Together we make the world
For this series of newsletters, we interviewed families and friends to learn about different ways of living and different possibilities when raising kids. A lens to think about contemporary life..
We're speaking with Birgit Sfat, founder of Over The Ocean, a concept store for European design for families in San Francisco until she moved to Portugal last year. Currently Birgit is working on reinventing Over The Ocean as a Portuguese brand. She has one daughter Milla, 11 years old.
Where were you born? What prompted you to move here?
I was born in Germany and this is also where I met my husband Raul who was born in Romania. Milla spent the first 4 years of her life in Munich before we moved to San Francisco. It was a wonderful experience living in California. We embraced the incredible nature and explored the country traveling in our campervan, we enjoyed the openness and diversity of the people living in this interesting city, their political, social and environmental engagement and also the support between small businesses like mine that I experienced there. It was not an easy decision to leave but after more than six years we felt it is time to move back to Europe. The political situation in the US, the lack of a welfare system and the lack of social thinking in a wide part of the American population drove this decision. We were also looking for a slower pace of life with less pressure. Portugal had been our family’s favorite destination since my parents bought a house in the East Algarve 25 years ago. All three of us felt a deep connection to this country and since being close to the ocean had become such a valuable part of our life in California we felt Portugal is the right place to make our new home. We moved to a small town in the Algarve last September. We did enjoy living in the countryside, life was definitely slower and we loved being in nature but we also missed a like-minded community of creative and engaged families and an alternative and supportive school for Milla. That’s why we decided two months ago, quite spontaneously, to move to Lisbon and have Milla join school there.
How is it, as a family, to live here?
We are still settling in, but so far it feels really good living in Lisbon. We have found a cute little apartment in Mouraria, a very old and diverse neighbourhood of Lisbon with steep and winding streets that often offer a dreamlike view of the city and the Tagus. We enjoy exploring the city, its cultural and culinary possibilities (we all love to eat and try food from around the world). Milla is very happy at her new school and has already made some friends. For our two dogs it’s maybe more difficult getting used to the city-life. But we are also in the lucky situation that we can still go to the Algarve during weekends and vacations.
What is the first thing you look at or think of when deciding to buy kids’ clothes?
It is important to us how and by whom the clothes are made, that they are comfortable to wear and of good quality. We like supporting small independent brands who again support their communities by producing local, fair and conscious of the environment. For Milla it is most important that she feels well and can move freely in her clothes. I can get really excited if these criteria are met with a special kind of creativity like I see it for example in Wolf & Rita’s cuts, prints and mix or materials.
How conscious are you of setting an example for your daughter?
I am very conscious of that. It makes me try to be a better person. I know it does not work to simply tell a child to be kind, open and positive, you have to live it. I am also aware of how I often fail in being a good example and I then admit my struggle and hope we both learn from it.
What are the most important lessons you try to pass on to Milla?
To be kind and compassionate to others and yourself. To always try to see situations and people from different perspectives.
How and when do you talk to your kids about race and equality?
I have to admit that during our first years in San Francisco we did not talk a lot about it. She grew up there in what I felt was a very diverse community, it was normal for her that the kids in her class and people in our surrounding have different skin color, religion and background, also different sexual orientation and I was glad about it. But at one point I did understand that it is not enough that these differences do not matter to her because race does matter in this world. She has to learn about racism and how many people are treated systematically unequally and unjustly. We talked a lot about our white privilege and how this is in so many ways influencing our life, we made her aware of little situations for example when we were traveling in the US and how this might have been different if we had a different skin color. We talked with Milla about the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, about police brutality and also that racism is not only the obvious cases of violence but that racism is systematically interwoven in our society and daily life and that each one of us has to be active in detecting it (not only in others but also in ourselves) and standing up against it.
How are recent events and politics discussed at home?
Since the campaign of Trump in 2016 we engage a lot in political discussions at home with Milla, we talk openly about our opinions, about inequality and also about the threats and danger of political speeches and actions. We talk about recent events as well as about what has happened in history. We are German and also feel deeply for America, these are very important and heartfelt topics for us. Milla joined us in protesting for equality, women’s rights and against weapons. We often listen to political podcasts in the car and even though she does not understand a lot of it, she asks questions and tries to follow along.
How important is art in your daily life?
We surround ourselves in our home with work from young, contemporary artists. With Milla we like to visit museums, though she usually does not have a lot of patience in there. She prefers to be outside and we make her notice the street art that is all around us. In San Francisco there are lots of interesting murals, as are in Lisbon, from unknown sprayers to famous modern artists like Vhils and of course old and modern azulejo façades and beautiful calçadas. I am also glad that Milla understood that you don’t need to be good at drawing to make your own art and be creative. She loves to work on her own little art projects.
Any favourite artist or work of art?
I love the expressionist work of the group ‘Blaue Reiter’, artists like Gabriele Munter, Wasily Kandisky, Franz Marc and Paul Klee. There is a beautiful exhibition in Munich showing their work and development. We also visited the house of Muenter and Kandinsky in Murnau. An unforgettable experience was to see Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio in New Mexico. I adore her work as well as her personal aesthetic and individualistic spirit. It was inspiring for all of us to learn more about this strong and independent woman.
What kind of future do you dream of?
I hope that we are at a changing point right now and that we will get out of this difficult time with more humanity, caring for all people and the environment - and making this a priority. I have lots of hope when I look at the generation of our children, that they see the world as one world which needs to be protected and where all people have equal rights and are respected in their diversity.