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Rosena Sammi: Attorney Turned Entrepreneur

Rosena Sammi is a jewelry designer. She was born and raised in New Zealand, and went to the University of Auckland School of Law. She practiced for four years at Bell Gully - the largest law firm in New Zealand . She next completed an LLM at the University of Virginia School of Law and was a corporate litigation associate in New York at Torys for four years before quitting the law to start her own business.

How did your career change came about?

I really enjoyed practicing law. However, corporate litigation didn't allow for my creative side to reach its full potential. I took various classes, including night classes at Parson's School of Design. I did this just for fun as a hobby initially. After a while, I realized my hobby was becoming a passion and I could potentially turn my passion into a business. I spent a year writing a business plan, and the day I left my law firm, I flew to India to start my business.

Did you always like fashion?

Yes, especially jewelry. I always collected jewelry on my travels and I designed some of my jewelry for my wedding. The wonderful thing is that designing jewelry presents a great opportunity to draw on my heritage and culture. The philosophy behind my jewelry is global chic. My heritage is Sri Lankan; I was born and raised in New Zealand and I live in Manhattan--this cultural combination influences my jewelry line.

Who or what has helped you along the way?

My husband is a partner at Skadden Arps. He is of Indian heritage and is of enormous help to me - he speaks the language and traveled with me on my first business trip to India to help me navigate the trials and tribulations of doing business in India. There have been numerous other amazing and generous people who have also shared their knowledge and experience. In this regard, networking has been an important part of my success. It is amazing how many of my lawyer friends knew people who assisted me in the fashion world. I would recommend to aspiring entrepreneurs to network and access as many resources as possible. The New York State Small Business Association was a great resource for example and has free classes.

Can you tell me some more details about the business?

I started my business in 2006 out of my apartment. I now operate out of the Fashion District with a small team to assist me. The business is both wholesale - over 100 stores around the country carry my line, including Henri Bendel, Kittson, and Intermix -- and also retail via my website.

How many hours a day do you work?

It depends on what's happening with my business--but generally too many!

Do you travel to India now? How often?

I just had a baby, so my travels to India are on hold for a little while. But I plan to resume my trips shortly, which are at least twice a year.

How do you get your publicity?

In the beginning, I hit the pavement with my samples knocking on the doors of all the editors in town. Early on I was fortunate enough to have the editors of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar love my jewelry and feature it in their magazines. Now I have a publicist who manages my PR so I can focus on the other aspects of my business.

Other advice for aspiring lawyer entrepreneurs?

Follow your passion, but be prepared to work even harder then you did as a lawyer.

What's your 5 year plan?

To keep growing my brand so that when people see the name "Rosena Sammi" they truly understand the philosophy and meaning behind my jewelry.

What has been the most challenging part?

There were a number of challenging aspects in leaving behind my identity as a lawyer and becoming an entrepreneur. For example, I really missed the camaraderie a law firm provides. Starting my own business was exciting and rewarding but it was also quite lonely when my phone was not ringing as much! Also, fashion is a very different industry to the law, there are obvious things like it is less conservative, but there are less obvious things I had to learn like adapting my writing style. Lets just say I use a lot more "xoxo" and exclamation marks than I used to!

Interview conducted by Inna Idelchik Swinton, Managing Director, Strategic Legal Solutions and Member of the Career Advancement and Management Committee, June 2010.