Studio Visit with Sandra of Happy French Gang, SF

On Mondays Tuesdays, we like to peek into the world of creative folks, to get our own creative juices flowing. So we asked Sandra, the founder and designer of San Francisco-based textiles shop, Happy French Gang if we can come over, ask few questions and hang out a bit.

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andra, who moved with her husband five years ago from France to San Francisco, successfully juggles her career, family, and me-time. From a project manager to shop owner and designer, Sandra has found her passion in creating beautiful, hand-dyed fabrics turning them into pillows, blankets, rugs and soon-to-come fashion pieces. The unique ombre-pastel pieces of her collection are sold at West Elm and ABC Home. And we bet you have stumbled upon these cloudy pillows somewhere on Instagram or Pinterest. So come on in, and join us for a studio visit with Sandra of Happy French Gang.

FROM FRANCE TO SAN FRANCISCO. HOW DID YOU GET HERE? TELL US A BIT ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY? 

Hello!

Back in France, I worked for six years as an engineer in Project Management. Mostly in very large companies, in industrial and computer science. It was a very male environment, old school but I really loved my job and learned a lot, there. At the same time, I did several business plans on ideas that never took life. But the free entrepreneurial spirit was already there.I moved to San Francisco 5 years ago, and it was just a good time for me to take a new path and work for myself! I felt good making stuff with my hands, and I started quickly my first company Zipillow and a year later Happy French Gang. I think living in this city, the optimistic energy with entrepreneurial people helped me to launch myself into this adventure.

WHERE DID THE IDEA FOR HAPPY FRENCH GANG COME ABOUT?
Happy French Gang is all about creating textiles that will bring some freshness and holiday vibe in your home. I really focus on working with awesome textures and colors that I cherish personally. I want my customers to love their throws or pillows, have a lifetime love affair with their textiles and feel the positive vibe coming from the soft and colorful pastel colors.

HOW DOES YOUR TYPICAL DAY AS A DESIGNER/ENTREPRENEUR/MOM  LOOK LIKE, FROM AM TO PM?
I would say that every day is different. But usually I wake up at 7:30 am, check my emails first thing, and drop off my child around 8:45 am at school. I drive directly to my studio and work from there until 4:45 am. After that I do all the mom and house duties, and I try (I try hard) not to look too much on my electronics! After 9 pm I look at the news and work again or go out or watch a movie! You can add here and there depending on days, a session of yoga, 30 min of outdoor swim, early pick up for kid’s activity, a meeting with a client, early brunch with a friend, or a mini trip to the ocean to clear my mind after school pick up!

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WHAT ARE THE MOST REWARDING ASPECTS OF YOUR WORK? WHAT’S NOT SO GREAT? 
The most rewarding aspects are that I get to learn any aspects of the job, and I literally love it. Learning everything from scratch was one of my biggest challenge ever. The downside is that I work by myself. Sometimes I like that feeling, but right now, I feel like having a partner would challenge me even more.

WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES IN GROWING A BUSINESS? 
Being on my own means that I have to take all the decisions by myself. And it’s tough. My business is growing step by step and for each one, I have to decide if this investment or that one is the best. Yeah, I will say that the economic aspect is the more challenging.

YOUR PROUDEST CAREER MOMENT?
Since I learned everything from scratch, I had several proudest moment, like making the first collection, the first catalog, but the last big moment for me is when I partnered with ABC Carpet & Home. This brand represents for me one of the best you can find for Home Design; that’s why I was proud when they choose to work with Happy French Gang.

 

YOUR FABRICS AND PATTERNS HAVE ALREADY GAINED RECOGNITION? WHERE DOES THE INSPIRATION FOR YOUR DESIGNS COMES FROM?
Sun, beach, holidays, ocean.

COME FRIDAY, ALL WE WANT IS THE WEEKEND? HOW DO YOU KEEP UP THE MOTIVATION? WHAT KEEPS YOU FOCUSED?
Well, as a mom, my time at work is very delimited. If I want to get things done, I have to do it while my boy is at school! So the motivation is here, no problem for that! But sometimes when I need a bit of pop in my studio, I put on French classic songs or Beyonce, and I sing especially loud!!

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WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DISTRACTION FROM WORK?
Instagram for sure even if I’m a bit less addicted these days. But my favorite thing to do if it’s sunny enough outside is to go to the outdoor pool, take some Vitamin D!

YOU HAVE A 30 MIN BREAK, WHAT DO YOU DO?
If I work from home, I will go to the outdoor swimming pool that’s a block away!

WHAT IS YOUR GO-TO LUNCH?
I don’t have one really. I change all the time.

DO YOU STAY ONLINE OR GO OFFLINE ON THE WEEKEND?
I wish I could say offline, but I’m connected way too much during the weekend. On the other hand, during summer vacation, I almost don’t touch my phone or computer.

WHAT’S NEXT ON YOUR TO-DO LIST?
I have many many projects on my list concerning Happy French Gang or not. I can’t list them all here, but I promise plenty of surprises!

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TELL US YOUR FIVE FAVORITE FOOD SPOTS IN SAN FRANCISCO…

Ken Ken Ramen – excellent food and service.
Farina – I love their pizzas, and they are fast.
Kingdom of Dumplings – cheap, honestly good food but they serve to fast so they can have new customer. They even take the     order on the sidewalk while you’re waiting for a table!
Lolinda – for the meet
Namu Gaji – great for lunch

AND THREE FAVORITE SHOPS…

I’m not really a shopping person at all but I love:
General Store – would buy everything from there if I could.
Modern Apparel Clothing – they make the best sales 2 weeks a year! Don’t miss it.
Mollusk Shop – Love the clothing line.

BEST WEEKEND THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS?
Sausalito Beach. Not dangerous at all for kids, better weather than ocean beach usually. You can order pizza on the beach or go to La Garage and order mussels and fries!

★A walk to ocean beach + ice cream at the iconic Ice Cream Bar on the way back.

★If the weekend is going to be really foggy in SF and will feel like doing a two days excursion; our kid loves to go to Santa Cruz. We stay at Hotel Paradox that is super kid friendly. They have a large pool where Leon has a maximum fun in there while we have a cocktail. We always have dinner at the restaurant of the hotel that is great. Fun for the kid and relax for the parents. Not to mention the Beach Boardwalk.

★First stop to Temescal outdoor pool in Oakland, takeout at Cholita Linda and Drive-ins movie theater at Solano. You will have by the end of the day and happily exhausted kid!

IF WE HAVE ONLY 12 HOURS IN SAN FRANCISCO, WHAT SHOULD WE DO … WHERE DO YOU TAKE OUT-OF-TOWN FRIENDS?
I would go to Point Reyes and visit around.

WHERE SHOULD WE STAY IN SAN FRANCISCO?
I never had to book a hotel in San Francisco, but I would say Campton Place Taj. Just because it’s an institution.

It’s weekend in California….

Saturday or Sunday… 
There’s no real distinction for me these days. Years ago, shopping and birthday parties were happening on Saturdays; nowadays there is no distinction. Shops are open every day and we receive birthday invitation for both days. I like them both!

Do you have any weekend traditions…
Taking a nap if we have the time!

Sleeping in or raising early…
Weekend mornings are always slow for my family and me unless we have a getaway and need to leave early. Otherwise, we try to stay in bed later than usual, one of us will prepare crepes or pancakes or just go buy some good pain au chocolat. Also, I’m a champion to make fresh orange juice on weekends. If it’s sunny, we’ll eat on the deck and then probably call our families in France.

Favorite weekend breakfast?
We love Martha Stewart pancake recipe! We try to do it when we have our French friends or family staying at our place.

Beach or mountains…
Definitely beach! I’m a beach girl and spent two months a year until I was 18 years old at the beach. I drive most often to Ocean Beach but unfortunately I can’t swim there. My favorite beaches are in Brittany, in France.

Book tip…
One of my favorite books is Leon from Amin Maalouf. One of the best.

Your way to relax…
I love to get a massage or a facial treatment at Ensoma in SOMA. I just love everything from that place and feel always boosted after.

Best kept California secret…
Mary Smith Campground. A peace of heaven.

What do you love most about California?

Beach spirit, tree houses, open minded people, beautiful landscape, weather, variety.

Check out Happy French Gang here and follow Sandra on Instagram! 

-as told to California Weekend
*photography by Ana Kamin

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