We are ceaselessly moved by and inspired from the stories of the women — near and far — who are part of our community. This week we’re honored to share a conversation with Birgit Sfat, whose story of resiliency, strength, and love is one we keep coming back to.
Born in Germany and living now in San Francisco, Birgit is the founder of Over The Ocean, a shop where she sells children’s clothing and objects from Europe. Sourcing hard to find, unique pieces, her curation draws inspiration from her own childhood and upbringing, contextualized for an international audience. She will soon launch a second iteration, Over The Ocean II, which will bring similarly special, American-made pieces to Europe.
At home, Birgit has had a journey that’s emotional, including scary moments of uncertainty, particularly relating to the health of her young daughter. And yet she leads with love and an inner strength that is incredibly powerful to witness. It’s a reminder to cling tightly to what’s important; to cultivate attention and presence.
I grew up in a small town in the middle of Germany. My parents were both photographers in a very classical way that rarely exists anymore. They had a shop and studio, selling film and cameras and taking family and wedding portraits as well as pictures for local companies, schools, and events. It was a family business. My grandfather founded it soon after the war. My brother and I often helped. It was a creative environment but, even more one that was very hard-working and passionate. I can’t remember my father complaining once about long hours of work. I think all of this influenced me and taking pictures is now definitely my favorite part of the work with Over The Ocean.
When we moved to San Francisco some years ago I met a lot of families who showed great interest in European design and lifestyle. At the playground and at my daughter’s school, I spoke with many families that were interested in the way we lived in Munich — and the clothes Milla was wearing. This was the impetus for me to create an online concept store and a platform to share the things and the people from home that inspire me.
After living in California for several years and meeting some amazing makers here, I felt the urge to also share this new influence in my life and bring these wonderful American labels to Europe. I was not only impressed by the creativity and crafting skills of these independent makers I got to know in the U.S. but also by their sense of community, how they are supporting each other in their vision and aim to create something beautiful and valuable. I will launch Over The Ocean II with a small selection of well-made goods from America in a few days!
I have experienced some very hard and traumatic years. I often felt overwhelmed by pain and fear, but I learned how resilient I can be. I learned that I can regain strength and hope to initiate changes. I had already experienced two miscarriages when I became pregnant with Milla. I then learned that she has a very complex congenital heart defect. The doctors told me that her chances for a long life would not be good. In that moment it seemed as if my world would collapse. I knew I would do anything to give my daughter a chance to live and be happy. I knew I could be her rock, and that whatever happens...she would experience so much love.
I spent the next four months of the pregnancy lying still in the hospital and I spent the first two years of her life at her side in the hospital, together with my husband, holding her hand during all the suffering she had to go through and trying to convince her how wonderful life is. Milla survived several big surgeries and showed an incredible will to live. I was just regaining strength and faith when within four weeks, I lost my father to cancer and our second daughter Minu in a pre-mature birth. After that I spent several weeks on my own in India in an ashram. I needed the time to let all the sadness out and start healing. I took care of my soul and body to find some joy in myself again and learned to understand this painful change as a chance for a new beginning.
What practices or experiences teach you to be present?
I have never been good at multitasking. For example I do not enjoy entertaining guests while I am cooking; I prefer to prepare the meal in quiet before the guests arrive and then be able to fully concentrate on our conversation. I consciously intend to be a present parent. I write my to do-list before I pick my daughter up from school, I put away the phone and listen to her stories about her day, connecting with her joy or also trouble and frustrations. Watching her, seeing her smile, feeling her hand in mine and being conscious about these moments makes me truly happy and helps me not get stuck in my worry about her health and her future. We have very difficult situations where the fear for her wellbeing is very present, but also then it is good to stay in the moment and not have expectations of how things should be different. Just feel the love.
Failure is not the opposite of success; what is a failure that has helped you?
My first marriage failed. I got married when I was still in college, but this young and naïve love got lost when we were both concentrating on starting our careers and struggling with finding our way. In my relationship with Raul, I am very conscious of keeping our love vivid and settling issues soon by sharing our thoughts. Love is about giving and receiving, like an exchange of positive energy. We have to take care that our daily life does not draw out all our energy. We have to take care of ourselves in order to be a good partner.
What are some personal non-negotiables when it comes to maintaining your own sense of “wellness”or “balance”?
I take a yoga class twice a week, but I think what's even more important to me are our daily family dinners and regular walks at the beach. When the three of us come together in the evening over good food and chat about our day, I unwind and relax. During the weekend, we always take long walks at the beach with our dog. As we live in San Francisco, the weather is often foggy and windy: I love the rough nature, the muted color palette, and to breathe in the fresh ocean air. All of us come home exhausted but happy and renewed.