Genue Inc.
October 24, 2017

Genuinely You: Sofi Madison

Boston-native Sofi Madison is the owner of Olives & Grace, a thoughtful and consciously curated gift shop in the South End. Sofi is incredibly talented, extraordinarily committed to what she does, and an active member of the thriving South End community. Read on to learn more about how Sofi was inspired to create her shop, what it’s like not to have weekends as a thirty-something-year-old (!), and why gratitude is at the center of everything she does…



Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, and how Olives & Grace began?

My name is Sofi Madison, and I own Olives & Grace, a local shop in the South End of Boston that highlighters the best emerging artists and small businesses in food and gifts. I grew up in Weston, Massachusetts [and moved elsewhere] before returning back to Boston. In 2010, I eventually came back here to start this chapter—starting Olives & Grace.  My experiences living in out west—being outdoors and living a kind of natural, community-oriented life in places like Boulder, Denver, San Francisco, and Santa Monica—inspired me to create the kind of place where you could walk into a store and find the type of products that were made by the people in your community.  I loved that I was living in places that inspired me and made me feel good. From there, I was able to take it more seriously and create a business from it.




I love that each item in your shop has a story.  What story/stories do you want your shop to tell?

They say authors write the books they need to read, and musicians make the music that they need to hear—for me, it was similar to that. I really wanted to believe you could create a life for yourself doing what you love.  That it was enough for you to take the basic skills that you have and create a life for yourself—even if you’re not the “next big thing”.  And that doing the best you can for yourself really is enough—if you’re living a true life. So, in studying these companies, these are all people who are making a living creating a line of products, around their passion. The more I focused on that, the more I was able to focus on my small, single shop.  And then the idea is to introduce our products to corporate clients and hotels.  Ultimately, the message we’re trying to spread is: do what you love, and do it damn well. If you’re willing to grind it out and commit yourself entirely, you can make a business from your passion.



What are some of the more “unseen” challenges that small business owners face?

I haven’t had a carefree weekend in seven years. That means I didn’t have weekends the second half of my twenties, and a lot of things have taken the backseat as a result.  My relationships have struggled because I feel it’s really important to me to be here in the community rather than brunch or weekends at the beach. Sometimes mental health, physical health, friendships [are sacrificed as well].  I take vacations totally based off of other people vacations. Every day that I work all day in the store, I won’t be outside, and I won’t have a lunch break. [However], the fuel that’s in my tank for [Olives & Grace] is very real, and [as a result] I’m never on empty. I believe in what it is, [and what we’re doing], so [my energy spent on and at Olives & Grace] is reenergizing. I wake up and I understand why I’m doing this. I know that it’s not saving the world, but we are selling inspiration and collaboration and comradery. And ultimately, that gives me life more than it takes for me.




What does a typical day look like for you? And if no day is typical, do you have any daily rhythms or routines?

I wake up and go to the gym, otherwise, I don’t have the right energy. So I work out and then I come into the store pretty much every day at 9 and run on that energy all day. We have four employees on our team, and we’re constantly firing in all directions. Then around 7 or so I peel out to catch up with a friend or cook dinner at home.


Photography by Katie Noble


Where do you draw inspiration from? What do you do if inspiration is lacking?

I think a lot of my inspiration comes from creativity that I don’t touch on [or take part in]—like museums, galleries, live music, and plays. If I have nothing to do with it, I can really see it and pull from it. On a weekly basis, I make sure I am seeing live music or check out art, no matter what. It’s a case study on vulnerability, and I dig it.




What’s your favorite thing about what you do?

My favorite thing is also the thing that’s my least favorite. It’s that I get to work on and experience so many different aspects of running a business. From designing products and the typography—that’s the stuff I love. And then the hard stuff, like accounting, taxes, managing staff, etc.. It’s the stuff that I don’t want to do, but need to learn in order to grow I get to experience slices of life that I otherwise would have known nothing about, like commercial real estate, health insurance, payroll—things that I never would have run up against otherwise. I love that. But it’s also the stuff that keeps me up at night.  So it’s both totally exciting and totally terrifying.



How to do you contribute to your community in the South End?

When people walk in, they are entering Olives & Grace, but more than that, they’re entering the small business community that’s here in the South End, and Boston, and the US.  But once they walk out of here, it’s so rare that we’re not saying “Oh hey, check out our neighbors!” or “Make sure you go to this place for lunch!” It’s always about paying it forward and making sure people have a great experience [within our community, not just our one shop]. On a more concrete level, we [myself and other small businesses in the South End] plan shopping events and fundraising events and are able to give back with certain purchases when tragedy hits. We get to work together and invite people into the store, and there’s a warm safe place within all of these stores.  I’ll use the expression “a rising tide lifts all boats” to illustrate.  If we’re succeeding and our neighbors aren’t, that creates such a sad experience. Olives & Grace is located in an area of pretty much all entrepreneurs—which usually only happens in a small town. The fact that that can happen in Boston, one of the most expensive cities in the country and the world, is just mind-blowing. It’s really awesome. And it wouldn’t happen with a competitive attitude. What we have is special.




Do you and/or your shop have an overall maker or design philosophy?

I would describe our aesthetic as natural but polished. But aesthetic and design philosophies are always evolving. What we liked 5 years might have been a little bit more rustic, as we were all, as a country, going through that “rustic” phase. At the heart of Olives & Grace, we’re also telling the story between handcrafted, but really high end. Not expensive, but really well made. And the design [of each product we carry] has integrity to it and makes you feel good. These [mugs, pictured above on the bottom shelf] are gorgeous. And represent our shop well.  They are handmade and stunning. Then, take this tea [pictured above, on the top shelf]. It’s a product that feels a little more crafted. But each one is different and made from the bark of banana trees and 100% of the profits go towards educating orphans. And the front of the box slides out, letting you keep the art. The men make the tea, the women make the labels, and the profits go towards the students. See—we’re all about balance. Products that are well-made, beautiful, but also make you feel good about purchasing them.




Genue celebrates designers, makers and creatives that are unabashedly themselves. What does it mean to be “genuinely you”?

For me, at the very center of being genuinely you is gratitude.  No matter what I do, the goal is always to return to being grateful. I’m so grateful to have this store and to have started something that many could say I’m underqualified for.  I feel so grateful that I’m able to carry the brands [that I do], and that people are buying into the mission of Olives & Grace, and to be able to do an interview that lets me share more about my shop. I always strive for gratitude to be at the center [of everything I do], and if it’s not, the goal is to get back to that.



Thanks so much, Sofi! We love your work and your shop. Make sure you pay Olives & Grace a visit in person or shop their incredible goods online.

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