Texas Women To Watch 2019: Karen Saunders of Bambinos Boutique & Bambinos Clothing Company

Texas Women To Watch 2019: Karen Saunders of Bambinos Boutique & Bambinos Clothing Company

Imagery courtesy of Bambinos

My personal mission is to love God and love others. Hanging above the register at my boutique are the words from Proverbs, “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” 

–Karen Saunders

 

What was the defining moment in your past that set you on the career path you ended up following?  
 

The defining moment that set me on my second career path was the birth of my second child, though, I didn’t know it would define my future in business at the time. My daughter was premature, arriving 10 weeks early, and that changed me.  The challenge of that experience gave me courage I didn’t know I was lacking and ultimately the courage to  leave a corporate career in banking and take on business ownership.  

What makes you unique in your industry?

Bambinos is  a small, family-owned boutique, and we design and manufacture a clothing line for both our own store and other children’s shops. This gives us a custom created product designed for and based on client feedback, and also an avenue to collaborate and build relationships with peers in our industry.  While this might seem like a largely creative job, I believe what sets me apart in my field is that I started my career in banking. My corporate management experience has been invaluable in understanding how to use data to drive results in business. The discipline we have around buying, budgeting, throwing events, and analyzing daily, weekly, and monthly results are all based on how I managed business units in the corporate world. 

What is one way you hope to impact your community in the future, either personally or professionally? 

I hope to continue creating a space where mothers, grandmothers, and children feel that they can not only shop, but also be taken care of from the heart. Our business mission revolves around giving back to families that have or have had medically fragile infants. I have had two of my own, so I intimately understand what the families are going through. I want our store to be both known for its mission and as a place of community.  

If you could sit down with any woman in the world–either from history or who is currently living–who would that be and what would you discuss with her? 

I would love to visit with Corrie ten Boom, a woman who helped hundreds of Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust. Her story of faith and gratitude — even in the most horrific situations — has inspired me since I learned of her in high school. She made it a habit to give thanks in ALL circumstances, and at one point that meant giving thanks for the fleas in her concentration camp cell. In time, it was revealed to her that those fleas at Ravensbruck kept abusive guards away and gave the women in her ward complete freedom to speak, share, pray, and study the Bible that one of the women had hidden.  Many times I’ve muttered the words, “Thank God for the fleas” in my own challenging circumstances. 

Connect with Karen Saunders at Bambinos.com, on Facebook and on Instagram @lovebambinos and @bambinosclothingco. 

This profile was (Em)powered by Bambinos.

Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison. 

Texas Women To Watch 2019: Monica Treviño-Ortega of San Antonio River Authority

Texas Women To Watch 2019: Monica Treviño-Ortega of San Antonio River Authority

Imagery courtesy of Monica Treviño-Ortega

“Women’s rights are a generational responsibility. We have to teach our children to continue to fight for the rights we currently have with the same energy and tenacity required for fighting for the rights we haven’t yet obtained.” 
–Monica Treviño-Ortega

 

What was the defining moment in your past that set you on the career path you ended up following?  
 

Without a doubt, the defining moment that significantly altered my career path was the birth of my first child. In a culture of hustle and overstimulation, I was caught up in the fast-track career woman identity in my mid to late 20’s. Once I finished graduate school, I went after a promotion every year, served on any board that approached me, applied to every leadership development program I could find, and pursued bigger bonuses every quarter. It was unfulfilling, and it was never enough. Then, right before my 30th birthday, I had Alessandra.  

When my first daughter was born, I had the stark realization that nothing I had accomplished before her birth could even compare to the empowerment I felt from creating life out of love. I enjoyed every minute of my pregnancy and appreciated my body even more after giving birth. Even the thought of going back to work was inspiring because I was certain that I was going to show my daughter how working mommies get it done: how we raise children, dominate sales meetings, and command the board room all in the same day. Returning to work after maternity leave made me really value my time with my daughter. I knew that if I was going to spend time away from her, it better be for the purpose of making her world a better place. Having my daughter also taught me to respect my own self-worth – I realized that although the pay and prestige of the industry were great, the severe gender pay gap and other sexist structures that existed within the corporate culture were just not worth my time and actually reinforced the gender parity issues we still face.  

I left the corporate world in 2016, took six months off to enjoy being a first-time mom, and then got right back to work in an industry I was truly passionate about: non-profit. I can fully attest that working for an employer that truly values equality, and doing work you are perfectly aligned with can completely alter your life and transform you mentally and physically.  

I now work for a government nonprofit executing special projects that positively impact the outcome of relationships pertaining to multimillion dollar urban developments in San Antonio. My work through my current employer has allowed me the opportunity to become an even stronger advocate and community leader as I have gained more confidence and connections in public and government affairs. Although I’ve been involved with organizations that support women’s and children’s rights over the last decade outside of work, I’ve leveraged this momentum and experience to be more impactful and effective in advocacy for issues that my daughters may or may not inherit as adults 

Commending the mayor and city council for their support of women’s equality through the City of San Antonio Council Consideration Request for an Equity Impact Assessment and the Women’s Equity Resolution in 2018

Hosting Judge Nelson Wolff and Congressman Lloyd Doggett on a tour of the newly developed San Pedro Creek Culture Park

What makes you unique in your industry?

I think what makes me unique in my industry is the variety of experiences, education, and training I’ve had. We’re all familiar with the saying “Jack of all trades, master of none,” but I’ve really been able to utilize my mixed bag of skills to be effective and successful in a male-dominated industry. My life coach helped me to view this as a positive attribute and we’ve rephrased this saying to be, “Jack of all trades, master of the universe.” It’s about honoring your uniqueness and loving all parts of YOU in the career space. I don’t know any other people working in nonprofit watershed management and urban development that have worked on fashion shows as a makeup artist, cared for children with developmental disabilities, full cycle medical sales, event management, community leadership, civic engagement/public affairs and with a BS in Biology and an MS in Health Promotion. Extremely random I know, but I love and honor my path and I’m very grateful for my experiences. I wouldn’t change a thing about it.  

Andrew and Monica Treviño-Ortega

Monica speaking at the Latina Leadership Institute leadership development program graduation

What is one way you hope to impact your community in the future, either personally or professionally? 

One of my biggest goals is for my daughters to think how ridiculous it was that equal pay wasn’t a right when Mommy was in her 20s-30s…because they will have that right.   

I consider myself extremely fortunate to be afforded the opportunity through my employer and supportive husband to continue my growth through various leadership development programs and organizations that support women. Earlier this year, I checked an item off my bucket list when I co-founded my own nonprofit with a dear friend that provides training and scholarships to women for professional leadership development programs at the local, state, and national levels. The Latina Power Network will officially launch this fall, and I am extremely proud to help women excel, and aid in the push for parity among public and government boards and commissions.  truly feel I wouldn’t be at this point in my career if it weren’t for my two and four year old daughters cheering me on and inspiring me along the way.  

I also hope to help move the needle on statistics that currently confirm Latina women faring significantly worse than women of all other backgrounds on subjects such as education, pre-K enrollment, poverty, access to digital technology, insurance coverage, homeownership, prenatal care, obesity, domestic violence and homicide. In my opinion, if you are continuing to help women achieve great feats and break barriers on impenetrable boards and industries, you are no still no better than the structures that created those boundaries if you aren’t simultaneously doing something to bring the women up from the bottom bracket.

Monica and founding Board Members of the Latina Power Network

If you could sit down with any woman in the world–either from history or who is currently living–who would that be and what would you discuss with her? 

If I could sit down with any woman in the world, it would be with either one of my daughters in their late years, far beyond my time on earth. At this time I’d imagine they’d live in a world where gender inequality is an obscure idea, and no race, religion or group is marginalized. We’d discuss how equal pay issues were so retro, in the same way a lot of us take women’s suffrage for granted today. We’d talk about their lives, children, families, careers, and everything in between. We’d discuss the love, healing, acceptance, and understanding the world has for all lives and creatures. We’d talk about what they’ve done to make the world a better place.

Monica’s daughters, Avianna (1) and Alessandra (4)

Connect with Monica Treviño-Ortega and Latina Power Network on LinkedIn, on Facebook and on Instagram @monica.trevino.ortega and @latinapowernetwork.

This profile was (Em)powered by S.H.E Media.

Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison. 

Texas Women To Watch 2019: Cassandra King Polidori of CassandraCollections

Texas Women To Watch 2019: Cassandra King Polidori of CassandraCollections

Cassandra King Polidori with her CassandraCollections display at Fashion X Austin, 2019. Imagery courtesy of Cassandra King Polidori.

I want CassandraCollections to help make women of all ages feel beautiful, confident and special. Jewelry is the ultimate symbol of femininity and a way for us to show our individual personalities to the world.
–Cassandra King Polidori

 

What was the defining moment in your past that set you on the career path you ended up following?  
 
Nearly 10 years ago, I came to an unforeseen impasse in my career. I had to decide whether I should return to my previous field in which I was trained and comfortable or take a huge leap of faith and pursue something completely new: designing jewelry. It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever done, but I can’t imagine doing anything else now.  

CassandraCollections ‘Aurelia Earrings’ seen on the runway at Fashion X Austin, 2019

What makes you unique in your industry?

I have worn jewelry my whole life and never once been repeatedly complimented about a particular piece, until I started creating my own. When I designed the first CassandraCollections ring, I was being stopped everywhere I went – from a boutique while out shopping, to Whole Foods while out getting groceries. This made me realize I had something that stood apart in the industry, and it’s why I continued expanding my jewelry line. Every piece is still handmade, no molding or casting, which makes each piece unique. It’s something everyone wants and appreciates in jewelry.  

What is one way you hope to impact your community in the future, either personally or professionally? 

My Texas community has propelled me to where I am today, so as a born-and-raised Texan, it’s extremely important for me to give back to my community. I donate over $10,000 worth of jewelry every year to Texas charities and give my time and energy to various Austin charities throughout the year. My hope is to give back more and more as my company continues to grow.  

Cassandra and her daughter, Aurelia. 

If you could sit down with any woman in the world–either from history or who is currently living–who would that be and what would you discuss with her? 

I think it would be Audrey Hepburn. To me, she is the definition of poise, grace and elegance. And what I find most admirable, is how she used her fame later in life to improve the lives of so many through her humanitarian work. She won the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her work with UNICEF, and would have done so much more if she had not lost her battle with cancer at the young age of 63. If I could choose two… I’d have to say my grandmother, Nana. I’d give anything to talk to her one more time and introduce her to my daughter and husband. She was an incredible woman and worked hard for her family all of her life, always with a smile on her face. She is my ultimate hero. 

Connect with Cassandra King Polidori at CassandraCollections.com, on LinkedIn, on Facebook and on Instagram @cassandracollections. 

This profile was (Em)powered by S.H.E Media.

Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison. 

Texas Women To Watch 2019: Nina Means of ACC Fashion Incubator and Nina Means LLC

Texas Women To Watch 2019: Nina Means of ACC Fashion Incubator and Nina Means LLC

Imagery courtesy of Nina Means

Nina Means at the ACC Fashion Incubator Grand Opening in Austin, Texas

Show up as yourself. You are where you are for a reason. Trust it. 
–Nina Means

 

What was the defining moment in your past that set you on the career path you ended up following?  
 

I did my plan B career first. I worked in public health in Washington, DC in international health and then later on a grant with Avon Foundation for Women with George Washington University Cancer Institute to address breast cancer outcome disparities in underserved communities. As I was working in this space, I had this epiphany that I should pursue my passion before I got too comfortable in my career. If I was horrible at being a fashion designer, then I could always come back to public health. Luckily, I never had to. I believe, when you pursue where you are supposed to be, your destiny will embrace you. It is not because it lacks difficulty, but despite the challenges, you find joy in your journey. For the first time in my career, I found joy in my journey. 

What makes you unique in your industry?

There have been a number of fashion incubators launched across the country in a variety of contexts, but what makes the Austin Community College Fashion Incubator special is the use of technology to create product in an industry that has had a bad reputation for generating too much waste. ACC is partnering with the City of Austin and Gerber Technology to build this industry locally. We are training designers to work more sustainably as they build their brands. It is an exciting time. 

What is one way you hope to impact your community in the future, either personally or professionally? 

By successfully implementing this new program, I am energized by the potential impact. It will change the way fashion reaches all of us. As an advocate for local designers, I am so passionate about making sure they have the tools to build a thriving business from Central Texas. Designers need to effectively reach future customers who have the expectation of participating in an industry that is cleaner than ever. They must do this while also delivering an amazing product. We are in such a conflicted space regarding sustainability in fashion. We want the best price, but we also want to save the planet. We have to do everything we can to make the world beautiful while keeping the beauty we have. 

If you could sit down with any woman in the world–either from history or who is currently living–who would that be and what would you discuss with her? 

So, Michelle Obama is on my vision board (yes, I have one of those). The image I have is of her and her daughters serving a meal at a soup kitchen. If I could speak with her about anything, I would speak with her about balance. I am struck by her ability to be a respected force but also to be so compassionate. That is a difficult one to master. Still on balance, I would pick her brain about supporting family, investing in the needs of your career, and knowing when to yield without completely sacrificing your ambitions. It is no easy feat. Yet, her life seems to illustrate this beautifully. As a mom and wife, for me, this is constantly front of mind. 

Connect with Nina Means at the ACC Fashion Incubator, at NinaMeans.com, on LinkedIn, on Facebook and on Instagram @ninameansusa and @accfashionincubator. 

This profile was (Em)powered by S.H.E Media.

Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison. 

Texas Women To Watch 2019: Tessa Benavides of H-E-B

Texas Women To Watch 2019: Tessa Benavides of H-E-B

Tessa recently began taking ballet Folkorico and Flameno classes at the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center, discovering a passion for dance that brings her great joy and fulfillment. Imagery courtesy of Tessa Benavides. 

Follow your heart, but use your head.
–Tessa Benavides

 

What was the defining moment in your past that set you on the career path you ended up following?  
 
To answer this question, I first have to describe my grandma Minnie (my maternal grandmother). She and my grandfather divorced the same year I was born so I never knew her as a married womanbut instead I knew her as an independent force to be reckoned with who took so much pride in never having to depend on anyone but herself. She made her own living selling Avon products and then later working for a telemarketing company; most importantly, she was the first woman I saw wear a pant suit and pumps. 

When I landed my first internship, it was Grandma Minnie who took me shopping for my very first pant suit. She sat in the store with me imparting knowledge that would stay with me forever: you need at least one pair of black and one pair of navy pants; get a black jacket and then a grey one; once you have these essentials, all you need is a set of shirts and then you just mix and match. My mom, who wore the uniform of a U.S. postal employee for 33 years, sat with us and stared at me with pride in her eyes saying, “I punch a clock at job that works me to the bone so that my girls could wear clothes like this and carve spaces for themselves as career women.” 

That shopping trip changed my life, and to this day I strive to make both of these women proud of me. I saw myself not only in those clothes, but through the eyes of my mom and my grandma. When I feel unsure of myself as I navigate my professional career, I just remember what I saw that day when I looked in the mirror: a reflection of confidence built on the strength and sacrifice of the strong women who have come before me. 

Tessa (middle) with her mother Laura (left), and sister Lauren (right), on the day she graduated with her Master’s degree. After the loss of her father in 2009, Tessa, her mother and her sister have become an inseparable trio.

What makes you unique in your industry?

I always strive to be a proud testament of where I was born and raised. I am a proud Tejana who was raised on San Antonio’s southwest side. When I was in high school and Toyota announced the building of their production plant in San Antonio, a newspaper reporter wrote an article about the area of town that would be impacted by Toyota’s investmentthe southwest area of the city. The reporter chose to start the article by describing a small convenience store located near Southwest High School that had a petting zoo attached to it where visitors could see a real, live buffalo and pet “The Zeedonk” (a hybrid of a donkey and zebra). 

I was proud to call my neighborhood, “my side of town,” home. When I read this article, I was offended. The reporter had failed to talk about all of the positive, wonderful, beautiful, unique qualities of our community. I picked up a pen and wrote a passionate letter to the editor describing my community from my eyes, the eyes of a young woman growing up in an area that offered more than some strange animals at a petting zoo. 

After the article published, I felt like I had become a “mini celebrity.” Teachers posted the article in classrooms and my peers wanted me to autograph their copies. My parents, always there to ensure I was hyper-aware of my own ego, reminded me that all of the fanfare was not about me. It was about our community, because I had chosen to speak up and use my voice to amplify the voices around me. My parents pointed out that I was privileged to have made a connection at the local newspaper and taught me that whenever I had such privileges to be sure I was not seeking a spotlight for myself, but rather to see such opportunities as an obligation to speak up for causes bigger than myself. 

To this day, I feel this same obligation. My work and my place in my industry are spaces where I am privileged to have a voice, and the avenues to make an impact in San Antonio. I strive to be a positive reflection of my community and use any platform available to speak up as an advocate for our community. 

Tessa’s nuclear family is almost all women including (left to right) her sister’s partner Catie, her sister, her mother, and her husband, Gary.

What is one way you hope to impact your community in the future, either personally or professionally? 

I hope to impact my community in a way that pays homage to my paternal uncle, Father Albert Benavides. There is a small park on the west side of San Antonio named Benavides Park in his honor. He was an integral leader in that community and led everyday citizens through initiatives like COPS (Communities Organized for Public Service) to empower them to speak up and advocate for themselves.  

As a Catholic priest he was able to leverage his position of power to be a source of direct empowerment for his parishioners. Rather than always lending his own voice to speak up for community issues to members of City Council or even the Mayor, he brought resources to his parishioners to empower them to have the confidence and skills to advocate for themselves. 

I try to emulate my late uncle’s values such as community empowerment, giving voices to the voiceless and servant leadership. I want to impact my community in a way that is not just for a single moment but rather in a way that the impact continues to be felt for generations. If I could one day say that I too impacted my community by empowering those who feel they lack the ability to find a stage to raise their voices, I would feel that I was able to carry on my uncle’s legacy.  

I believe that education is our society’s great equalizerexcept right now, because it is one of the most inequitable spaces in San Antonio. I hope to one day be a part of making an impact working toward creating equity within San Antonio’s education systems. 

Tessa (baby) with her maternal grandmother Herminia (left), and great-grandmother Rafaela (right)

If you could sit down with any woman in the world–either from history or who is currently living–who would that be and what would you discuss with her? 

My maternal greatgrandmother, Rafaela Sanchez, passed away before I was able to hold coherent conversations with herbut her legacy is a part of the work ethic I carry with me daily. She worked for Finck Cigars for 75 years, and there is even a newspaper article to prove it. During a time when women were told by society that their only place was in the home, my greatgrandmother supported her family as the head of her household, both as a homemaker and as a wage earner. 

I would be fascinated to have a conversation with her about the times she lived through and the major societal shifts she was able to witness. I would take the opportunity to discuss what her experiences were as a wife with an unconventional husband who was not always a reliable source of support for her. I would also love to know how she sees the women in her family that have learned from her examplewomen who are fiercely independentand would be intrigued to ask my great-grandmother how she feels about our family becoming quite matriarchal. 

I look at the generations of women in my family who have carried this torch set forth by Rafaela (and maybe even by her motheryet another question I would love to ask her) as examples of how women are just pillars of strength, of how motherhood takes courage, grit and resilience and how there is nothing that a woman cannot accomplish on her own, for herself and for the betterment of her family and her community. 

Connect with Tessa Benavides on LinkedIn, on Facebook and on Instagram @booktabs and @heb.

This profile was (Em)powered by H-E-B.

Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison. 

Texas Women To Watch 2019: Brandi Vitier of The Bank of San Antonio

Texas Women To Watch 2019: Brandi Vitier of The Bank of San Antonio

Imagery courtesy of The Bank of San Antonio

Hard work has been a defining trait for my career. I incorporate that into my belief that you get what you give. Also, as a double mastectomy and cancer survivor, I have been taught the valuable lesson of truly understanding how short life is, and why I really love the hustle.  I have been involved in numerous Board positions since 2006, as I feel it is essential to serve the community and give back to the city in which you live. 

–Brandi Vitier

 

What was the defining moment in your past that set you on the career path you ended up following?  

For me, the tipping point was having a boss that saw my potential. He helped me to realize what I was truly capable of accomplishing in my career. Eleven years later, that same boss continues to push me and is constantly lifting me up. 

What makes you unique in your industry?

I love the hustle. I live to service my clients. It is truly a joy to see their successes and know that I played a small role in them. The Bank of San Antonio allows me to continue to be creative in my role, and that is very rare in my industry.  

What is one way you hope to impact your community in the future, either personally or professionally? 

Continued service to Boards of Directors for local nonprofit organizations will always be part of what I do to impact the community, regardless of my age.  I also see the work at The Bank of San Antonio as effort that ultimately grows jobs for our community.  Having been a part of the bank for eleven years and experiencing the materialization of the hard work I have put in is very satisfying, because it has directly helped to grow jobs for others, and that brings me great fulfillment. 

If you could sit down with any woman in the world–either from history or who is currently living–who would that be and what would you discuss with her? 

I would sit down with former Texas Governor Ann Richards. When I was a young girl growing up in San Antonio, watching Ann’s career from afar inspired me to get involved within the community. Ann was strong, graceful and witty. She was a wonderfully captivating combination for a woman in politics, especially at the time. When I was a child, she was the most powerful woman that I had ever seenand she was from Texas, which was an added bonus. I always wanted to be like Ann. She believed in hard work, and she never stopped giving back to the community until the day she died. 

Connect with Brandi Vitier at TheBankofSanAntonio.com/Executive/Brandi-Vitier, on LinkedIn, on Facebook and on Instagram @thebankofsa.

This profile was (Em)powered by The Bank of San Antonio.

Edited from an interview by Eleanora Morrison.