Amanda Heslinga is the creative mastermind behind the jewelry company Rocks with Sass. She is the true embodiment of a superwoman. She is a female entrepreneur who launched a business while battling Crohn’s Disease. We are so excited to share her journey with you today.
Amanda, tell us about how Rocks with Sass was born? How did your journey begin?
Rocks with Sass all began as a hobby; something to distract myself from my current health struggles. I was going through my first relapse, three years after I had surgery for Crohn’s Disease, and wasn’t feeling up to socializing or going out on the weekends. Instead I would curl up on the couch and create. The jewelry I made was never worn, but instead put on display in my apartment. Things that sparkle always seem to lift my spirits.
I really had no intention of selling my jewelry until I decided to do my first walk for the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation. I find it awkward to ask people for donations, so instead, I donated 100% of my first three months of sales.
I was having so much fun creating I kept my online business as a hobby while I designed for Abercrombie & Fitch.
How did you finally make the leap from being a designer at Abercrombie & Fitch to working on Rocks with Sass full-time?
Working in the corporate world can many times come with high stress levels and strict schedules. After three years I was burning out. My health was declining, I was down to 80 pounds, and struggling to be happy. At that point, I felt as if I didn’t have a choice. I needed to resign and spend the next year focusing on my well-being.
I left my corporate job with one goal, and that was to get back to a healthy place physically and emotionally. I knew I had a year worth of savings and no intention of working on Rocks with Sass full-time, but since it’s my favorite hobby it naturally filled my days and soon enough the orders were coming in regularly and paying the bills.
It sounds like Crohn’s Disease has had a significant impact on your life, how do you think Crohn’s impacts your business today?
I’ve definitely had my fair share of down days because of Crohn’s, but they are less frequent when I have my stress under control. Upset stomach, doctor visits, fatigue from my humira injections, or just fatigue in general creep up from time to time.
On bad days I’ll work from bed, I have a little tray I use to make jewelry on or just work on my computer. Although those bad days are far and in-between now, when they do come up I like to remind myself that this business wouldn’t exist without my illness, and the joy I’ve received from Rocks with Sass far outweighs the struggles I’ve gone through to get here. So bad days aren’t all that bad when you think about it that way.
What advice do you have for others battling health issues and trying to get a business off of the ground?
Don’t put your business before your health, that will just end poorly. Every few months I have to remind myself of this. It’s easy to get sucked into your to-do list and forget about self-care. Put your self-care items (meditation, yoga etc) on your to-do list, heck maybe even put them at the top. Get your mind and body right and then get to work.
What are some of the most beneficial things you did after being diagnosed with Crohn’s that helped jumpstart your healthy lifestyle?
A couple months after my surgery I was still struggling to eat without pain, something just didn’t seem right. My mom decided to take me to a holistic medical center. The medical center ran a bunch of tests, but the most important one was a food allergy test. It came back positive for gluten, dairy, and beef. I immediately cut all three foods from my diet. This was eight years ago, while in college, when the grocery stores didn’t have an entire aisle dedicated to delicious gluten free alternatives. I had to drive forty-five minutes to the Whole Foods a few cities over just to get a loaf of bread. It was a real struggle, but the results were life changing. After only three months of removing those three foods from my diet I was in remission. The pain was completely gone!
What are some things you feel are misunderstood about Crohn’s disease that could be better understood?
I think a lot of people hear Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis and think of it as a “bathroom issue”, but there is so much more that comes along with it. Yes, a huge issue is urgency and having access to facilities, but other common symptoms include weight loss, stomach pains, fatigue and reduced appetite.
Throughout my entire life people have questioned if I had an eating disorder, because of how I look and the fact that I worked in the fashion industry. Others would say how LUCKY
I am to be so thin. In the beginning of this journey, comments like that were more hurtful than they are today. But even today, comments like that still sting. I’ve learned to shrug off such comments as ignorance.
What are some of your most celebrated and cherished business moments?
I’ll never forget my first pop up shop. I remember laying on my living room floor in my one-bedroom apartment, exhausted, replaying everyone’s comments throughout the day. Customers were gushing over my jewelry. Strangers were so proud of what I had done. With an extra $500 in my pocket and a smile I couldn’t get rid of, I really felt like I had found something special.
Running a business isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, this we know. What are some of the struggles?
When you work for yourself, you aren’t on a salary, when you stop working the cash stops flowing. 2017 was one of the happiest, toughest, emotionally challenging years of my life. I planned a wedding, had my first anxiety attack, got married, watched a family member battle cancer and pass away, and sold/bought a house.It was a year of high stress and lots of changes and my sales numbers showed it. I’ve always been my toughest critic, so when the days of exhaustion came around, I would mistake my fatigue for laziness and then immediately felt guilty. Even though Rocks with Sass is supposed to be all about me finding a healthy alternative to working in corporate America, I don’t feel like I have found the sweet spot to balancing my work and personal life. It’s something I know I need to work on this coming year.
What was the biggest risk you’ve taken personally or professionally, and how did it change you?
My biggest risk was leaving my job at Abercrombie. It started out as a personal choice and ended up being a career changer. I realized that money does not bring happiness. I know we are told this all the time, but do we really agree with it? Do we fully understand what that means?
My first year on my own, I made a quarter of what I was making designing for Abercrombie, but I was the happiest I had ever been. I took a chance on myself, I wasn’t scared, it felt right. I’m quite spiritual so I knew I wasn’t doing this alone. I knew God had a plan for me, and as soon as I let go and trusted in that, everything else in my life just fell into place. I met the love of my life just two months after leaving my job. This year we tied the knot and recently moved into a new house with plenty of room for a growing business and someday family.
Enough about the past, let’s talk about the future. What are some goals for RWS in 2018?
Oh my gosh, I have so many goals/ideas for 2018. Here are a few, the rest will be a surprise.
- I want to create a section online where visitors can learn all about the different crystal meanings and properties and easily find the crystal that fits their needs.
- I’ve bought all the supplies to teach myself how to electroform. Soon you’ll be seeing jewelry that is different from anything you’ve ever seen from me before;
- And probably one of the goals I’m most excited about is using the blog to feature woman who have invisible illnesses and give them a platform to share their story. I was very embarrassed and shy talking about Crohn’s for the first few years, but only positive things have come from me openly talking about my struggles. I’ve grown more confident and secure in myself and I want others to feel that too.
If you had one piece of advice for someone looking to start a side hustle, what would it be?
Be ready to work hard on something that doesn’t feel like work. First and foremost, you need to be passionate on the verge of obsessed about this new venture. And secondly be ready to put in the time and hard work. There are days when I’m in my office at 8 A.M. and end the day at 10 P.M. laying on the couch buying supplies on my computer. But to me, that’s how I WANT to spend my day. I’m working on something that has great meaning to me.
Enough about business. Tell us about something that inspires you. What’s your favorite quote?
My favorite quote is actually a piece of art by @frizzkidart that says “Healing is not linear”.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and with whom?
I’ve always ALWAYS wanted to visit Italy. The pictures are just breathtaking and the streets hold so much history. I would obviously have to go with my very Italian husband Antony. We make a huge pot of homemade sauce about once a month in our house, pasta is just a necessity for the Santilli’s.
Finally, If people wish to shop your jewelry, where should they go?
We wanted to thank Amanda for taking the time to answer all of our questions and letting us take a peek inside her world. Check out some beautiful pieces she has created below: