Reinvent Yourself Abroad

Living (and making a living) in another country may sound like a dream. but these six women dropped everything to make it come true.

By Nicole Blades
Photograph: Photo by Andrea Fazzari.

Making it happen: To launch her online business selling affordable accessories, Cabrelli spent $500, which went toward inventory, “Yahoo! Store” fees, domain name registration and books on e-commerce. Initially she bought clothes from U.S. distributors, but soon she decided to create her own line and sell wholesale. Emily pitched in from the beginning—designing clothes, picking styles, giving reviews. In 2008, Cabrelli crossed off the next item on her dream-life checklist by moving her family to an oceanfront home in the Bahamas, close enough to the U.S. for Emily to visit her father in northern Virginia. Now Cabrelli enjoys daily walks, watches the sun rise over the ocean and spends evenings listening to the waves. Her company was profitable in its first year, with gross revenues just over $100,000, and she’s since launched two more doll-related businesses. “They pay enough to cover our $4,000 to $5,000 monthly expenses,” she says.

In 2012, with her ex-husband’s blessing, Cabrelli will roll out phase two of her reinvention plan: Her family will travel in France, Italy and Spain (“I love the architecture, the history, the tapas”), and Mark will homeschool Emily. “I love traveling and exploring new cultures,” she says. “Watching my daughter live this great experience has been the best payoff.”

Under the Tuscan Sun: Lily Morda

Florence, Italy

Former job: Owned a bead shop in Seattle.

What she does now: Handcrafts jewelry, teaches jewelry making and—with her husband, Tim Morda—owns Beaded Lily (beadedlily.com), a shop selling the couple’s handmade glass beads and artisan jewelry.

The backstory: When Morda opened her Seattle store in 1990, it was one of just three bead shops in the city. Ten years later, there were 15 others. “What started out as a fun and creative business turned into a rat race,” she says. “Constant pressure to keep up with the competition led to a lot of expenses and stress.” She closed the store. A year earlier Tim had closed the café he owned for similar reasons. The couple decided the time was right for an extended vacation in Italy. Morda, with Italian roots on both sides of her family, had always dreamed of moving there.

The inspiration: Arriving in Tuscany, Morda instantly felt part of the community of artisans making stained-glass lamps, cabinetry, ceramics, even violins. She loved the region’s rolling hillsides and rich artistic and cultural history. “I had this wonderful feeling of being at home,” says Morda. “It reminded me of how life felt growing up in a small town: a feeling of innocence, community and simplicity.”

Making it happen: The couple, who married in 1999, settled in Lucca, where Tim learned to make glass lamp-work beads in the Venetian tradition and Morda began crafting jewelry from his beads. In 2005 they moved to Florence and opened Beaded Lily (monthly rent: $760), selling their designs. “Tim would make the beads at home,” says Morda. “Often I would wake up in the morning, and there would be a plate of freshly made artisan beads sitting on the dining room table waiting for me.” They subsequently moved to a larger, 600-square-foot shop-studio, with tall arched ceilings, vintage chairs and walls decorated with their merchandise. “We do everything ourselves, including maintaining our websites, filling orders, teaching and procuring inventory,” says Morda, whose lineage allowed her to become an Italian citizen in 2003. She no longer worries about competition. “In Florence there is no one else doing what we do, in the way we do it.” Five years into the business, they gross less than they did in the U.S., but the overhead in Florence is much lower, and they love the lifestyle. “Small-business owners close their shops and go home to eat lunch with their families or head to local eateries with friends and colleagues,” she says. “It’s one of Italy’s best traditions. We’ve never been happier, both with ourselves as individuals and with the quality of our day-to-day lives.” 

First Published February 10, 2011

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