I Am Sawlf

On Saturday, March 9, hundreds of South Asian women will unite for Congress 2013 in New York City.

As part of our "I AM SAWLF" campaign - - and countdown to Congress - - we invite you to meet some of the remarkable women who plan to attend this year's extraordinary event as profiled by journalist Aarti Virani.

Rosena Sammi


In September 2001, mere days after 9/11, Rosena Sammi arrived in New York City from Auckland, New Zealand, taking on a position at a Park Avenue law firm. "At first I remember thinking, 'am I going to change my plans, am I going to break my lease, am I going to give up my job'?" she reveals, referring to the harrowing aftermath of the attacks. "But I gave it a week and thought it's now or never. And I was able to experience a resilient city bounce back."

Approximately five years later, Sammi, who was simultaneously practicing corporate law and taking courses at the Parsons School of Design—"I was seeking a bit of work/life balance" she confesses—transformed her hobby into a full-blown business and left her firm to start a namesake jewelry line, a range of exquisite creations that balance meticulous Indian artisanship with modern versatility. "My jewelry is for someone who leads a busy life but likes to stay on top of trends," describes the 38-year-old designer. "And they're worldly, in terms of their outlook."

Sammi infuses her kaleidoscopic cultural background—she was born and raised in New Zealand to Sri Lankan parents and is now based in Westchester, New York—into her exquisite pieces, describing her aesthetic as global chic. "I've traveled extensively, as most New Zealanders have, and part of my love for jewelry came through those trips," she says. "I picked up little pieces as I traveled, so that sort of passion for exploring is also something I bring to my design." Sammi is quick to admit, however, that her past life as an attorney enables her to steer her business in an efficient, no-nonsense direction. "My experience in the corporate world formed the perfect foundation for being an entrepreneur," she asserts. "It was all about being highly effective and presenting myself in a professional manner—I'm still a stickler for the things that are important in the corporate world."

It's this disciplined work ethic that has fueled the success of her brand: over 150 specialty stores around the country now carry the Rosena Sammi line, ranging from Henri Bendel to Intermix, while she also retails on her website (www.rosenasammi.com) . Her jewelry is regularly featured in a range of fashion bibles—a recent issue of Redbook magazine, for instance, spotlighted her iconic leaf cocktail ring, thanks to designer Rachel Roy, who singled it out as a nighttime favorite. "I thought that was a great tie-in with SAWLF!" exclaims Sammi, who is especially looking forward to Roy's keynote speech at Congress this year. "[Roy] is an amazing role-model in my industry and I admire her ability to bridge couture with a more accessible line of clothing," she continues. "I'm thrilled to hear her speak and get fashion and business tips."

Sammi, who attended the inaugural SAWLF Congress in 2005, says the event served as an impetus for pursuing her dreams. "I talked to so many enterprising women at SAWLF and it motivated me to make the final decision," she divulges, saying she is still in touch with a range of fellow attendees, including a plastic surgeon who started her own skin care line, among others. "We've been on this journey together, discussing publicists and marketing; I'm supported by colleagues and peers who are going through the same challenges," she explains.

This year, one of Sammi's most beloved pieces from her Sanksrit line (an intricate gold necklace, scrawled with the word "prerna," or inspiration) will be available for purchase at Congress. "Creating this special line has enabled me to go back and connect with a beautiful language," she muses. "And wearing these positive words can really influence the way you feel about the world."

Meet Rosena Sammi at Congress 2013.

Aarti Virani is a New Jersey-based arts, culture and lifestyle writer. Her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Vogue India and Travel + Leisure, among other publications.


2013 South Asian Women's Leadership Forum (SAWLF). All Rights Reserved. Congress Images by Seshu Photography. SAWLF Event Images by Mamta Badkar