Managing Your Business
Sagres’ Amanda Toudouze Makes Show-Stopping Earrings Accessible
Looking for an affordable way to jazz up your look? Whether you’re looking to elevate a girls’ night out outfit or add classy bridal options for a bachelorette trip, entrepreneur Amanda Toudouze's business Sagres has got you covered with earrings that won’t break the bank.
We had a chat with Amanda about her journey from full-time tax attorney to entrepreneur and leader in her mother’s business endeavors. Read on to hear her tips for taking the leap of faith into your dream business venture.
Tell us about Sagres. What inspired you to start your own business?
Sagres is a place in Portugal once considered the “end of the world” by the Romans. That’s where my husband proposed to me. I had just taken the Texas bar exam and graduated from law school, and I was thinking of something I could do as a side hustle for myself in addition to my law degree.
Because it was my first time in Europe, I wanted to make sure that my accessories went with all of the outfits I’d packed. However, I noticed that I was constantly taking off my earrings every two hours because they were heavy and uncomfortable.
I knew there had to be a better way, a way to make something lightweight but fashionable that I could pair with the outfits I wanted to wear. That’s when I first thought of the idea for my earrings, but I didn’t start the actual business and production until March of 2022.
I left my full-time job in April 2021 to work alongside my mother at her business. That first year was definitely an adjustment period. Fortunately, I was able to focus on my passion after that transitionary period. I saw that other people were making lightweight beaded earrings, so I knew there was a market for this.
I noticed that most companies focused on very specific designs, or ones that were focused on partying or alcohol. I wanted to branch out and make designs of all kinds. I started with specific holidays and celebrations and then went into certain seasons. I’ll dive into collegiate and bridal collections next.
For the bridal collection in particular, I’m working from experience. Any unique earrings I found when I was a bride could cost up to $200, which is just crazy. The last thing you want to do when planning a wedding is spend more money, especially on an accessory.
I tried to create affordable products, so customers don’t have to stress about accessorizing for a celebration.
Where do you get your inspiration to create the pieces? What drives you?
A lot of my inspiration comes from places I visit and adventures I have experienced.
The work I do for my mom’s business has me traveling often. In addition, my husband and I are big adventurers, so we like going to different places ourselves. We just returned from South Africa, where we saw many animals and scenery in the most beautiful landscape. Now I want to create cheetah earrings!
Having passion for what you do is one of the most important things when running a business. It’s very clear to your customers when you have that passion. It can make them feel the story you’re trying to convey, like being out in South Africa among cheetahs.
Knowing that my designs help people see my passions is amazing to me.
Now that you’ve been in business for a little while, do you have any designs you see as your best sellers? Why do you think they’re best sellers?
My starfish design is definitely the trendiest, especially the neutral version. It’s a safe option for many people getting their first pair of statement earrings. After all, white goes with a lot more when compared to my more outgoing designs like green margaritas, you know?
Customers are always thinking about how they’ll incorporate my designs into an outfit. Earrings with one or two colors will naturally be easier to match than designs like my sombreros or pink margaritas, which feature four or five colors. The latter you might only be able to wear with a white blouse, but something like a neutral-colored starfish can go with a sparkly green top and add an extra accent.
The red, white, and blue collection is very popular because many people dress up for Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day, so this collection has a bigger audience. It’s also three holidays covered by one collection so you can wear them repeatedly.
Do you consider wearability and popular sellers from past collections when coming up with a new design?
I do! With the college collection I’m working on right now, I consider each school’s two to three colors for designs. I’ll also consider things like their mascot or statewide icons for students.
Because the entire collection is new, I’m not only focusing on sales as a guide on what to do. I’m pivoting as I go because I think at this time next year, I’ll have a better grasp of sales trends and what I should focus on for new designs.
My goal next year is to have two monthly collections, including expanding current collections with more designs, so there’s always something new.
Tell us more about the transition from your law job to this. What background and skills from that job prepared you to dive into this business?
Honestly, most of the skills I use in this business come from before I took on my job in law. My parents are both entrepreneurs, and I grew up surrounded by their businesses my whole life. Seeing what they were able to do with products got me ready for a business venture like Sagres — especially watching my mom because she is an importer and distributor of Texas souvenirs.
She manufactures hats, magnets, t-shirts, keyrings, purses, scarves, and everything you can think of in a hotel or airport gift shop. Seeing her do product development from such a young age has kept the love and creativity for developing products like this in the back of my head.
I’ve also helped create magnet designs for her business because I love drawing on a piece of paper and sketching up something even though I’m the worst drawer ever. Seriously, I could never be an artist!
I went to law school, but not with the intentions to become partner at a law firm or anything like that. I wanted legal knowledge and a degree that was unique and offered something different from an MBA. Despite my intentions, I did end up working as a tax attorney for almost two years after graduating.
Eventually, I came to a crossroads. Either my mom would sell her business, or I would take it over and work alongside her. I’m an only child, so she wanted to give me the option of running the business, but if I wasn’t passionate about it, she didn’t want to force me into it.
I was getting married when the pandemic hit, and I realized my time was something I valued so much more than I thought. I worked 16- or 18-hour days as an attorney, sometimes seven days a week. That gave me the push to leave my job and join my mom.
Over a year later, and I’m still running the business with her, side by side. She has given me a lot of inspiration for starting this and taking the leap of faith like she did in 1999 with her business.
It’s incredible to have her as a mentor. My husband is also a huge Sagres supporter. He said, “Hey if this is what you want to do, let’s go for it.” I think he’s been pleasantly shocked with how it’s going.
Starting this business has given me different skill sets from being an attorney. I have learned more about company finances, social media, marketing, and advertising on platforms. There is always something new to learn when running your own business and that is something I valued and love about being an entrepreneur.
When I was an attorney, I was in a leadership role where I oversaw 8-10 attorneys. I don’t have any employees for Sagres yet, but I do at my mom’s business. I’m able to help nurture them and have them take on more role advancement on the Nancy Jo side (that’s her company’s name) so I can focus on getting Sagres up off the ground and running.
You mentioned your husband and mom as big supporters in the background. Do they help you with everyday tasks like packaging products behind the scenes too?
My mom and I are on the road a lot, especially during summer. We’ll be out three weeks a month, Monday through Wednesday, so my husband is always willing to help out in the evenings.
My mom was so helpful during the initial designing phase that it’s become an inside joke between her and my husband. She’s a very stud earrings kind of girl, and I sent her a few pictures of the designs I was doing, and she just texted back, “Interesting….” So now I’ll come up with new designs, and she’ll always go “Interesting.”
She’s not hoping or thinking I’ll fail, obviously, but because they’re not her style she’s asking, “Are these gonna sell?”
When I sold my first pair and got my first online order, she said, “Wow, ok, this can be something!” Whenever we’re on the road, I’m always sketching or thinking of something and running it past her, so now she plays a much more significant role.
She wants to come out with a Texas line together. I’m all for it, but I think I’d like to get my feet off the ground first before launching a Nancy Jo x Sagres line.
What does your typical workday look like? You mentioned being on the road a lot; how do you balance both businesses?
I wake up; I do pilates. I drink my green smoothie. Just kidding!
I would say it differs. I travel a lot for my mom’s business, but I spend about five hours of my day working on Sagres. Whether packing orders, planning Tik Tok videos, Instagram posts, or editing or uploading photos, I am investing time into getting my brand out there.
I just learned how to set up a Facebook shop, and that’s something I’ve had to watch so many Youtube videos on. It’s intricate, and I would consider myself a techie, but that was hard.
I think a lot of it right now, with only a couple of months of the business, has been focusing on how I can get brand awareness out there. Not even so much the branding, just letting people know that these products are out there and how to get an organic following to drive traffic to the website. I spend a big part of my day on that.
Ultimately, I want this to become my full-time role, along with overseeing my mom’s business while handing off the day-to-day tasks of the latter to someone. That way I’m not on the road as much. That’s a couple of years down the road, however.
How would you say social media has changed the game for entrepreneurs? What’s been your strategy for gaining followers?
I think social media is a beast in itself. It’s an excellent tool to put people in touch with each other who may never actually meet in their life. I’ve seen so many stories of people becoming best friends on social media and meeting up and going on trips, and it’s so crazy to me that we live in a day and age like that.
I’ve watched so many videos throughout my life, many of them coming from content creators. TikTok is growing in popularity every day, while getting an organic following on Instagram is tough because so many people use it now. It’s a tough thing to wrangle!
I’ve been following small content creators and taking cues from them. How many videos are they posting a day? At what time? How long are the videos? What sounds are good to use? What is creating an identity for your business? What is popular on these platforms, and what will make people stay on your video longer?
On Instagram, I’ve been trying to make it as easy as possible for people to click on a photo and buy, so it’s not so many steps to check out. I think the next step is working with smaller influencers in the Texas region or different states. I could give them a coupon code that they would be able to make money from. I’ve also given pairs to my friends who live in all different areas of the country to give me content like photos to post on social media.
The hardest thing is that I don’t want just my pictures all over the business’s Instagram page. I want to showcase people and the different ways that my earrings can be styled.
To me, social media is an excellent tool for entrepreneurs, and it’s also something so intricate and ever-changing that you’re re-learning how to use it every day. There will always be another app or platform that you’ll have to learn and adjust to.
What has been the biggest challenge in your business’s journey, and how have you overcome it?
It’s an ongoing challenge, so I don’t think I’ve overcome it yet, but I feel like one of the biggest challenges was making sure people knew where to shop.
My husband advised me to put my brand on everything. Everything has to have your website, whether it’s a card or packaging you send out. For example, I made these earring cards I brought today this morning.
I would consider myself to be creative, but I think it’s tough to get your brand out there organically. I don’t think I’ll ever get to a point where I overcome it, and I know that isn’t the most definitive answer. I just believe there’s so many aspects to starting and owning a business that something is bound to change overnight, and you’re back on that challenge again.
I feel like just the brand awareness, the social media aspect, that’s all been super challenging to me, and I take it on with the little victories. Like today, I set out to create an earring card like I did this morning, and I feel great about it. That’s overcoming a small hump, reaching a goal but not completely overcoming that challenge as a whole yet. I hope one day to get back to you on that question.
What was the biggest win in your business’s history?
One of my mom’s best friends owns a store in Gruene, Texas, in the New Braunfels area. She has a little boutique and used to buy earrings from a competitor. With the current state of the supply chain, the competitor earrings are made in China, so she wasn’t able to get any for her store. I had just texted her, “Hey, I just wanted to let you know I started this business, and I’m just selling to customers, but if you would ever like some wholesale earrings, I’d be glad to.”
She placed an order of twenty pairs, and I was so excited because I’d only ever sold three pairs at that point! Getting an order of this size all at once was fantastic. Before I came to this interview, she called me again and said she needed another order!
Knowing there’s a market out there is a success in itself because if she’s not only reordering but doubling that order, they’re selling. I think back to the challenge of getting my name out there. I need to bring awareness that these earrings are for sale and affordable because many of my competitors are selling them for $38-$50. I can get a lower price because I work with manufacturers and artisans in India to get the price point I want.
If there’s one thing you could go back and do differently when first opening Sagres, what would it be?
Having all my branding in order. I wish I had all my cards and stickers ready to go because the first couple of orders I sent out had cut-out cardstock, a little handwritten note with a stamp that said “happy days”. It was cute, but I wanted to make it easier for customers to return to me if they liked the product.
I wish I had been more prepared before I launched, but I also think that’s part of the bliss of being an entrepreneur; you learn as you go. You figure out what works and what doesn’t as you start packaging orders.
What’s a common misconception about your business?
That I only do earrings. When I started, I wanted to put all my focus and energy into one thing, so I concentrated on earrings.
I’ve since expanded into beaded coin purses, which can double as cases for the earrings. You can use them to put a pair of earrings in to give to a bride and use as a coin purse after.
I also make clear purses with beaded/embroidered straps. The straps usually go for $100 at boutiques, and I sell them for $15. Cutting out the middleman is one of the biggest things for me. I try my very best to be fair to my consumer base and my manufacturers. I want to ensure it’s a reasonable cost, but my goal is to get it to the consumer faster and at a lower price point.
So you would say accessibility is one of the main pillars of your business?
Yes, exactly. I want people to be able to wear a pair of earrings with the unnecessary weight and expense of a statement earring.
What advice do you have for others going into this business or becoming an entrepreneur?
Take risks. I know that’s such a cliche thing, but to me, I literally wouldn’t have started this business if I didn’t just get up one day and decide, “You know what? I’m going to do it.”
I started with twenty pairs of earrings because I knew I could put in $200 and see if I made anything. If I make my $200 back, that’s great. If I make more than $200 that’s even better. Take the risk of putting in a set amount of money you’re willing to potentially lose. It’s like gambling. Just do it!
With my idea, I could do twenty pairs. Worst case scenario, if it’s a bust and no one buys them, I’ll give them to friends for birthday gifts.
You also mentioned the importance of not being afraid to learn as you go.
Take the risk, jump in, and then you’ll be able to adjust and surrender to learning daily. You don't have to have everything figured out from the jump. I learn something new every day.
That’s something I found interesting about my law job. Being a lawyer is very interesting because many people think you go to law school for a specific area of law, and you don’t. You can graduate taking whatever law courses you want, and as long as you pass the bar, you can be a criminal attorney, a tax law attorney, or a probate attorney. You can be anything. Going into tax, I didn’t grow up saying, “Oh, I want to be a tax attorney!” as a little kid. I don’t think anyone does!
But, what was cool about that field was learning something new every day. I worked with all different types of businesses and sectors.
With my business, I wanted something that drives me, motivates me, and I can learn from daily. What am I doing wrong? How can I make it better? What is working right? Understanding different aspects every day is crucial to me.
What does the future hold for Sagres? Where do you hope your business will go in the next five years? What do you hope the business will achieve in the long term?
My goal for the first year is understanding my customer base. I really want to dive into different aspects of organic customer growth, retention,, and search engine optimization. Over the next few years, I hope to add new product lines and grow to be a medium size business in the women’s accessory sector.