Sandra Dejanovic, Founder, Happy French Gang
The French always seem to have the edge when it comes to exuding beauty and indulging in life's pleasures, without much effort or stress. For this reason, catching up with Sandra Dejanovic of Happy French Gang was tres insightful. As the CEO and founder of a sustainable textile company based out of the Bay Area, Sandra divulged her favorite retail therapy escapes in the city, the French approach to balance, and the way plants can double as art in your bathroom.
Can you share with us your journey, and how you went from engineering to creating a textile company? Did you always have this artistic, creative side?
Initially, I had no idea I had a creative side in me—even the 15 years of intense oboe training and 18 years of ballet didn’t tip me off. When I think about it, these are two very artistic and creative activities. But because much of my time in these disciplines was spent following instructions, I was blind to the way I was using my creative side when engaged in either activity.
My mum was always very creative. Growing up she would bring me to all sorts of museums and even created and managed a sexy lingerie brand for few years. The second floor of the house was reserved for her company; fabrics where always everywhere, models would come and go—it was a lot of fun to see that as a child! My dad always worked in the industrial field and for unknown reasons I followed that path too. I really enjoyed studying at my Engineering school, and loved my 5 years working as a consultant in project management in some of the biggest French companies. When I moved to the US—quitting my job in France to follow my husband—I wasn’t sure I wanted to go back and work in such a male-dominated environment and wanted to more flexible hours as I just had my first baby. I was slowly thinking what could be my next move when I decided to make my own Zipillows—a collection of pillows that you can zip and unzip together in various combinations. Few months later, Zipillow was my first company. A year later, the business grew and I rebranded as Happy French Gang.
You are the founder and the artist— how do you balance the business with the creative? What is your process like?
Indeed, it can be difficult to balance the two sides. I try to regularly reserve a full day to work on creative ideas, but now that you’re asking I realized that it is often interrupted by business issues that I need to work on in the middle of it. I also do some creative sessions in the evening, sketching ideas or organizing photo inspiration that I have in my phone.
As a earth-conscious company, what are some ways we can live more sustainably? What are some things you try to implement in your on life?
It starts by all the small things. For me, it’s something that I always have in mind: we have one planet, there is no plan B, we need to think what impact this action or that action will have on the planet. I try to keep this in my thoughts and am conscious that if I take my car out or if I buy this strawberry box packaged with plastic [then] it will not have a positive impact on the planet.
Personally, I think twice about using my car, I use only bamboo toothbrushes, and I switched recently to shampoo bars from Fillgood. For clothing I try to buy things that will last and that are made ethically.
At Happy French Gang we started to make jumpsuits that I am really proud of because they are sustainable and maintain amazing quality. We strive to help with the development of the communities where we source the cotton, and make sure that we are offering fair wages for each phase of the product development. We also try to reuse all of our excess fabric in different ways. Recently, we made a jewelry collection of reused materials and we are working on a small quilt edition that will use our excess fabric as well.
What are some of your wellness rituals/non-negotiables?
I start the day with a glass of hot water + ginger and lemon. It’s a tip that my friend gave me, her family [is from India] and has been doing it for generations. It helps me to stay in good health and apparently helps to burn some fat! I do 15 minutes of exercise at home in the morning. It’s a mix of yoga poses, stretching and abs. I also swim two times a week, 20 to 30 minutes. I know it’s not a lot but the pool is outside and it really gives me a boost. A part from that, I spend time with my family everyday. We try to have dinner together most of the time and will also do things like go to the park, visit the beach or throw our own dance party at the house!
How would you describe your aesthetic and your inspiration?
I love a warm, cozy, eclectic aesthetic. Home for us is a place of refuge, where we can relax and enjoy spending time together, so I like our living space to reflect that.
As far as furnishings and home decor goes, I like to take the time to find the right object, and sometimes that can take years. I like to mix the old with the new too—that’s a characteristic of my French upbringing! Also, I like spaces that aren’t too overloaded. I try to keep the spaces fairly minimalistic so that my eyes don’t get caught by everything around me and I can use the space to relax, especially in our room. I regularly throw a lot of things away and I really try to restrain myself from buying everything I see at Anthropologie!
I also love owning a lot of plants—they are like art for me! I have some in every room even the bathroom!
What are some of the biggest differences you've found with life between San Francisco and France?
People are way more optimistic in San Francisco than France. That difference is huge—people make you feel like you can succeed at anything and that’s really empowering. Also, I feel like people here are not afraid to share good business tips or contacts. In France people weren’t as open—although perhaps that mentality has changed.
What is the "French" way to approach wellness, body and eating? It feels much more intuitive than the American way of life.
Yes indeed, it’s much more intuitive. I feel like people in France don’t think too much about being healthy. I mean, they do think about it, but not excessively. I am not saying that everybody eats healthy food but French food often seems to have a healthy element just because that’s what has become the norm in French culture. That’s not to say that we don’t have our share of unhealthy foods in France, just that people will often opt for healthy options by default because that’s what the culture tends to do.
What are some of your favorite wellness spots in San Francisco?
Ensoma, is my one spot where I’ll go and get a massage and other treatments. The space is beautiful, and Marion, the owner, is a delight! I also like Pearl Spa, it’s really nice.
My favorite shops are Earthen Shop, on Fillmore street, and the General Store. I always stop there when we go the the beach, as well as Rare Device on Divisadero street.
What does legacy mean for you and how do you wish to leave your mark on the world?
I believe that each of us leaves a legacy behind us, no matter how great or small. That’s why it’s so important to me to do the best I can to make the world a better place in any way that I can. For me, [that means] doing things like keeping our production as sustainable as possible, making sure that our materials are ethically sourced, and paying a fair wage at each point of production. Simple things like this can go a long way in bettering the world both presently and for future generations. I hope the legacy I leave behind a small part of our larger collective legacy—to make the world a better, happier place.