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Practicing yoga, designing floral art, and creating incredible baked goods might be hobbies for some people. But when they’re combined with amazing talent and an entrepreneurial spirit, those passions might just turn a profit. That’s exactly the case for these three North Shore women, who turned their passions into successful businesses that ignite their creativity and allow them to share their talents with the community. (These conversations have been edited for clarity and length.)

Sandra Sigman, Les Fleurs

Sandra Sigman fell in love with French flowers while living in France as a professional figure skater and dreamed of opening a French flower shop with her mother, who had run a small, at-home floral business for years. But just a month after that dream came true, Sigman’s mother died, leaving her to run the shop alone. She was in her early 20s, but knew her mother would be disappointed if she gave up on her dream. Now, 35 years later, Les Fleurs is a beloved and award-winning flower and home shop in Andover, offering romantic florals and unique French finds. “Chase what you’re passionate about,” Sigman says. “You’ll be great at it. You’ll give off that energy, you’ll give off enthusiasm. Don’t just take a paycheck.”  

Why did you want to turn your passion into a business?

It sparked when I went into the Parisian flower shops and saw how they were doing it. You can go into any flower shop, and they’re traditional. I wanted to do something different. When people come into the store—and it’s almost addictive, I will be honest—and they’re either in a bad mood or they had a bad day, and they would say, “I had to come here because it brought me joy.” You’re doing something that you created with your hands. It fills your heart in such a way that’s just so powerful. I don’t think you can get that for most jobs.

How do you keep the passion alive after decades in business?

Being in the store 24/7, you need that inspiration. I have to go out in my garden. I need to go and touch nature, and I need to be around it. Travel for me is really important, too, going back to Paris and connecting. I also started being a little bit more selective in what I do and how I spend my time and day.

How were you able to raise capital for the business?

Both my parents were really strong about this: When I was skating, they made me send home half my paycheck. The rents weren’t what they are now, and I started off small. There’s got to be some risk in anything you endeavor. I would say start off small, don’t take on too much debt, and if you can, bootstrap it yourself. You can always enlist your friends to come paint, there are websites that you can create yourself.

Can you offer any advice for people wanting to start their own business?

I can’t tell you how many people reach out to me. What I notice is they get paralyzed by fear. There’s fear everywhere. You sometimes have to jump. You have to close your eyes. You have to jump into the deep end. You’ll figure it out. At least try. You’ll have more regret not trying.

Ally Vallieres

Ally Vallieres, The Yoga Tree

Ally Vallieres wanted a career that fulfilled her and helped people. She found that as owner of The Yoga Tree in Haverhill. Vallieres was working at a bank and as a yoga teacher at The Yoga Tree when the studio’s original owner asked if she’d like to buy the business. At first, Vallieres “laughed in her face.” But the more she thought about it, the more Vallieres realized that it was actually a pretty good idea. In fact, the bank where she was working even funded the loan for her to buy the business. Now, she’s turning her passion into profit. “Whatever I’m doing with my life, I want it to be something that I enjoy and that I get excited about,” she says. “And I get so excited about everything we do here.”

You left your job in January 2020 to run the studio full time, and then in March 2020 you had to shut it down for the pandemic. How did how did you navigate that?

It was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever gone through. But looking back on it, there were two things that really helped. One was that we didn’t know how long it was going to be. There was also the community. It was a lot of connecting with other—particularly women-owned—businesses in my neighborhood, reaching out to other yoga studios, bouncing ideas off each other. It’s now blossomed into this group of women who are constantly working on collaborations and seeing how we can support each other.

How do you balance your passion for yoga and the community with day-to-day business needs?

I’ve staffed a team here that covers the day-to-day things so I can do the things that I am excited about, which are looking at the bigger picture and thinking about what new things to bring into the studio. What modalities can we bring in that people are gonna really resonate with? I find so much joy from all the big-picture stuff.

What advice do you have for people who want to turn their passion into a business?

There are going to be so many moments where you’re doubting your abilities. Owning a business is a literal roller coaster, and there’s a lot of emotion. But if you truly love what you’re doing, if you’re truly excited about what you’re doing and what you’re bringing to the table, everything could go wrong—a pandemic could close your business down for four months—but you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else because you’re so fulfilled. Trust that if you have the urge, you’re probably ready for it.

Ashley Bush

Ashley Bush, Buttermilk Baking Company

Buttermilk Baking Company has been cooking up pastries and desserts in downtown Newburyport for more than a decade with baker Ashley Bush at the helm. She studied baking and pastry at the Culinary Institute of America and worked in restaurant kitchens but always had an entrepreneurial spirit. So when Bush and her husband moved to New England from her native New York, starting the business followed soon after. Today, Buttermilk Baking Company is “bright and cheery. A little bit cheeky,” she says. “It’s all made from scratch, with real ingredients, by hand.”

Why did you want to turn your passion for baking into a career?

We play with chocolate all day. Where else can you do that at your job? The hours are still super long. We work a lot in kitchens. But to be stuck at a desk all day or even just sitting all day? That sounds terrible.

How do you keep your passion and creativity alive?

We’re spending our days making something that’s going to bring somebody joy. People aren’t coming in here for $15,000 of dental work that they don’t want to have with money they don’t want to spend. Mostly, people are coming in here and they’re pretty happy. And then they leave happier. So that helps.

Where do you get your inspiration and new ideas?

I’ve always been super creative. It’s really nice to have a creative team as well. We can all bounce ideas off each other. My brain sort of just never stops. I’m always thinking of stuff to do. You get inspired from even seeing stuff on social media that other people are doing. Maybe they had a cool concept or idea, and maybe that triggers something in your mind to say, “That’s cool, but what about this?” and kind of build from there. It’s just like life. Anything you see.

How were you able to raise the capital needed to go into business?

We purchased the assets of a business in Newburyport when we first opened. It was really tiny. It was a 400-square-foot facility. And I borrowed some money and then worked. I worked endlessly. Failure wasn’t really an option. I didn’t have a safety net. I didn’t have this huge bankroll. There was no other choice. I just had to do it. Several years after that, we moved into a larger facility a couple doors down on Liberty Street, and we’ve been there for the last eight years.