Entrepreneur Joey Wölffer Shares Her Advice on Being the Ultimate Mom Boss
by Rhiannon Dourado
Joey Wölffer is one inspiring and busy mama! She is the co-owner of the famed Wölffer Estate Vineyard in the Hamptons (N.Y.), along with two restaurants bearing the Wölffer name. Joey is also founder and creator of Joey Wölffer, a destination for one-of-a-kind accessories and limited-edition pieces curated from around the globe, with stores in Sag Harbor, N.Y., and Nantucket, Massachusetts. She also designed and launched an eponymous collection of handbags combining Italian leathers with hand-woven straps.
Joey, who is mom to 2-year-old daughter Nell, is expecting her second daughter this fall.
Describe the moment when you were inspired to create your signature line of handbags.
I have always been a jewelry designer, so whenever I have time, I will make a couple of over-the-top pieces. I started getting into handbags when I found what I thought was the perfect vintage saddlebag in Portabello market in London. This bag was the inspiration for my collection, which I launched in 2014, and is now a staple each season. My line is inspired by the traveling female entrepreneur and business woman who needs that bag for all occasions. With my background in jewelry, there is always some element on the bag that is embellished, bejeweled or embroidered. I often use fabrics and trimmings from my travels, making it very difficult to have too many of the same design. The bags are made in New York, so it all always finds its way back home!
When did your interest in fashion start?
Fashion is in my blood, but I really only got into it the summer of my senior year in college when I began making jewelry. I then moved to London, where my design career started! My main source of my inspiration comes from growing up in the Hamptons, where there was always a very carefree and bohemian vibe. I think it was always in me to express myself and take risks with personal style, and a passion of mine to spread that. Prior to creating the Styleliner in 2010, now Joey Wölffer, I was the trend director for The Jones Group, where I traveled to find jewelry and accessory trends worldwide. Through my travels, I found amazing pieces and designers that were not yet in the U.S., and I wanted to create a global emporium of my finds. There was no way I could open a regular brick-and-mortar store—our society today is so on the go (including myself), and we needed a store that was, too!
As a mother and entrepreneur, how do you make it all work?
I love everything I do, and I make it all work because I wouldn't want it any other way! We have the best team in all the businesses, making it easy for me to streamline where my time is most valuably spent! It's all about time management, especially when you have children!
When did you first get involved with the vineyard?
I always had my own dreams and goals, with little interest in my father’s business. After my father’s passing in 2009, I was torn between selling my shares to my siblings or staying involved. But when my brother approached me to stay in it with him, I was quickly motivated to jump into it and honor my father. Every year, we host a large event in the vineyard with the James Beard Foundation, and it was at that summer’s party that I had a very emotional moment, realizing that I wanted something to pass on to my kids and the legacy of my father to live on, so I quickly told my brother “I’m in." He was thrilled!
What was the process of designing the vineyard’s tasting room like? Was there anything about it that surprised you or that you found particularly challenging?
Re-designing the Tasting Room was something our core team at the winery discussed for a long time before committing to it. Really striking the balance of keeping the core elements that my father created but also putting our own mark on it and embodying all that the brand has grown to become was a careful process. We worked with a great team of designers and builders who understood our vision and were deliberate in all of their choices, from the big to the small. We created a living room area with a wall of old photos that were surprisingly more emotional to go through than I thought. It is a bittersweet feeling to look back on the early days of my father’s passion project, but so fulfilling see how it is growing now, along with all of our own families, too.
When did you first feel successful?
I think there are always moments in your life where you feel a strong sense of accomplishment, or that you’re about to make a big decision or take on something new that could change the trajectory of your life. I don't think there was truly one moment when I first felt successful, though. Success comes in small moments for me, whether it is quiet time with my daughter or watching the guests at the winery enjoy what we have built so much. This has all been such a wonderful journey and I am excited to keep it growing!
As a successful female entrepreneur, what are some ways that you want to teach your kids about "girl power"?
The best way I can teach my children is through example. Going after your passions, working incredibly hard and making things happen for yourself is best taught through practice. Having my girls watch me lead by example will hopefully inspire them to tackle their goals as they grow. It's also important to fail and understand how to take those lessons with you! I want them to see that you can be your own boss, you can be a business owner and having your voice heard and taken seriously when you’re the only woman on a team of men is realistic and attainable.
Has there been anything about founding Joey Wölffer and designing your collection of handbags that surprised you or inspired you in a way you didn't expect?
I think it’s always unexpected when you surprise yourself with what you can do. Starting a business, owning a winery and having all of these big dreams can seem a bit far off or overwhelming, but putting your head down and working really hard and being able to look back on how far you have come is always a pleasant surprise. I am always surprised by how much I look back on my family and my past for inspiration when I’m stuck on something.
What's your advice for moms who are looking to start their own business?
I believe the best thing you can do for your kids is to show them everything that they can be and provide them the resources for that. Going after your own dreams will make you a better parent and will make you more fulfilled as well. I know leaving your child can be scary, but make time for yourself and don’t be afraid to use the resources available to you! Women are constantly being judged as mothers, and it’s time to push back on that and be a business owner and be a mom and be great at both.
What sacrifices have you made as a mom and business owner to keep everything in balance?
Traveling for work has been the hardest sacrifice I've had to make as a mother. Whether I'm traveling to the West Coast or locally (usually within the Hamptons, Nantucket or New York), it's always tough leaving behind my husband and our daughter—even for short trips. It's never easy spending time away, but it's a sacrifice I'm willing to make and I know that my family supports me in my creative and professional endeavors.
If you could have lunch with any business person/mogul/entrepreneur/nonprofit founder living or dead, who would it be and why?
I think it varies by the day! But right now, with the world being in such utter chaos, I'd love to sit with Bill and Melinda Gates. I am curious, of course, on the way Bill built Microsoft and has kept the brand so strong and at the forefront of what's happening. I am also interested in how they continue to build and maintain their foundation. The seem to travel the world working, volunteering and raising money while also raising a family!
Are there any new projects on the horizon for you?
Between my stores and the winery, there is always something happening for me! It’s amazing to be able to work with insanely creative and talented people at all my businesses. I like to keep both my businesses on the edge and ahead of the trends, so there are always hundreds of ideas constantly being pitched, tested and tried. You never know what will take off next!