Tango Diva : Travel Stories for Women, by Women

by Melissa Josue

Michelle Rodriguez never dreamed that she would own her own business, despite the fact she came from a family who capitalized on their aptitudes. Her mother worked in textiles after she came to Los Angeles from Cuba, and she later started her own upholstery business. Michelle’s grandmother embroidered children’s clothing in Cuba. So Michelle grew up learning the art of sewing. But her passion was travel and she wanted a profession that would let her see the world.

She fulfilled that passion working for a Hollywood PR firm promoting movies, new albums and TV shows. And for nearly ten years she loved living out her suitcase, visiting film festivals and red carpet debuts. She enjoyed the glitterati, the back stage access, and being one of the first to know about what later evolved into “Brangelina.”

Having the inside scoop and being sniffing distance from world famous rockers and silver screen stars sure had its appeal. But keeping up with the pace of Hollywood also meant her job involved putting up with the stress levels of an industry that seemed perpetually high strung. The breaking point came when she realized she was losing sleep over the fact that one her clients didn’t have their favorite flavor of Lipton tea. And she was going to get yelled at! Does Lipton tea even come in more than one flavor?!

It wasn’t a sudden transition. She knew she wasn’t going to retire doing film publicity. She didn’t hate her job. She just hated the stress. One of the only things that made it worthwhile was the travel. Working in publicity, there was little time between touch down on the tarmac and having to run to a meeting or an event. But after spending hours in a plane cabin, her blouse and slacks would be less than camera-ready crisp.

She was always looking for trendy travel wear and chic yet travel-friendly beauty products to refresh her skin in-flight or to unwind and pamper herself in the comfort of her hotel bathtub. But when she’d browse through those catalogues that catered to travelers, she only found “backpacky stuff,” as if vacationers going on an excursion to view wild antelope from a Ranger Rover in Africa where the only type of travelers who were looking for clothes with utility.

Michelle found her niche. She couldn’t find chic travel wear, so she was going to create it. And after quitting her job in Hollywood and moving back in her with her parents to save money, she took her sewing background and love of travel to parts of China and North America and searched for high tech fabrics that looked and felt natural yet dried four times faster than cotton, repelled odors, and resisted wrinkles.

She found performance fabrics from which she created the Flight Skirt ($50), which also doubles as a strapless top or dress. And she designed a selection of tops in both modern and classic cuts that one could dress up with a blazer or even wear with jeans.

My favorites are the Kimono ($54) and Mod ($44) that elegantly drape the body and are created with dri-release fabric to eliminate odors and keep garments fresh. The dri-release Flight Wrap ($75) also proves to have both style and utility. I like that you can wear it alone as a V-neck wrap or wear it with layers to create different outfits. All while saving space your luggage!

The inspiration for the name en-day (www.En-Day.com), short for the phonetic pronunciation of Ndinombethe, came from an African phrase which means, “As I go I am wearing you.”

“The people you meet in your travels, whether intended or unintended, make you who you are,” Michelle explains on her website. For most of the year her fashion line debuted in trade shows and chic travel boutiques that were “nice boutiques, but none that fit the motto.” So she pulled out of wholesale in the summer and decided to go direct to consumer.

In November of 2006, she launched an online boutique that allowed her the control and flexibility to stay true to en-day’s philosophy. And with virtually limitless “square footage” and a desire to create a more comprehensive travel store, she also expanded her product line to offer a selection of bags and accessories such as the sassy Ann Taintor Luggage Tags ($8) and a ML Traveler toiletry bag by Stephanie Johnson ($78) among other fashionable carry-ons.

En-day is also one of the few retailers in the U.S. to carry T-Box, a travel clothing line from Turkey which offers compressible shirts and jackets that you can keep in your carry-on should you need a quick change of clothes. She also sells travel ready beauty products to relax and refresh the harried traveler.

One of the most innovative beauty-aids I’ve seen are the Beauty Pucks ($8), which are travel-sized helpings of cucumber eye-pads, deodorant, nail-polish remover, make-up remover and facial cleansing pads all in small discs that are easy to store.

Being able to travel in style is a large part of en-day’s philosophy, but at the hub of her motto is helping the world as we travel. In the summer, a portion of the proceeds from her wholesale revenue went to SOS Children’s Villages, which helps build families for orphaned or abandoned children.

Since she moved away from wholesale and opened her own online boutique, she continues to donate a percentage of her revenue to SOS Children’s Villages, but now her website lets the shopper choose between a variety of organizations from health and education charities to wildlife preservation for which to designate their donation. Just visit the Charities section for more information.

Michelle wanted to choose organizations that believe in helping people help themselves. Among her selection of charities is a microfinance organization, Opportunity International, which offers small business loans and services such as training in basic business practices to help poor people work their way out of chronic poverty.

En-day also sells handcrafted products from Africa, Asia and Latin America, some of which benefit communities by providing income to people who previously had no other way to earn a living, according to en-day’s website. For example, the Peace Poncho is hand loomed by women living in refugee camps who survived the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

A year and a half into starting her own business, Michelle has had to grow some thick skin, especially while marketing her own clothing line. “It’s not easy,” she said describing some of the grunt work and sacrifices she’s had to make so she could launch en-day. “You go from walking down the red carpet in an evening gown and Manolo Blahniks to being a student again,” she said. “But I don’t miss it at all because I love what I do.”

I wish I could say I was one of those people who always knew what they wanted to be, and that a sense of urgency and passion was a strong and clear voice within. But rarely are those gifts we share with the world so apparent. They make their way into our lives, less like an epiphany and more like the breath of exasperation when we feel we can’t take “it” anymore. “It” being the unnecessary stress, the restlessness, and the yearning for something more—something that feels right and whole.

Dreaming about the possibilities of her new business is one of the many things that Michelle loves about what she’s doing right now. Making that leap from the familiarity of her PR job to retailing her own clothing line on the web was the hardest part of realizing her ambitions. But with thoughtful business planning and emotional support from her family and friends, she found work that truly fulfills her.

“We’re not here for that long. Why spend life doing something that you don’t like? You have to make that leap. You’ve just got to make it happen.”

For more information about Michelle Rodriguez and to browse her online boutique, please visit www.en-day.com.

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