Q&A: Ana Mari Ortega on Life, Luxury, Motherhood and Giving Back
We chat with Ana Mari Ortega—businesswoman and busy mother of three—about her eponymous luxury jewelry brand, entrepreneurship, self-care, and life advice.
Title(s): Accessories designer and enthusiast, pop culture junkie, survivalist (3 kids under 3 and a neurotic dog), food critic/tester for my home chef husband.
For those who might not know you well, tell us a little bit about your “come up.” How did you get to where you are?
AMO: I was an International Relations major at George Washington University interning at CNN. My weekdays were jam-packed but my weekends were a bit slow. I wanted to take up a hobby, and while knitting was at the top of my list, my then boyfriend, now husband, suggested I take a jewelry making class. Be it window shopping at Harry Winston or hunting for finds in European flea markets, I have always loved jewelry, making his suggestion the more obvious fit. As they say, the rest is history!
Your eponymous jewelry and accessories brand has blown up over the last few years. Was that always part of the plan? How did AMO begin?
AMO: My college hobby yielded a ton of pieces that I didn’t quite know what to do with. One day my mom asked if I would sell my pieces at an event benefiting Centro Mater, a local nonprofit she’s been involved with for years, and I ended up selling and donating several thousand dollars to them. Cut to a few months later, I graduated from college during the Great Recession and was struggling to find a job. My parents encouraged me to pursue something entrepreneurial and I ended up turning my hobby into my business. So, the plan was to graduate college and become the next Cristiane Amanpour, but I came out a Paloma Picasso instead.
What’s been the most challenging part of having a business like yours? What’s the most rewarding part?
AMO: When it’s all on you, the successes are sweeter but the failures are more bitter.
It’s Self-Care Month for us here at HOL. What does self-care mean for you–both from a surface-level and deeper, more internal perspective?
AMO: I love this question, and I want to respond from the two perspectives: as a person and as a mother. We live in a culture that celebrates #nevernotworking. While I admire ambition and drive, I think we lose sight of the fact that slowing down is not a bad thing. Some of the best ideas come from quiet introspection, devoid of screens and distractions. Having said that, I am the first to be guilty of it.
On a deeper level, especially from the standpoint of being a mother, I find it important to give myself space to be all of who I am. I am a business owner, I love my volunteer work chairing a non-profit board, I love maintaining hobbies and friendships outside the home, etc., so for me self-care means creating space for all of these facets of me to shine. In doing so, that helps me be a better person, caretaker, friend, wife, partner, everything.
It’s no secret that you’re the OG bathtub influencer. What’s your process? Are there staples that a novice bathtub influencer simply cannot live without?
AMO: I love bath salts and you don’t need to spend a lot. The Dr. Teal’s from Target are great and under $5. If you want to get fancy you can go for these Lord Jones CBD salts. Salts are great because they help with muscle aches and also leave your skin feeling really smooth. A face mask is always nice, too. I love this Rene Rouleau mask because whenever I use it I get tons of compliments on my skin. You can always throw in some essential oils...and a glass of wine never hurts. I also recommend a bath caddy to hold all the essentials.
In light of COVID-19 and the impact on the community, your bath boxes allowed anyone to get a taste of the bathtub influencer life. We were happy to partner with you on that, with proceeds going towards an amazing cause. How did that come about? How important is giving back to you?
AMO: I had been wanting to create a bathtub box for some time but hadn’t executed on it. When the virus began to impact the community by way of restaurant and retail closings, it started to get to me. I have a bleeding heart; it is hard for me to see something and not try to help in my small way. My husband knew of a local restaurant group that wanted to create a community kitchen, so I connected with him and the Coral Gables Community Foundation. From there, we reached out to local women-owned, small businesses to source incredible products (s/o to Lilly Be, Coco La Vie, Garcia Nevett, and House of Lilac!) and were up and selling the boxes within less than a week of deciding to make this happen. We were absolutely overwhelmed by the response and grateful to have provided some of the initial relief funding through the sale of the boxes.
What’s your advice for moms in quarantine to stay sane?
AMO: Tiger King and wine?! Kidding aside, I went into this thinking that I was going to emerge with a hot bod and my daughter having learned her letters. A few days in I realized that was never going to happen. What I have come to realize, and what I tell my friends, is that we are dealing with an event that is unprecedented in our lifetime. Now is not the time to be “killing it,” now is the time to be kind to ourselves and try to protect our mental and physical wellbeing as much as possible. That means limiting distressing news coverage and trying to find joy in the little things. I have a running joke on my Instagram account that I am living the “Little House on the Prairie” lifestyle. I now take joy in gardening and taking long walks. We will eventually be OK, but in the current moment we need to reframe our sense of happiness and productivity. It is also totally OK to have bad days. This is hard.
AMO: Your plate wall journey was also well-documented on social. What else can we expect from AMO, décor enthusiast? Any other projects we should be on the lookout for?
The plate wall! Now that I am home all day, I keep finding things I want to fix. For the sake of my bank account, I can’t do it all! You can expect lots of garden updates in the coming weeks as well as some upgrades to the front of my house. Depending on how long this goes, I may end up revamping all my patio furniture. You may also find some fun and pretty new delights coming to anamariortega.com.
Lastly, you’re a mom to a toddler and twins. You’re a business owner. You find time to take care of yourself and your home like a boss! What’s your secret?
AMO: There is no secret. It takes a village to raise a child and a small village to raise 3 under 3. I am completely aware of the fact that I am not Superwoman. I have amazing family and help that allow me to continue pursuing my business and philanthropic commitments.
AMO: What do you hope for your business as the world gets settled into a new normal? What do you hope your kids see when they look at their mom?
I think for those of us who are lucky enough to survive this (and by that I mean physically, emotionally, financially, etc.), we should try to revel in this slow pace. Spend time with our children, get to that project you’ve wanted to do, spend time sitting outside listening to the sound of the breeze (I know it sounds nuts). I think at the same time, recognizing that this is also an extremely painful and fraught time for many, many people in the country and trying to help in whatever way we can. Whether it is ordering takeout, ordering from local boutiques, etc doing what we can to help people survive.
My hope for my children is that they are happy, empathetic and kind people. I hope that they can find meaning in whatever they choose to do and become good stewards of their community and planet. Above all, I hope they see a mom who loves them, and is a living example, flaws and all, of the type of person I hope for each of them to be.