Q&A with Pauline Eveillard, Founder and President SOUKRA.CO

Pauline Eveillard is the founder and president of the e-commerce and lifestyle business SOUKRA.CO, which sells home décor and fashion from Tunisia. We personally love the foutas on SOUKRA.CO which are perfect for trips to the park or beach, extra warmth on a plane or throws for your patio furniture when it gets chilly at night. The business aims to celebrate Tunisia’s burgeoning community of creatives, connect tastemakers with home décor and fashion from Tunisia, and foster mutual understanding. After earning her BA in Art History at Tufts University, she spent a year in Tunisia in 2005-2006 on a Fulbright, where she studied ancient Roman mosaics and made lifelong friends. The research on Roman mosaics that she completed during her Fulbright year was applied to her Master’s thesis at the University of Chicago. Pauline previously worked in non-profit development at World Monuments Fund, an international heritage preservation organization in NYC. Click the photos to shop the post.

What were you doing in your previous life?

Prior to Soukra I worked in NYC at World Monuments Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to conserving architectural and cultural heritage sites around the world. I spent 7 years there, first in programs and then in development where I managed a donor trip to Tunisia in 2012. In May 2016, I left World Monuments Fund to develop and launch Soukra.

What gave you the idea to start your business?

My relationship with Tunisia began in 2005, when I lived there for a year on a Fulbright fellowship to study ancient Roman mosaics. In addition to researching Roman mosaics, I made lifelong friends whom I visit every few years. In 2010 I launched a business importing and e-retailing the Tunisian fouta, a versatile 100% cotton fabric, as a way to bring a piece of Tunisia to the US market.

What spurred you to make the change?

Following the Arab Spring, I saw that there was a burgeoning community of creatives and entrepreneurs in Tunisia. However, there wasn’t a lot of visibility and awareness of the entrepreneurial energy there. So I launched Soukra to shed a light on these inspiring designers and the beautiful products that can be incorporated into any home.

Was there anything holding you back?

I knew that for a lot of people, I would be introducing them to Tunisia. I wanted to be very careful in how I portrayed Tunisian culture as a non-local. I decided to interview all of the designers so that they can describe their own country, which has developed into a beautiful array of perspectives.

How did you prepare to pivot?

It was important for me to get buy in from Tunisians and do market research at home to better understand the consumer mindset and competitive landscape. The first step I took was to talk to my friends in Tunisia and propose to them the idea of a website celebrating Tunisian designers, their products, and their culture. Their enthusiasm encouraged me to continue refining the idea. I then took a research trip to Tunisia to meet with designers to see their products and present this endeavor to them. Finally, I organized a workshop at home to refine brand strategy and discuss consumer trends.

Some challenges you faced when you first started?

The transition from working for an organization to a solopreneur was challenging. In the beginning, there were a lot of floating ideas of what this could be. There’s a point where the ideas need to be put into action, and that took some time.

What was the hardest part of building your own business/changing careers?

There are moments of self-doubt that I fight against. These moments make me stronger in building the business, since they force me to dig deeper into the purpose and reasons for starting the business.

Advice for women who want to follow in your footsteps?

Stay true to yourself and your vision. There are so many fads and voices out there. If your message is contrived and inconsistent, people will notice and move on.

Would you do anything differently?

You can’t predict everything, so there are times when mistakes or ill-considered decisions are made. But you learn from those mistakes and uncomfortable conversations, and move on.

How do you set your goals?

Every month (or so), I step back and zoom out, look at the calendar to see where I’m at and where I want to be, and plot out steps to reach those goals. I also remind myself to be patient. Soukra launched in November 2017, and reaching certain goals will take time and perseverance.

How do you reflect on your business?

I remember to zoom out, look at the big picture, and make sure I’m staying loyal to the mission of the business, which is to raise awareness about Tunisia and its burgeoning community of entrepreneurs, promote it as a destination to visit, and foster mutual understanding between cultures.

What are the daily rituals that make you successful?

Bullet journaling keeps me on schedule. Every morning I look at what I need to get done that day and tackle it. Since I work from home, it’s important for me to get out of the house for a walk every day.

What helps you be your most productive?

Bullet journaling. Zooming out every month. Speaking to people. Walks and working out.

What inspires you?

I’m inspired by Tunisians who are cultivating creativity, whether through art and design, co-working spaces, or social entrepreneurship.

What music are you currently listening to?

I regularly listen to NYC’s classical music radio channel WQXR. In current music, RAC, ODESZA, The XX, A Tribe Called Quest (old and new).

Who or what has been your greatest professional influence?

My mother.

What does your own home say about you?

Eclectic mix of styles. Lots of objects with memories. Some may consider it clutter, but I see memories in these objects.

How has living in San Francisco influenced your style?

I moved to San Francisco four years ago, and return to NYC every few months. San Francisco has given me a whole new appreciation for flora. The landscape reminds me of parts of Tunisia with cacti, palm trees, and rolling hills. When I saw the halfa grass trays and bowls, they reminded me of the golden hills of Marin in the summer, while the ceramic bowls with the leaf motif evoke California beach living.