Walking away from a 9-to-5 job with a steady paycheck and health benefits to start your own business isn’t easy. To help you to take the plunge, we launched a monthly editorial series The Case for Quitting where we ask self-employed women all about how they successfully struck out on their own, from how they balanced their side-hustle with their full-time job to how much money they saved before handing in their two-week notice. This month, we chatted with Andressa Stori, founder of the swimwear line, Mad Mermaid. Here, she shares how she switched industries from finance to fashion, cultivated the courage to take the leap, and leaned into her Brazilian culture.
What was your major in college and what did you want to do when you graduated?
I had two majors in college, business management and archaeology. I was interested in museums or art collection management at that time.
What did you actually do after you graduated? What types of jobs did you apply to and what industry were you looking to break into?
After graduating, most of my job searching was focused on assistant roles for museum curators and private collections. I soon felt that I lacked specific qualifications for the positions I wanted. I got a job as an executive assistant and enrolled in a masters of accounting program. After one year, I got a job as a staff auditor in a CPA firm where I planned on staying for a few years.
How did you get into swimwear and the fashion industry more broadly?
I grew up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and so much of my life was spent at the beach. My mother was very into fashion and taught me early on that I had to accept my body and that fashion was an empowering form of expression. When I went to America, I thought it was curious that people were asking me about Brazilian bikinis. I had so many friends who wanted to wear one but were ashamed of showing their bodies at the beach because they believed they didn’t match the standard. I was not used to that. I was used to seeing all kinds of bodies at the beach, and I loved how comfortable people seemed to be in their own skin. Sharing the idea that perfection is not what makes a person confident, and that beauty is how you feel, is one of my goals with Mad Mermaid. We don’t need to look like models to be beautiful. We already are.
How did you know when it was time to quit your full-time job and go all-in on Mad Mermaid? What was your strategy for making the transition?
I was playing it safe, and there is nothing wrong with that, but I wanted to express myself more creatively. I was unhappy about my job, and I didn’t excel at that position. I had always loved work, but I felt tired and unmotivated. Something inside of me was calling to get out, but I just didn’t understand what. During the pandemic, I was put on mandatory vacation for three months, and for the first time in my adult life, I had time to stop and really think about the life I wanted. As soon as I gathered the courage to quit, I did. I was tired of overthinking. I sold my car, organized my finances, and hopped on a flight to Brazil within a week. I wasn’t sure what I was going to work with, I just knew it was time to take action.
How did you prepare for the transition before quitting your full-time job?
I would say the most preparation I did was emotional. I took some time to prepare myself for the lifestyle change I knew I would face. I had saved some money over the previous year. But, I knew it wouldn’t be enough to pay rent, keep my car, and continue to show up at most social events.
“Learning that it’s okay not to know everything and to ask for help is a very liberating and powerful lesson.”
What, if anything, do you wish you’d done differently?
I wish I had been more transparent with friends and family about the lifestyle changes. Life was financially stable at that last job, but now I had to account for every dollar as an investment or a loss. In the end, nothing really prepared me for the frustration of unmet social expectations. But when it comes down to it, you can’t really prepare for the things you just don’t know. You simply focus on what you want and work for it.
Were you worried about money? What advice can you share for people who are worried about leaving a steady paycheck to start a new career?
Yes, and I still am. It’s an everyday journey for me to get used to being on a very tight budget. And, honestly, it’s often frustrating. But when it starts to weigh me down, I try to focus on being grateful for the opportunity I have. When I focus on what I want, what I don’t currently have seems to become less important.
Did you save up first or did you just jump in headfirst?
I had saved nearly $13k in the previous year. I moved out of the place I was renting and started living with my partner’s family. I decided to sell my car and spend time with my family in Brazil, where the value of the dollar is higher and I could save up some more. I planned to use 70% of the money I saved for the initial investment in the company and the rest for my living expenses for the next year. So far, I am very proud.
What’s the most important thing you have learned from making a big change in your career life?
Learning to prioritize. I now prioritize what is worth my effort and my money. I prioritize the relationships that are healthier and learn to let go of what does not serve me and my journey.
When you look back and reflect on your previous career do you have any regrets or are you still really happy with your decision?
I am still very happy, especially because now I don’t have to hire an accountant.
Going after what you deserve in life takes confidence and guts. Does confidence come naturally to you or did you have to learn it? What advice can you share for women on cultivating confidence and going after their dreams?
I learned to be confident with age. I have always had a strong personality, but the hardships I experienced coming to America alone as a 17-year-old and achieving the things I did made me proud and confident in my skills. Today, I believe I can learn anything I put my mind to. Maybe I won’t be the best at everything, but I don’t have to be. Learning that it’s okay not to know everything and to ask for help is a very liberating and powerful lesson.
It’s easy to celebrate the wins, but how do you handle failure or when something hasn’t worked out for you?
I am an intense person. When something goes “wrong” I often feel upset. I get angry at myself for allowing it to happen and blame myself for all the things I must have done wrong. Then I take a deep breath and give myself a little time to feel frustrated. I soon move on and realize how ridiculous it is that I am blaming myself for all of that. I lift my beautiful self up and focus on learning the real lesson. I believe true failure only happens when you are feeling so sorry for yourself you can’t focus on what matters. But if you are anything like me, and you feel bad at first, oh well, that’s just life. Ride the roller coaster and have some fun.
What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made and learned from along the way?
My biggest mistake, so far, was to not fully own myself at first. I wanted to change some of my characteristics because I believed it was what my peers expected from an entrepreneur and a business partner. I am so grateful that happened early on. Changing who I am wasn’t sustainable. My first business idea died within two months, the partnership I had crashed and burned, and from the ashes, Mad Mermaid was born. When I owned myself, and what I wanted, it all started to work out.
What is the #1 career or money book you always recommend and why?
I would say “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz is the one single book everyone should read. It helps to put things in perspective when dealing with others and knowing yourself better. Another really good business book for those considering quitting is “Don’t Keep Your Day Job” by Cathy Heller.
What advice can you share for someone who is thinking about leaving their current gig to pursue their side-hustle or passion?
Figure out why you want to do this. Don’t do it because it’s cool, or because others are doing it. You won’t be happy if you are broke and doing something you cannot stand. The “why” is so important because it keeps you standing strong when things don’t go as expected.
Anything else to add?
We all have something unique and beautiful to share with the world. You don’t have to be anything but yourself.