“I was born determined to get what I wanted.” Meet Roanne Adams, Founder and Creative Director of RoAndCo: a multidisciplinary creative agency based in New York City. With clients including Altuzzara, Lula Magazine and Loeffler Randall, RoAndCo has received wide recognition in both fashion and design worlds—earning a reputation of aesthetic rival. Behind beautiful work is often hard work, and in this case a strong leader. When Roanne says that becoming a mother turned her into a warrior, I can’t help but think that she has been one all along. 

“I’ve never had a strategy. I started freelancing full time at 25 when I realized I could work from anywhere, and didn’t want a bunch of bosses hanging over my head. I thought if it didn’t work out, I could just go back and get a job. I was lucky in that I was living with my boyfriend who could pay rent if I didn’t make a dime. I emailed everyone I knew to throw me any work they had—I didn’t care what it was. Around the same time, a lot of my friends were starting businesses of their own. They saw it as an opportunity to apply the skills I’d developed at Wolff Olins to their brands for a very cheap price. So I took everything I had learned and worked with these small brands, a lot of whom happened to be fashion designers, which was exactly the field of branding I was aiming for. 

I hoped for the best, worked really hard and took on every single thing that came my way. After three months I started working in the Refinery29 office, which led to a lot of business. One thing always led to the next and that’s continued today. While we have goals and budgets we aim for now, I still don’t have a formal business plan for where RoAndCo is going.

It’s what I think about in the shower or what wakes me up in the middle of the night that pushes me forward.

At this point it’s almost as if the business is pulling me along—it’s bigger than I am. I concentrate on finding the time not just to react, answer emails and respond to requests—but to really think about what’s next, the bigger picture, what I want out of this. We have to make money, but are we getting cornered into projects that we’re tired of doing? Yes, but I’m so thankful we always have work coming in—it’s not a worry or concern I have. It’s weighing up what I’m thankful for vs what I want. That appetite for growth is always going to be there—it’s intrinsically in me to always push for greater things. 

I’ve always been driven by challenge. In a design sense I always want to make things look better, make more sense, create structure. Same thing goes for business. I’m always striving to improve our systems, our client management, our efficiency. Thankfully I’ve always had people working for me with the same drive.

I’ve always had high standards for myself and those around me, including my family. I expect people to be working to their highest potential, whether it’s work or an emotional relationship—but not to the degree to which they feel suffocated. Maybe I’ve suffocated people over the years (I hope I haven’t!), but I’ve always hired intelligent and hardworking people who rise to the occasion. When I interview people I intuitively get a sense of whether they’re going to be in it or not. I’ve never been disappointed with anyone I’ve hired, or if it’s happened occasionally, I’ve made it clear that they need to step it up. If anything, hopefully they will learn to hold themselves to a higher standard, or realize they can work beyond the capacity they thought possible. Whether that’s a good thing for them or not I don’t know—but maybe it will help them later in their careers or in their own businesses.

It’s tricky being a female business owner—you want to nurture and take care of your employees, but at the same time you want the best product out of them.

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In saying that, I think I’m a bit more laid back with my business since becoming a mother. You never know how you’re going to feel until that baby comes out of you and you’re holding them in your arms. Your life changes immeasurably and your feelings change immeasurably. I had fears about how a baby would impact my life, but nothing prepared me for how hard it was going to be. It has been the most rewarding thing I’ve done, but has been exponentially harder than expected. Maybe that’s because I have a business I care so much about,

but I think it’s mainly due to the fact that I wasn’t ready to be completely selfless.

Which is all you instinctively want to do when you have a child—to be with them, take care of them, not go to work, not take care of yourself. Then you start to realize it’s not good for you, your relationships or your business. The selflessness is the hardest. It’s very hard to find time for yourself when your two priorities are your family and business, but it’s necessary to stay sane in order to be a good mother and business owner. 

These past two years have been a really interesting journey finding that balance between work and motherhood—it’s still a struggle, but it’s getting much better. I assumed I would go back to work after two months of having Phaedra and I was absolutely not ready. I was barely ready at three months but did it out of necessity. Now I leave the office at 5.30PM on the dot, and don’t feel guilty about it. The first year I did worry, but now I know it’s my time to be with her. Thankfully, my staff totally understands that. They know they’re not going to hear from me from me until she’s asleep, when I’ll continue to work from 7.30PM to 10PM. It’s been a hard ride, but it’s worked out.

Having Phaedra taught me empathy. She’s had health issues which have allowed me to empathize with what others are going through in life, not just my clients or my employees. The small things that used to get me uptight like an unhappy client—it’s all in perspective now. An unhappy client will be happy next week. Or issues in the office, they just happen.

Business is not supposed to be flowers and lollipops all the time, it’s often uncomfortable.

Time has taught me that as well as my shift in priorities. For Johnny and I, our main focus now is taking care of our family. He’s a really dedicated father and husband, and incredibly supportive of my business. If I need to work late, he’ll go home early to be with the baby. If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t have been able to maintain my business at this capacity. 

When I went out on my own eight years ago, I set out to do something all encompassing with my life. A creative identity means your work becomes your life, and your life your work. I don’t mean answering emails at 1AM on a weekend, but you’re constantly thinking and talking about it, always on the lookout for inspiration. Some people don’t want that and prefer to keep work and life separate, but for me, work and life are completely seamless.”

Roanne’s #OKREALTALK Tips

  • What keeps you up at night and excites you in life? Is that what you're doing?
  • Business is not always fun, especially if you are committed to constant growth and improvement.
  • Maintain high standards of yourself and those around you. Hire people who compliment your weaknesses.
  • Do not underestimate the challenge of having children, but in the same vein, do not underestimate the reward that they bring.
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b. 1980

roandcostudio.com 

t. @roandcostudio

i. @roandcostudio


As told to Amy Woodside, June 2014
Photographed by Amy Woodside