When Rydhima Brar touched down in Buffalo, New York, to study business administration in college, she was leaving behind the blazing heat of her home country, Kuwait, and spending more than a few days away from home for the first time ever. But one of the biggest culture shocks was that the future career options for American-born students seem to roll out endlessly in front of them—which was definitely not what she expected.
“I met a lot of friends there, and I would be like, ‘What’s your major?’ And they would say, ‘Oh, I’m still undecided, I haven’t figured that out yet,’” Brar tells host Kaitlin Petersen on the latest episode of the Trade Tales podcast. “To me, and a lot of other expat kids, we were like, ‘What do you mean you’re undecided?’ We had to figure out our entire life path!’”
If Brar wanted to build a life in the U.S., she had to build a career that offered her the best shot at working for a company that would offer her visa sponsorship. So instead of exploring her creative side, she stuck with business, and for more than a decade, she took on marketing and business strategy roles in a variety of industries—including banking, finance, beauty and gaming. Each time, she hoped changing companies and categories would ignite her passion for the work. Even at Sephora, where she led a web and analytics team, the excitement of the flashy products and fun perks soon wore off and the work itself left her feeling unfulfilled. As long as marketing and business were her focus, her options remained limited.
Then, fate intervened: Brar fell in love, got married and obtained her green card. After moving into a new home and having free reign over its design—and taking some much-needed time off work—her interest in interiors soon became clear. While helping out a few friends with their own homes, she signed up for design classes and found a mentor in another local designer, who brought her on board for several projects. Then came the call from Apartment Therapy, which wanted to feature her own home on its site.
“It was the first time I put myself out there, and my name was on the internet,” says Brar. The story was an instant accelerator for Brar’s budding design career—her Instagram following tripled overnight, and her work received an influx of praise and encouragement. In this episode, she shares how she got her firm off the ground despite launching just before the pandemic struck, the negative client experience that prompted her to change how she charges and why storytelling is an essential part of her process.
Homepage image: Rydhima Brar | Courtesy of Rydhima Brar