Moms in Business: Get to know Barbara Palumbo
Mothers in Business: Barbara Palumbo
The author behind Adornmentality and What’s On Her Wrist. Those familiar with the jewelry industry are no doubt also acquainted with the name Barbara Palumbo. The industry veteran, often the largest presence in the room (in stature and personality), has quickly become a fixture in publications both print and digital, and on the feeds of our social media accounts.
Her obvious gift for wordsmithing paired with her relentless candor make her a reliable figure in the fight for women’s equality—both in the industry and out—and not only in terms of fair treatment and pay, but in knowledge, too. Her latest venture, What’s On Her Wrist, combines a knack for storytelling with the desire to teach, highlight, and grow the number of women in the watch industry. This after a successful (and still ongoing) venture with Adornmentality, a jewelry-focused blog injected with the author’s own wild sense of humor and zest for fun. Oh, and she’s a mom of two. With two red-headed babies (ages six and ten) and two digital babies under her care, it’s only natural for those watching to wonder what a day in the life might look like. Here, we talk with Barbara about how she makes it all work.
Team Ayva: You run two very popular industry blogs: Adornmentality, and What’s On Her Wrist. What made you decide to separate the two?
Barbara Palumbo: First, I really appreciate you asking me to take part in this. It’s a great idea and I hope a lot of people take notice. Adornmentality was always set up to be a humorous, storytelling blog about jewelry and the people in the jewelry industry, and while it has evolved over the last several years to include tougher topics and heavier issues, watches were never really part of the plan. It wasn’t until I started reading Revolution Magazine and Hodinkee that I realized that watches went beyond their pretty faces. I was enjoying learning about the histories behind some of the world’s most iconic watch companies, and I soon came to the realization that even a novice like me could be taught—it wasn’t too late to learn. But I also noticed two other things: Women’s watches and women in the watch world were vastly underdiscussed, and that watch articles— while being largely educational— were seldom fun. It was in October of 2015 that I decided I wanted to do something about those facts, and that’s when the idea for WhatsOnHerWrist.com was born.
TA: Does the separation of your two websites make the work more challenging?
BP: Yes, it definitely is. While I think the jewelry world believes that watches are a part of them, the watch world doesn’t quite agree, so there’s a pretty big separation there, even though both are part of the luxury sector. I am having to educate myself not only in an entirely new science (or is it art?) with my horological studies, but I’m also having to learn about all of the personalities that go along with it. It’s funny; one of my friends recently told me that someone in the jewelry industry referred to me as a member of the “old guard,” and yet in watches, my friend Sophy and I chuckle that we’re considered the “new guard.” It’s a struggle at times, but it’s not a challenge I’m backing down from. I welcome it, in fact. We are nothing if we’re not constantly evolving.
TA: Describe the journey that led you from jewelry sales to running your own business.
BP: It was probably less of a journey and more like someone throwing me into the deep end of a pool when I didn’t know how to swim (and least expected it). Being in sales was only a small part of my history in the jewelry business so it wasn’t anything I was tied to in terms of a lifelong love. Telling tales is what I do best. It’s what I love most, and over my two decades in this industry I have always written on the side. Whether I was carving waxes, engraving, and casting during the day with my manufacturer’s job or I was doing road sales for a major bridal brand, I would write when I got home. I’ve started and stopped more personal blogs than I can remember over the years and when the opportunity presented itself to me, I had a nice, long conversation with my husband, and we both agreed that it was worth giving full-time writing a shot. So far, it’s gone really well, but there’s more to be done and bigger ideas on the horizon, so stay tuned.
TA: Business aside, what’s the hardest part of being a mother to two?
BP: Raising them in the age of technology. My husband and I are what we like to call, “old school parents.” My kids have never once played a game or watched a cartoon on my mobile phone. When we go to a restaurant, they are allowed to take a book or drawing materials only, to entertain themselves. They are allowed thirty minutes per day on the technology of their choice, whether it be their tablet, computer, DVD player, or gaming system. And we insist on a minimum of an hour reading time every night, though thankfully they both tend to go over that time frame on their own. Their friends think we’re strict, but at ages six and ten, they both know how to play chess and 500 rummy. My son has mastered card tricks, Frisbee throwing, and creates his own comic books and my daughter paints better than I do and asked for a sewing machine for Christmas. They will be inundated with technology for the rest of their lives, so while they’re young, my goal is to make them as well-rounded as they can be, and to throw everything at them from musical instruments to sports and exposing them to as much art as possible. The hardest part on my end is standing strong when they complain about wanting to just go watch television, but I think that when they’re older, they’ll appreciate the fact that we parented them like we did.
(A painting made by Palumbo’s daughter Beatrice, age 6)
TA: What’s the hardest part of your working day?
BP: When I’m working from home, the hardest part is remembering that I’m supposed to be working and not doing laundry or getting a head start on that night’s dinner. I also tend to want to start new projects or I’ll come up with an idea for a post that I may not need for another three months yet I’ll still have articles that I haven’t finished.
TA: Describe what a typical (business) day looks like for you.
BP: I’m up shortly after 6 a.m. to get my kids’ breakfasts made and make to sure they’re dressed and pressed before sending them off to school and getting my husband off to work. Then, after a coffee and a peruse of the news and social media, I check Hopper for flight deals, then I answer emails and do the things I need to do for some of the retailers I help out. But mostly the day is spent gathering images and information for upcoming deadlines, formulating the stories I’m writing to make sure that they have my voice, and keeping connected with both the watch and jewelry industry relationships I’ve made. Obviously a big part of my day is spent on social because many of my relationships have developed there. There is also a lot to keep up with regarding upcoming speaking engagements and impending trips both domestically and internationally, so there isn’t a day that goes by that I’m not looking for a flight, hotel, or Air BnB deal. Sometime after 5 p.m. I pick up the kids, get them started on their homework, and start making dinner. It is imperative to me that we sit down to dinner as a family every night that I’m not travelling.
TA: What’s been your biggest success thus far in your journey to being a successful business owner? Your biggest challenge?
BP: Honestly, I still can’t get over the fact that people actually read what I write. I am still friendly with my tenth grade English teacher and he tells me to this day that he knew I would wind up being a writer at some point in my life. It was always something I wanted to do but it seemed so far out of reach, so hard to be successful at. There is no better feeling for me than when someone comes up to me at a trade show or an industry event and says, “That piece you wrote about Vegas had me dying laughing.” Or, “Thank you for writing about harassment. I needed to know I wasn’t alone.” While appreciated (and needed), the money I’m paid for editorial pieces is secondary to the feeling I get knowing that my writing is reaching people. There is so much we don’t talk about in our industry for fear of being pigeon-holed or blackballed; of being labeled as controversial or trouble-making. The day I started writing without fear was probably the most personally successful day of my life.
TA: Your biggest challenge?
BP: The biggest challenge I have is probably “playing the game.” I don’t do “phony” very well and yet there are times I have to use diplomacy even when in the company of someone whose business practices are ones I’m not fond of. I’m not good at putting on a face. I think that will always be a challenge for me.
TA: Do you talk to your kids about your profession?
BP: Oh, yes. And often. Particularly my son, who has an interest in geology and rocks. Plus, I still travel quite a bit only now I’m travelling overseas more so they want to know what I’m doing and they want to see the pictures from my trips. They both have a knack for storytelling, too, so that leads me to believe that we’ve got a pretty good chance of having another writer in the family.
TA: How does what you do professionally impact your daily life with family?
BP: Being a writer impacts it in a more positive way than it did when I was doing sales on the road: Now I am home more, so I don’t have to miss as many soccer games or Christmas pageants. It was tough on them before, and tough on my husband, too. I was gone a fair amount for my kids being so young, and those are years I won’t get back; moments I can’t recreate. But I’m here now, and I think my relationship with my children has grown greatly because of that. I feel very lucky.
TA: What helps you to unwind?
BP: Did you just say, “wine”? Oh, UNWIND! Sorry. Sorry. I read that wrong.
Sometimes reading. Sometimes exercising. But to be completely honest, if I need to thoroughly clear my head of work, drama, life, politics, and anything else that I might stress over, the most relaxing thing I do now after dinner is finished and everyone is settled in for the night, is take a bath and then put on a movie from my childhood. Something like Mary Poppins or The Wizard of Oz. It’s as good as any muscle relaxer. I’m immediately taken back to a moment when I didn’t need to pay my quarterly taxes or argue with my husband about whose turn it is to take the kids to the dentist.
TA: What is your mantra? If you don’t have one, tell us what keeps you going when things seem to be at their worst.
BP: Know your worth, but also know your place. I didn’t start writing five seconds ago and expect that the red carpet is going to be rolled out for me at New York Fashion Week. I realize I still have things to learn and I know I’m “only a blogger” in the eyes of many, so I refrain from ever being a diva. I pay my own way to a lot of gigs I go to because I don’t ever want to become a burden or be seen as a “user” to the PR firms or hosts of the trade shows and events I attend. That’s not to say I haven’t been hosted in the past; I have, and for that I’m grateful, but I would never abuse those gifts. However, it also doesn’t mean that I’m going to write for “exposure” no matter how prominent the editor or popular the publication. I know my skill level and my readership and I deserve to be paid should someone ask me to write for them (on their page – not mine. Adornmentality is still 100% editorial).
TA: What’s the one thing you wish someone had told you before becoming a mom/working for yourself?
BP: That I was going to doubt myself on both accounts from time to time, and that I didn’t have to prove myself to anyone but me.
TA: What other moms in business do you admire?
BP: I admire every mom in business. Honestly. That’s not to take away from dads, and it’s not to take away from stay-at-home moms, but moms who work catch a lot of crap sometimes. They already have to live with their own guilt that they aren’t there for every milestone for every child, and then on top of that, throw in mean moms who judge them for how they’re parenting, or not being able to take time to do something as seemingly small as get a haircut. It’s extraordinarily difficult at times to be the cook, nurse, breadwinner, heart-healer, chauffer, teacher, and confidant when all you want to do is crawl under the covers and put your earplugs in. But it’s also immensely rewarding to know that you’re powerful enough and clever enough to keep all of the balls in the air simultaneously. We really are the stronger gender. I cannot wait until we start realizing that.