Motherly @ Work features the stories and insights of modern women growing their careers—and their families.
Like Erica Riegelman President and Co-Founder of Aftcra—an innovative online marketplace where you can buy and sell handmade goods made by artisans in the USA. Aftcra sells everything from beautiful clothing and baby toys, to home furnishings and one of a kind pieces of jewelry. Aftcra is a place where you know you can find truly unique handcrafted products created by local artisans around your community and across the country.
We caught up with Erica to find out what keeps her inspired and how she gets it all done.
Why did you believe you needed to create Aftcra?
Erica Riegelman: The skill behind making handmade goods has always been a passion of mine. Growing up, handmade products were treated with respect. My mom was a maker with a talent that I wished that I had—she could make something beautiful from nothing. She was always creating, from ceramics to painting, woodworking to baking.
My mom started making life-sized witch silhouettes for Halloween and decided to sell them locally in her Northern Wisconsin community, but when she found out how much of a fee she would owe the local boutiques she became frustrated. Before she threw in the towel, I tried to find a way to help her (and artisans like her) sell their handmade goods easily. And so Aftcra was born—an online marketplace that is easy and affordable for makers to create their own online shop and list products for free.
What was the need in the market?
Erica Riegelman: When Aftcra was first conceived, it was intended to be an online craft fair where you could find handmade products made locally. Soon after we launched in October of 2013, Etsy (the leader of the handmade industry) shifted their mission away from only supporting handmade products to allowing the sale of manufactured goods on Etsy.com, therefore allowing hoards of resellers and non-makers to join their community. This change left many handmade shoppers and artisans in search of a marketplace that could offer authentic handmade products. So, Aftcra was quick to take over as the only handmade marketplace for artisans in the USA, and we’re proud to hold that title!
How and why did you decide that local, American-made products would become the basis of your business? What led you here?
Erica Riegelman: I wanted Aftcra to emphasize another passion of mine—shopping locally. Aftcra may be an online marketplace where people around the world can shop, but all of the products on Aftcra are handmade by makers that live in the USA. So many shoppers and bloggers want easy access to locally made products. With Aftcra they have the ability to do just that! We’ve had an overwhelming amount of users reach out to us to share their appreciation for a marketplace dedicated to only handmade goods and to makers in the USA.
What inspires you to do this work?
Erica Riegelman: Over the past three years I have had the opportunity to meet so many talented makers, handmade buyers, and individuals who are passionate about the artisanal community. Hearing all of their stories—the zeal the artisans have for their work, and how family traditions are being carried down generation after generation—has truly inspired me to continue to promote maker’s talents. Whether it’s a family business being passed down, or a stay-at-home mom who discovered her passion, I’m always sure to stumble upon an incredible story with a journey that most people only dream about.
What are your secrets for integrating work and family?
Erica Riegelman: Aftcra is a family-owned, privately held organization, which means a lot of family time. I
founded Aftcra alongside two other family members, one being my husband. I hold a full-time position with Aftcra while my husband plays more of a specialty role, with a focus on finances and partnerships.
Running a company alongside your husband is a lot about teamwork. It’s a balance that sometimes we get right and sometimes we don’t. Every family-owned business runs differently, but my husband and I have learned that there are times when we talk about Aftcra and times when we disconnect and enjoy our time together with our family. We’ve realized it’s a lot about being present in the moment—being present while working, and being present while spending time with loved ones.
How do you recharge?
Erica Riegelman: Ah, this is a great question for all working moms. Do we ever get a chance to recharge?
The only way I can truly recharge is by completely disconnecting. Being the owner of a small business makes this difficult—I truly don’t remember the last time I didn’t work for an entire vacation. But there are times when I know that I need to let go for a weekend, and during that time I completely disconnect from the business. I force myself to take “me” time, which is typically getting outside and enjoying time with my friends and family. During this time I force myself to stop worrying about meeting a deadline or finishing a project. Once the forced break is done, I come back to my work with a clearer head, improved moral, and a spike in motivation.
When I need a quick break I tend to turn on one of my favorite shows—either 30 Rock, Arrested Development, or Veep—and get completely immersed in it for an episode or two. The comedic relief from the show helps me get back to work with a different perspective.
Do you have a mentor or someone you look up to that’s helped to shape you as a woman and a mother? Tell us how they inspire you.
Erica Riegelman: I don’t have a formal mentor, but other mothers who are dominating their industry while still making their children a priority have inspired me. Over the years I have looked toward Eleanor Roosevelt, Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfuss as three women who have done incredible things while still placing a focus on their children.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that there is no perfect mentor for me, so I have started to focus less on what other people are doing and more about the characteristics that make them strong leaders. I’ve taken small traits from several influential women and helped form that into who I want to be. This route has helped me concentrate on my strengths and solidify my goals instead of following someone else’s path. I’m on a mission to forge my own way.
Tell us about your children. How have they transformed your career?
Erica Riegelman: I have a two-year-old daughter and a brand new baby boy.
I’ve held a variety of jobs over the past 13 years, but nothing has transformed me like being a parent.
The old saying is true—you never realize how amazing being a mother is until you become one. Having children taught me to be more empathetic, courageous, self-aware and confident.
But the most important aspect that I’ve learned from being a mom is that I have a purpose larger than myself. I want my children to know that both men and women can accomplish extraordinary things in life, and I know that I need to act as their role model in order for them to sincerely understand.
What gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you inspired and excited about life?
Erica Riegelman: As an entrepreneur, I think it’s natural to wake up in the morning with this outlook that you’re going to make a difference in someone’s life today. Some days the impact you have is small, but other days you move mountains. Being an entrepreneur is full of highs and lows, and it’s important to embrace the good with the bad and to know that you’re helping more people than you can comprehend.
What’s one thing you do every day (or try to do every day!) to ensure that your work and home lives run more smoothly?
Erica Riegelman: When I wake up in the morning I write down a to-do list before I get out of bed. I make sure to keep the list on my phone so I can reference it wherever I may be but also add on to it throughout the day. Over the years I have found that this method helps me to stay on the ball—and it’s SO easy to incorporate into your routine! It also helps to make sure that I do not waste time worrying about forgetting to do something, which ends up stealing more energy than you’d imagine.
We’d love to hear—what would you tell other mamas who have a great idea and want to start their own business?
Erica Riegelman: There are always a million reasons to say “no” to take the plunge into owning your own business. Sometimes you have to push those excuses out of the way so you don’t regret taking a risk in your life. Starting a business is challenging—it’s going to push you outside of your comfort zone, you’re going to have to do things you never thought possible—but it will be the most rewarding experience for your career-driven self.
What do you hope your children will learn from your career?
Erica Riegelman: Right now my littles are too, well, little to truly understand the importance of my career with Aftcra. But when they get older I hope they see that hard work, personal sacrifice, taking risks, being kind, and appreciating your support system is what gets you through life.
My father was always a big advocate of women being able to accomplish the same things as a man, and I’m fortunate in that I married someone with the same outlook. I want our children to know that their dreams can become a reality if they work hard and have the passion to motivate them through the rollercoaster that inevitably comes with any career path.
What does ‘Motherly’ mean to you?
Erica Riegelman: To me, “Motherly” means embracing the new and improved you as you take the journey through motherhood. You will change and evolve into a different person than you were before you became a mother, but that person will be a better version you than you could have ever imagined. Trust me, I’m living proof of it!
Where can people find Aftcra online?
You can also email us directly here (info@Aftcra.com) and one of our handmade enthusiasts will get back to you within 48 hours.