task from the get go. Instead I was able to follow my passions, experiment with what did and didn’t work, and learn along the way.
I think the best advice I can give to anyone with dreams of doing something they’re passionate about is just to start. It doesn’t matter if you have everything you need to accomplish your dream right now. In fact, it doesn’t even matter if you don’t have a clear path that will lead you to it. Just start with something small, and you’ll be surprised how quickly that small effort will lead to greater opportunities.
You may not have all of the resources or even experience up front to do everything you want to all at once, but focus one day at a time at really putting time and effort into your passions and pretty soon you will find that the path to doing what you want to do is more accessible than you realized.
The U.S. definitely has some striking differences when compared to France. People here are so optimistic; it feels good to be surrounded by that optimistic energy! The attitude for people living here seems to be that everything is possible for them and so it is also possible for you! People see the positive in everything. Many people in San Francisco have a job, plus a second one on the side, like an app they are making or cookies they are selling on the weekend, it could be anything! People here have the craziest ideas too, and it’s so refreshing!
My husband and I are French so for sure we have a French parenting style, but we have totally incorporated the best American parenting tips! I think we are trying our best and mixing the best practices, and I think it definitely helps to have had such positive experiences with both cultures.
There are many things I love about raising kids in this area. The outdoor spaces, feeling lucky that the kids here are able to be surrounded by the ocean and so much nature everywhere. For example, we often go to the beach after school to do some body boarding and it’s super easy to do because of where we live. Public schools in San Francisco are also typically pretty good. I can’t really compare the public school here to others in the U.S. since we just have this one experience, but we love it. We’re so impressed by the level of involvement of the parents.
There are also so many public schools here that integrate a second language at Kindergarten; I wish it could be the same in France. And we have a chicken coop at school!!??!! All first graders here have already gone to the symphony, saw a ballet, went to the zoo, aquarium and cinema all in one year! These kids are spoiled!
HAPPY FRENCH GANG & MOTHERHOOD
Running Happy French Gang and being a mother is certainly not an easy task — it can be a lot to handle! I think it has definitely had an impact on my role as a parent though, and has helped me see things in different ways than I otherwise would. As a business owner I understand now more than ever the importance of balancing work with family, and since I am now the one controlling my work schedule, I make sure to emphasize time we spend together as a family, whether it’s going to the beach or having a picnic or just spending time together at the house.
I think it’s also opened my mind a bit in some of my priorities as a parent. As an entrepreneur, I’m often faced with challenges that I don’t immediately have the solution for. I’ve learned that I can usually find innovative ways to overcome the challenges of running a business if I put some time and effort into it. So I try to have the same approach as a parent, and to help Leon gain confidence in himself and his abilities. It’s one of those things that I get to experience more consistently as a business owner but that is important in all aspects of life.
I hope Leon remembers our home as a happy and peaceful place, with memories of dinners with friends, our weekend brunches on the deck and music and dance parties with just the 3 of us! It’s so nice here and there are some many wonderful things about this moment in time; I hope that he can look back on it fondly for many years to come. I hope he forgets the stressful morning rush before school! We’re working on it but still a lot to improve!
Being around Leon so much has been a very rewarding part of owning my own business. There is a lot to love about it, but I particularly enjoy our walks to school in the morning. It’s good time to invent stories and also to talk about life! I also like our little adventures together in the city. After school, as soon as we can, we take the car and go to the beach. Either Pacifica Beach for some body boarding or Ocean Beach just to run wild and play! If it’s not really sunny, I just park the car in front of the ocean, and we play cards, read books and have a snack in front of it! It’s always a fun time! I already miss all the jokes and sweet words.
I wish someone had told me to trust the process. Life is chaotic, times and seasons change, and whether you’re a business owner or not, achieving your goals and accomplishing your dreams often comes with obstacles and challenges. However if I have learned anything from this process, it’s that we always have more potential than we know.
Sometimes it will seem like things aren’t moving in the right direction or like your progress is stagnating. At other times it will seem like things are moving too fast and like things are falling into place too quickly to keep up with. Whatever the situation, realize that you can handle it and that if you continue to put in effort, each of your experiences along the way will lead you closer to the realization of your dreams.
Thank you, Sandra. What a charming home. I think she definitely achieved her goal of the home not feeling like it all came out of one big-box store. And there is something so appealing about a design that feels collected and curated over time.
I really appreciated what Sandra had to say as well about trusting the process. You might call it acting on faith, or trusting yourself, or letting go, but I think so often we get so bogged down in the details of the projects we choose to work on that we get absolutely stuck. We feel like we can’t make any decision until we’ve thought through every option. And so often, the act of letting go, making a choice and moving forward is what opens us up to receive the inspiration we need. Such wonderful advice.
Are you the kind of person who feels like you need to know all the answers before you move forward? Or are you okay with taking that first step into the darkness? Are there areas in your life that this is easier or harder for you? How do let go and let life unfold without having all the answers?
Nearly all the linens (curtains, pillows, wall hanging, napkins and tea towels) can be found at Happy French Gang
Eames “Hang it all” Coatrack
Kitchen Hardware (similar)
You can see more of Sandra’s work on Happy French Gang or follow her on Instagram here.
Living With Kids is edited by Josh Bingham — you can follow him on Instagram. Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.