Five years ago Catalina Lemaitre was a project manager for the U.S. State Department in Washington D.C. Then the recurrent migraines began, and Lemaitre says she was forced to examine her life in which she felt like a battery that had lost its ability to recharge.
So Lemaitre quit her successful federal job and took months off to reconnect with her passions: art, yoga, volunteering and cooking. During that hiatus from the day-to-day grind, she came up with the idea for Calamarie, a line of natural and eco-friendly fashion accessories handcrafted by women in her home country of Colombia.
Lemaitre, 33, now runs and designs Calamarie out of Miami, with frequent trips to Colombia to expand her jewelry line.
HuffPost Miami spoke with the young social entrepreneur about finding fulfillment outside the typical measures of success.
What ultimately motivated you to quit and pursue your passion?
I was the epitome of success in the eyes of my friends, family and even myself, but in private I felt utterly lost. I kept feeling like I was on a river, being dragged by its currents with no idea why I was on it in the first place or where it was heading.
I knew I wasn’t living my purpose but I was so busy and bogged down by the demands of my job and daily life that I got sick and had that not happened, it may have taken me years to have the courage to make a drastic change. I am so grateful my body forced me to take action and take the time to step back from my life and reassess. When my mind was still holding on to dear life to what I felt I ought to be doing my body started kicking and screaming for a change and I listened.
I decided to take three months off from my job, and went back to all that had brought me joy in the past--practicing yoga, taking drawing classes, cooking meals from scratch for myself and my husband, and volunteering at a local art therapy school for children.
I had never been happier but still felt tremendous guilt over leaving behind what so many people work so hard for and of being a “burden” to society. Everyone around me seemed to be of doing something productive and here I was picking my vegetables at the local farmers market, taking time to chat up the guy sitting next to me on the bus; practicing yoga in the middle of the day. It all felt a bit too indulgent.
But that time “off” taught me an invaluable lesson—there are so many ways to contribute and find meaning in this life and it doesn’t have to be through our society’s traditional idea of work.
Did family and friends support your decision?
I began selling our work wherever I could locally—house parties, fashion shows, street markets. My family--though supportive-- kept asking when I was going to go back to getting a real job one day. My grandmother asked if I was really one of those people selling on the streets—I laughed it off and said, 'yes, that is what I do,' much to her horror.
This was for me a pivotal moment as woman and a social entrepreneur where I had to decide what kind of life I wanted for myself and what I wanted to build with my life--it really became a question of finding my purpose and bringing beauty and joy to this world.
How is your daily life as head designer for Calamarie different than it was with your federal job?
During these past few years, the travel, along with the show logistics, weekend hours, lifting, setting up, taking down, working 13-hour days in 100 degree weather—has been grueling. But I am choosing to do what I believe is meaningful and significant, and with women whom I admire and appreciate.
And I am able to work from home, connect with people I need to talk to on Skype, and have the opportunity to spend hours dreaming up new designs and colors. I choose to keep somewhat structured work hours and am known to work late into the night. But if nothing pressing is going on and I want to go take a yoga class in the middle of the day, I can.
Our company slogan, “If an orange peel can become a rose, what will you blossom into?” was born from years of meeting women and seeing their enjoyment and delight when they wear our pieces. That constant positive feedback from customers whose lives are made a little brighter through our work and the many artisans who we support through our efforts that make keep my batteries charged all the time and strengthen my commitment and passion everyday.
What do you wish someone would have told you about making this leap?
Just do it. It is nowhere near as scary as you imagine.
Check out Lemaitre's designs for Calamarie below: