Bryant Park is teeming with people trying to catch a few rays of the afternoon sun. Tired men in business suits kick off their leather shoes and stretch their toes on the lawn. In the shade is a group of yogis in downward facing dog. I can’t help but think to myself, “Yep, I’m in New York City. This is it.” That’s when, through the falling water of the fountain I see a petite woman whose bleached blonde hair peaks out from under a sun hat. Her right arm is entirely scattered with tattoos: koi fish, flowers, a sealed jar that holds a lightning bug and a caterpillar. Her style is effortlessly cool but also totally approachable. I walk up to her and guess, “Are you Margaret?” She immediately smiles and shakes my hand exuding warmness and positivity. She removes her sunglasses and gestures to the grass, “Why don’t we find a spot over there?” The two of us plop down in a sunny spot and get to talking about Margaret’s involvement with A. Bernadette as well as her current classes at Berkeley College, her new job, and her plans for the future.
Michelle: So Margaret, in the past few months you’ve worked for several vendors selling their products at various markets throughout the city. Specifically, you went from selling A. Bernadette’s eco-friendly, recycled products to selling things that weren’t exactly environmentally conscious. As you transition from one to the other do you feel some sort of moral guilt or responsibility?
Margaret: I do, I do. Not only because I’m really cool with Andrea, but also because I do understand where Andrea’s products are coming from. A. Bernadette is like amazing women in Uganda using their own skills to create these amazing products, you know what I mean? And it’s made from materials that would have just gone to waste. But then when I have to work for a vendor that’s just like… making things. It’s like, yes, this vendor is giving back to women to help them with their jobs and what not, but is this really eco-friendly? Coming from A. Bernadette and then going to that, it’s like.. it’s like a weight. I want to be all eco-friendly but also, these other products are cool and benefit women in a different way. I was introduced into the Fair trade market learning about sales through selling eco-friendly products and then to see the other side of it, you have to learn to balance it out I guess.
Michelle: What would you say your core values are? Like things that you wouldn’t ever compromise for a job. For example say a company is looking to hire you but they say something ridiculous like, “Hey we only represent upper class white females” would you work for them? Is there any difference in values or beliefs that would cause you to walk away from an opportunity?
Margaret: Honestly, being that I do have a lot of tattoos and I’m like different already, I guess I’m placed into this category where people can understand me just by looking at me. Like I won’t ever probably work with someone who’s super high class because they might be intimidated to even talk to me. So it’s like, working with A. Bernadette I was completely welcomed because everyone is cool and down to earth. The products speak for themselves, but then it’s like if you go into some place where you need to talk to the customers more for them to understand the product, then it’s a little harder. So I’d rather work for someone that is doing something for their own brand or has a brand that they really stand up for rather than someone who’s just like, “Here’s our brand, here’s our money and this is what you’re gonna do”. Like it makes no sense to me to work for you if you don’t believe in your own product and push it as hard as I’m going to push it for you.
Michelle: Do you have any advice for someone new to sales?
Margaret: Learning the product is something you really have to do. Keep asking questions. Learn where the product is from so you can tell the customers. A lot of people are familiar with A. Bernadette’s paper necklaces so that’s what draws them in. Then you explain where everything is from, who made it, and how it’s made. After working a few markets for A. Bernadette, I was really attached to the brand. We started working in schools teaching kids about sustainability. We would go to schools, hand out fliers and try to get them to join our workshops making planters out of soda bottles. You have to put yourself out there for sure.
Michelle: Do you have some kind of background in sustainability? I feel like often times when I try to talk about it I end up just throwing out these blanket terms like “up-cycle, fair trade, go green, sustainability!” and I don’t always know how to further explain these terms.
Margaret: So I don’t have a history in sustainability but I do have the knowledge that Andrea taught me and you just run with that. You know, when she’s not there, then it’s up to you to talk for the whole brand. You gotta own it basically, so do the research on certain words so you can explain those words and break it down for people who don’t understand or aren’t familiar with the ideas. Then, once they start getting it, they understand the products and the beauty of where they come from and how they’re made. You have to learn who you’re talking to and how you’re going to talk to them to get to them.
Michelle: It’s great how you can take something that you learned from A. Bernadette and apply it to all future sales jobs. Plus, now with your focus in school on product merchandising and management, it’s like you’re on this very specific path. It seems like you have a pretty good handle on school and work. How do you foresee navigating the balance of work and play in the future? Like, in your ideal setup with your dream job, how much of your time will be spent working and how much time will be spent on a social life or leisure? Do you see a separation of the two or do you believe that if you have a real passion project that you should be on call 24/7?
Margaret: So I’m only just now getting to the point where I can say, “Okay this is what I want to do outside of work.” Whenever I have free time, I embrace it because before I used to be such a workaholic and that was it. School, work, homework and that was my life. Now it’s like, alright, I have free time. It’s a beautiful day… let me go outside and pamper myself. I realize putting the pressure of work on myself stresses me out more and like in New York you’re going to have these moments where you’re just like “oh my god I feel like exploding and everything is just like so overwhelming!” It’s gonna happen. Me, living here my whole life, it’s like I hit that point probably every other month. Suddenly I’m just like, what’s going on? How am I gonna get through this? You gotta just give yourself a pep talk and keep going.
Michelle: Do you think you found your niche in sales?
Margaret: Working in sales has really improved my people skills. Like before I worked with Andrea I was really snooty and nasty to people. I used to be really mean! But now that I’m back into sales I’m super open to talking to people and getting to know people. I noticed that honestly working for Andrea and this brand has changed my New York attitude. Andrea asked me one time when we were out to brunch, she goes, “What do you need? How can I help you?” and I was just like, “Uhm what do you mean…” So she goes, “Why is that such a hard question for people to answer? Why are people so scared and prideful to show what they need help with? Do you need a job? Do you need more money? Do you need more hours? Tell me what you want.” And that was such a strong talk with her because from there I realized yeah, I do need more hours and I may need a job. That was when I figured out what I wanted to do. So when I realized all of that, it just made me want to help her in return. I’m always there if Andrea ever needs me because of how she put herself out there to help me.
Margaret and I parted ways after two hours of laughing and chatting in the sun. It’s hard for me to imagine Margaret the way that she claims she used to be: snooty and nasty. She gave me so much of her time and honesty. I found sitting with her to be super refreshing because of her open demeanor and straight forwardness. Here’s someone who will respectfully disagree if that’s how she feels even if it means going against the mainstream current. She’s the kind of woman who stands up for herself and knows what she wants. She doesn’t need labels because they would only simplify the complexities of her personality and opinions. She’s a woman of actions not words. She internalized A. Bernadette’s message of paying it forward- asking for help and going out of your way to help people in return. As we said our goodbyes she suggested to me, “You know you should really get yourself a crystal, like on a necklace or something. It’ll help you harness more positive energy.” Margaret is actually living proof of that, so the next time you see me, don’t be surprised if I’m wearing a crystal.