You spent your 20s working toward building your dream career, but now that you’re in your 30s, what do you do when you’ve, well, changed your mind? Or maybe you never quite figured it out, and you’re now ready to commit to something you’re passionate about, whether it’s a job, a city, or just a new way of life. To celebrate the career changes that can come at any age, we’re debuting a new series, Second Life. Each week, we’ll hear from women who got over their doubts and fears and made the biggest changes of their lives.
Some people are born knowing what they want to do, when they grow up while others have a less linear, predictable career trajectory toward success and passion. The latter is true for Jodie Fried, mother of three and co-founder of Armadillo & Co., a California-based line of ethically produced high-quality rugs. But before she established a successful home-goods business with a socially conscious approach, she was working on Bollywood films in India as a costume designer. And while the two may seem unrelated, there turned out to be quite a bit of overlap, both in terms of skill and passion. To learn how Fried made this discovery and hustled to establish her business, read through our conversation below and get a taste of the gorgeous Armadillo & Co. designs throughout.
Tell us about your first career path.
My background is in costume and production design. I studied at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, Australia, and worked in the arts and entertainment industries, designing costumes and sets for dance, film, and theatre. I loved designing costumes for characters and bringing them to life through movement, screen, or live performance. It was all about working with a great team of people to make a story come to life.
How did you make the transition from costume design to rug design?
A lot of serendipity was involved! I won a scholarship to work with a traditional dance company in Bollywood and ended up living in India for three years. In 2001, there was a devastating earthquake, and while helping to rebuild villages along the Pakistani border, I met these incredible craftspeople, many of whom were women.
I was so inspired that I decided to found my first business, Bholu, working with local artisans to create and sell traditional textiles that would help them build a sustainable income. Sally Pottharst, my Armadillo & Co. co-founder, approached me to create rugs together (she had a background in rug production), and together we saw a gap in the Australian market for beautiful, high-quality floor coverings. We haven’t looked back since.
Tell us about your current career path. What sets your business apart?
Sally and I founded Armadillo & Co almost 10 years ago. From the start, we’ve poured our hearts into making the business sustainable. We only use natural or recycled materials, and every step of the dying, spinning, weaving, and finishing process is done by hand using techniques that have been handed down through generations. As a result, each rug is truly unique and full of soul, like a modern heirloom.
The other pillar of our company is social responsibility. We ensure our weavers are paid fair wages, and we’re a member of Care & Fair, a worldwide initiative against illegal child labor. For the last six years, we’ve also sponsored a local primary school attended by many of our artisans’ children. Each purchase of one of our rugs goes toward paying for the teacher salaries, uniforms, textbooks, utilities, and regular health and eye checks. This year we’re launching a scholarship program to help the highest performing girls complete their secondary education. We’re as committed to giving back as we are to making beautiful products.
Pricing available upon request.
What have been the biggest challenges in your many careers, and why?
Work/life balance. I think many women struggle with this, especially mothers, and it’s even more challenging given my three children are so young, and my husband works and travels a lot too. The struggle is real! Time difference is a big challenge–given our team is spread across the globe, it means odd and long working hours on Skype or in the air traveling. It can also be difficult to switch off or draw the line when you see an opportunity to do more or do better, but it’s important to carve out some downtime.
What triggered your need to change this time around?
Having a young family definitely changes things. I’m lucky that I have the ability to choose my own schedule, so I can work around their activities. I usually drop them off at school, go for a surf, and work until the late afternoon. I’ll then spend time with the kids after school and work again once they’re in bed, which is actually more suitable for meetings with our team in Australia. I’ve found that when I do work that I love, I’m a better mother, and when I spend quality time with my kids, it makes me better at my job.
Why is your current path suitable for your personality?
I’m fortunate to work with Sally because we perfectly complement each other. I’m all about the big picture—the weaves and colours, how all the rugs fit together visually—while she’s much more into the finer details, such as the materials and the construction techniques. I’m the accelerator, and she’s the brakes. Separately we’d be a disaster, but together it’s a really strong, symbiotic, and respectful relationship.
What’s the most important thing you have learned in making a big change in your career life?
You need to truly love and believe in what you do and also who you do it with.
How did you move past the fear of change to pursue your passion?
It helps to surround yourself with people who support you. My husband and I act as each other’s support crew, and together we’ve been able to make some life-changing decisions that have really paid off, from starting Armadillo & Co. to relocating to Los Angeles.
What are some mistakes you made along the way that ended up helping your success?
We call them “happy accidents,” and we always factor this in. It is where something doesn’t go to plan and could ordinarily have been considered negative or a mistake, but often they turn into something we hadn’t planned on or could never have imagined, and most of the time it all works out beautifully.
Pricing available upon request.
What do you love most about your current role, and why?
I love the variety. There’s no such thing as an average day. One minute I’m in India working with our weavers and designing a new collection, the next I’m planning our upcoming campaign shoot in Portugal or Buenos Aires, and then I’m working on our L.A. showroom retail window. It has been very exciting with the recent build of our showroom, which has definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone in construction and architecture as well as thinking about a retail space, which is new for us.
When you look back and reflect on your previous career, do you have any regrets? Or are you still really happy with your decision?
Not a single regret. One decision led to another, and if I hadn’t pursued my previous career in film, I never would have gone to India and fallen in love with its people, met my husband, found a dear friend and business partner in Sally, or ignited my passion for philanthropy.
What advice do you have for other women who want to take the leap and pursue their own business?
Have a clear vision, stay true to your values, and be willing to take risks.