Since 2011, The Lady Jane has been a staple of Historic Downtown Harrisonburg, and at the helm is Sara Christensen, local small business owner. I got her to spill the tea about life, passion, intersectionality, and entrepreneurship. Find out what advice she has for young ambitious women based on her personal experiences.
(Via @theladyjaneshop on Instagram)
As I began my interview with Sara, I asked her to introduce herself and give me some background about her life. She told me about her journey moving from the west to east coast, going to JMU as a teaching major, and finally teaching locally for two years until her passion drove her in a different direction. Here’s how our interview went from there:
How did you come up with the idea of starting your own business?
“[the shop] was born out of all the things that I loved most and I really just wanted to create a space that made others feel safe and welcome. I started out with just a book of ideas, it was a place where I could write. This was pre-Pinterest, before most of the social media platforms that we have now. I just cut and kept things that I felt really connected to.”
Who played a role in helping you accomplish your goals as a business woman or inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
“I was really fortunate to have a supportive family. My mom has always been a huge part of the shop even though she doesn’t live here and she’s not really apart of the everyday [activities] but just the way she raised me and my sister. She’s incredibly creative and was always encouraging. If we didn’t feel called to a traditional route she was just incredibly supportive of whatever we did”
Advice for young ambitious women, perhaps those interested in starting their own business?
“I think that if someone has, especially women, if we have something that is just really on our hearts, it’s a dream or a goal we have, that we should just go for it with the understanding that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s also okay to go into something and to try it for a few years and realize it’s not the right fit anymore”
“I’ve always been so afraid of failure as a person”
“Walking away from teaching, felt for a time, a bit like a failure for me”
“I think a lot of people approach entrepreneurship with the fear of failure but we have to just let go of those fears, because if we waited until we had every piece in place to do something new, we would never ever pursue anything”
How does intersectionality affect how you view your accomplishments within the community?
“People tend to think of the world of business as more male dominated. As far as being a woman, I think that I tend to find other women [to get support from], and we will bond over being both women and small business owners”
On being Asian: “sometimes people expect you to be the voice for others. People in this area can be surprised that I speak English so well or that I don’t have an accent. We have to help people realize that we don’t all have to be related or connected somehow”
“[We should start by] empowering people to see other people for who they are, without the idea of having to group people into categories”
(Via @theladyjaneshop on Instagram)
What have you learned from running a small business? What other hardships have you encountered on your journey to success?
“I am a soft spoken person, I am also petite, and look younger than some of the other business owners. I might have to speak a little louder or be a little stronger. I get really passionate if I feel like there’s someone who needs to be advocated for or there’s something that’s being done to someone else that an injustice.”
On appearances: “with the colors that I choose or the things that I wear you do get labeled as cute, I know that it’s meant as a positive thing, but I can love these things and also still be a badass, I can have strength and have a depth to me that the word cute doesn’t really indicate”
(Via @alexisdaria on Twitter)
With the rise of Asian representation in TV shows and movies (Crazy Rich Asians, To all the boys I’ve loved before, Fresh off the boat, Tidying up with Marie Kondor)
How do you think Harrisonburg compares? Are we taking small steps in the right direction or is there still a long way to go when it comes to diversity and representation?
“Harrisonburg is a really welcoming community!” “[Yet,] when I taught elementary school, I was the first Asian person some of my students had seen in person, you know? That’s kind of mind-blowing, but it also was a really great opportunity to help them get over that initial “you’re-different-than-anyone-else-I’ve-looked-at-before” feeling, and by the end of school year they saw me as their teacher and nothing else.”
“what I love most about the increase of the visibility of Asians in media is that it shows that just because someone is Asian they’re not all from China, they’re not all scientists or doctors, and that a lot of us Asians were raised in America and so the things that are culturally true for someone who is Caucasian would be true for me because that’s a part of my upbringing.”