TRW NYC Profile: Denka Obradovic

The Refined Woman Profiles

Written by Kitty Williams for The Refined Woman

“Sometimes we think ‘oh, this is just my life.’ Yeah, and your life is vastly different from mine,” says Obradovic. “It makes for a good read.”

At the end of Grand Avenue in Williamsburg, there sits a small park that doesn’t greet its visitors with large fountains or anything you’d find in Central Park; its offer is simple: trees and peace. Just beyond the trees are benches, cold from the winter air, that look out over the East River.

People walk in and out, sipping coffee while they take their dogs on morning walks. I sit with Denka Obradovic, the skyline across the water reflecting in her sunglasses.

“It’s just packed with so much history. It feels good to be somewhere that’s been around a really long time,” says Obradovic. She takes in the view before adding with a smile, “Does that make me a romantic? Am I a romantic?”

This park holds a special place in this New Yorker’s heart. She first moved to Williamsburg from Queens with her boyfriend almost two years ago. “This was one of the first places we walked to,” she says.

Obradovic had been living in San Diego when work brought her then-boyfriend to New York nine years ago. She decided to take the risk and move with him. “I wasn’t doing anything in San Diego I couldn’t do in New York,” she says.

Obradovic is a model with the curve division of Wilhelmina Models. Before starting there, she was at a different agency where she remembers meeting with Susan Georget, forerunner of the curve movement. “She looked at me, she threw a contract at me, I signed it, and that was it,” she says.

Being a model wasn’t always Obradovic’s plan. When she was little, she wanted to be a cartoonist or an opera singer, though she never had any real experience singing. Not only have her career aspirations changed since childhood, but her overall persona as well. Having had a difficult childhood, she has grown much and doesn’t think the child she was is representative of the woman she has become.

As a child, she was surrounded by physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. “I wish it didn’t happen,” says Obradovic. She notes that, though it was a troubling time, it has made her a stronger person. She finds comfort in writing about her experiences, and since she recalls them with a foggy memory she considers it creative nonfiction. “I started writing a book in college. I thought I was going to be a writer,” she says before adding, “Still can be.”

However, life guided her toward modeling. “I was scouted,” Obradovic says. “Good old fashioned scouting.” Though modeling comes with a certain amount of stress, she is happy with the path she is on. “You’re a freelancer. Nothing is guaranteed,” she says. “I haven’t considered doing anything else. I’m in this for as long as they’ll have me.”

She loves the work she gets to do as a model. “If you’ve ever felt like you don’t fit in, and now here you are, this example of beauty and what beauty can be: that’s pretty nice,” she says with a smile. For Obradovic, the most important thing is feeling good. “I do it for women who don’t feel beautiful. It’s a terrible way to live.”

Obradovic remembers there was a time when she didn’t feel beautiful. She recalls the Pretty Woman quote: “People put you down enough, you start to believe it.” In contrast, social media today can act as a platform for spreading positive messages about beauty, among them, that there is no single type of beauty.

Obradovic is happy with her body, but tries to practice a lot of self-love when that feeling fades. “I just try to be kind to myself when I feel myself getting judge-y about my body or the way I look. I just take a moment, speak to myself, and keep going,” says Obradovic.

Another way she shows love for herself is by making time to be with her self. “I give a lot to people,” she says. “My self-care is my alone time.” In this free time, she gravitates towards reading memoirs because she finds people to be fascinating. “Sometimes we think ‘oh, this is just my life.’ Yeah, and your life is vastly different from mine,” says Obradovic. “It makes for a good read.”

When she has a bit more time, one of her favorite places to get away from everything is the Catskills. “We’re starting to explore little towns up there. New York is so big. You go from this,” she says, looking out at the skyline, “to trees and creeks and nature, and oh, the Hudson River is so beautiful.” Living there full-time isn’t a possibility for her, but she cherishes the moments she gets to spend there.

Obradovic is proud of her decision to move to New York. This risk-taking behavior is something she never wants to grow out of. “I think what scares me the most is being scared,” she says. “I don’t want to be afraid to do something.”

She is a big believer that now is the time to do what you’ve always wanted to do. Waiting is never the answer. “I just feel like anyone can do anything,” she says before adding, “I feel that way about myself.”

Right now, she is happy with her life as she lives it: full of walks to Grand Ferry Park, ferry rides at sunset, and time spent with her boyfriend. “I just feel so full and complete,” says Obradovic. “I made a home here.”

TRW NYC Profile: Payal Kadakia

The Refined Woman Profiles

Written by Kitty Williams for The Refined Woman

“I really wanted to share the roots of Indian culture,” she says, “and I wanted to do it through dance.”

“The energy of New York will always be a feeling of lightning,” says Payal Kadakia. Various areas of New York City serve as constant reminders to her of fond memories like past offices, performances, and achievements.

Kadakia is the founder and artistic director of the Sa Dance Company as well as the founder and executive chairman of ClassPass.

ClassPass is a fitness membership app through which users can sign up to attend a wide variety of fitness classes rather than be tied to a single class and therefore a single activity.

With ClassPass, users can take a barre class one day and a water aerobics class on another. They are given the freedom to try activities, to fail at some, and to fall in love with new ones they may have never discovered had they made a commitment to do the same activity every week.

Kadakia takes great pride in the growth she has experienced through using ClassPass. “It teaches you a lesson that’s greater than you being able to do that class,” she says. “It’s being able to triumph over things.”

She measures success by setting goals and accomplishing those goals. One major goal of hers is to have a positive influence in the lives of others. She has accomplished that goal through ClassPass in a major way. “We’re close to 40 million reservations, and the reason I think about reservations is because that’s time. That’s 40 million hours of people’s lives that we’ve had our hand in,” says Kadakia.

ClassPass’s vision statement, “every life fully lived,” is a reflection of how intentional Kadakia is when it comes to spending time. She created ClassPass with the intention of bringing people back to the moments when they feel truly happy.

“If you can spend [your time] doing things that are soul nurturing, that are inspiring, that are authentic and you are present in them,” says Kadakia, “the more hours of your life you can spend like that, the more fulfilled you’re going to be.”

For Kadakia, that means dancing. However, there was a time when she felt guilty for that passion. She felt as though people around her didn’t understand why she would make time for dance as she was growing a business.

The guilt brought on by this didn’t last too long, though. A friend came over as she was pondering the balance between dance and work, and they choreographed a dance together. “It helped me kind of break through it,” says Kadakia. “Dance helps fuel my creativity, not just in the dance studio, but also in the workplace. It’s because I’ve nurtured my passion for dance that I’ve had the sense of purpose, creative energy and drive to grow ClassPass into the thriving business it is today.”

She never wants to feel guilty for doing something she loves, and this idea – that everyone should feel empowered to take care of themselves and cultivate their passions – has become a core value at ClassPass. ClassPass hosts an annual employee talent show to celebrate employee passions, plus the company offers generous benefits like unlimited vacation, flexible work hours, and free ClassPass memberships in support of this core value.

Intentionally spending time doing what she loves is what brought her to create the Sa Dance Company as well. “I really wanted to share the roots of Indian culture,” she says, “and I wanted to do it through dance.”

Kadakia was born and raised in America but is drawn to her Indian roots. “Some of it is a longing of making sure I don’t forget it,” she says, but also “making sure the world doesn’t forget it.”

At the age of three, Kadakia was introduced to Indian dance. “We used to only dance in our basements because there was no platform for Indian dance,” she reflects.

Since then she’s become an accomplished dancer, as her list of New York performances has extended from flash mobs on the streets of the city to stages in Bryant Park and at Lincoln Center.

Kadakia has a history with New York and a future with Los Angeles, though she has homes in both cities. Los Angeles is where she gets to spend the most time with her husband and where she is building new things for ClassPass. New York feels like lightning to her, so what does Los Angeles feel like? “Sunshine,” says Kadakia with a big laugh.

Kadakia never focuses too far into the future because she recognizes that as human beings, we shift in our goals and aspirations. “I’m allowed to change,” she says, certain of the unknown. “I will never be one thing.” One thing remains certain, though: this life is fully lived.

TRW NYC Profile: Hilary Rushford

The Refined Woman Profiles

Written by Kitty Williams for The Refined Woman

“New York has a bustling creative energy. It brings people that have big dreams and deep passion,” she says. “You move here because you want something extraordinary.”

“I am a teacher and a ‘psychologist,’ though I have degrees in neither [field],” says Hilary Rushford, referring to her work as a stylist and business coach.

Guiding others on how to feel at peace in their wardrobes and grow their business was not her original plan.

Rushford was a performer, including with the Radio City Rockettes, before she decided to take a hiatus from auditioning. “I thought I was just starting a side job to replace all of the side jobs I hated,” she says of her start as a stylist. She began by teaching one-on-one but knew that what she was sharing would help many other women as well, so she started teaching online courses.

When she was three years into her business, one of her Instagram courses went viral. Keeping up with the growth took a toll on her wellbeing. “When you’re so deep into something, it’s hard to see all of the other effects of it,” says Rushford, reflecting on how this stress led to a total burnout.

She hit rock bottom but recognized what she needed to do: rest. For Rushford, this rest began with a plane ticket to Europe.

“I got on the plane thinking I was going for six weeks,” says Rushford. However, three weeks in she found herself reflecting on the trip. “I didn’t know what I was trying to accomplish, but I knew I wasn’t fifty percent of the way there so I just didn’t get back on the plane,” she says. She had been traveling, but exploring and experiencing new things left little time for rest and personal growth.

“Traveling itself is doing, and if you really want introspective time to heal and grow and learn… that’s different than traveling,” Rushford emphasizes. Her final weeks on sabbatical were spent focusing on healing, growing, and learning in the South of France.

“I ended up traveling for four months until I felt ready to come home and then I bought a ticket,” she says. Rushford recognizes that quick fixes are highly sought after, but they never give the results you need.

She is grateful for the burnout she experienced because it made her realize that adjustments needed to be made in her life. She returned to her dear Brooklyn feeling refreshed.

Having lived in Brooklyn for over a decade, Rushford has a sincere appreciation for this city. “New York has a bustling creative energy. It brings people that have big dreams and deep passion,” she says. “You move here because you want something extraordinary.”

Rushford herself has big dreams and deep passion. A defining New York moment for her was when she was talking on the phone with her mother after a final round of callbacks for Thoroughly Modern Milly on Broadway. She remembers thinking, “Even if I don’t get this role, I’m in the game. In the hardest business, in the hardest city, I’m in the mix.”

She also has sincere relationships with those in this city. “I know the names of my local flower guy and the guy who makes me avocado toast every morning at the café,” Rushford says with a smile.

On a more personal level, she treasures her relationships with her friends. She has a supportive community around her and knows that those friendships are something to prioritize. “I want to be the kind of friend who, if you got into a massive row with your boyfriend at midnight, you wouldn’t think, ‘she’s probably busy, I shouldn’t bother her’,” says Rushford.

There’s something electric she finds in the women drawn to New York. “The thing I appreciate most about them, whether they’re 23 or 51 is their incredible wisdom, earnest vulnerability, and ridiculous shenanigans that make me laugh,” Rushford says as a laugh escapes.

Another priority of hers is empowering women. “I really believe when a woman feels beautiful, she’s so much more powerful,” she says, “whether that’s in how she talks to her daughter or how she walks into a boardroom.”

Rushford was a powerful force even as a high school student. She remembers showing great leadership skills as an active member in the theater department. “It was an SNL cast of horrible theater teachers, yet that gave me a lot of opportunity to be a leader,” she reflects.

She continues to lead as her team grows. Rushford is now writing a book, is already thinking about the next book she will write, and is planning on creating a docu-series. Spending time traveling with loved ones and seeing loved ones is also on her agenda. “One of the reasons I started this business was I wanted to travel more,” says Rushford. “Whether that’s with my passport or to play Aunt Hil.”

As a dancer, she was always tied to the city in case she got an audition. Now, she is a thriving entrepreneur who has the freedom to travel, and who will still remember to stop for a dance break every once in a while on Instagram.


TRW NYC Profile: Lauren Legato

The Refined Woman Profiles

Written by Kitty Williams for The Refined Woman

“Something inside of me was turning at the same time,” she says, reflecting on this powerful moment in her life. “I remember all of my confusion and depression turning into hope.”

As the sun sets outside of a Williamsburg bakery, Lauren Legato sits down at a table, a synthesizer sitting in her bag next to her, and shares her heart. No stranger to this, Legato shares her heart often and in many forms.

Legato has a YouTube channel focused on beauty in which she shares makeup and style tips, but also discusses her life and faith. “I struggled to connect with girls growing up because I was surrounded by [my] brothers,” she says. This inspired her to connect with women through her channel.

On a separate YouTube channel, she shares her voice through song, singing covers as well as her own songs. Legato has videos of recent songs as well as videos that date back to 2012. “I look back now, and it’s inspiring because I can see in my eyes everything I was experiencing and why I was singing those songs,” she says.

Her music channel went through a hiatus during a particularly difficult season in her life: a breakup. During that time, Legato remembers sitting in Dumbo, Brooklyn for hours, watching the sun setting and the colors in the sky changing. “Something inside of me was turning at the same time,” she says, reflecting on this powerful moment in her life. “I remember all of my confusion and depression turning into hope.” From there she knew she wanted to share her music with the world.

Growing up with parents who are both pastors, she was taught to love herself and protect her heart, but she went through a massive rebellious phase that lasted her entire adolescence.

“I have a journal entry [that says] ‘I’ll deal with all of the pain I’m causing myself when I reach my twenties’,” says Legato. “That’s exactly what I did.”

Unhealthy relationship patterns threatened her physical, emotional, and mental health. She recalls her safety being threatened by someone she was dating.

“I remember collapsing to my bathroom floor praying to God that He would just change me,” she says. The rebellion ended, and she started on the road to healing.

Legato’s relationship with God evolved over those years. “I abused the freedom to choose what my relationship with God would be. I took his redeeming grace for granted.” says Legato. “I’ll never be perfect, but now I’m learning God’s sustaining grace.”

She is now in a happy and healthy relationship, but recognizes that her joy and self-love isn’t dependent on it. “I am able to love myself enough to be loved by someone else,” she says.

Another self-love journey has been with her body. “Where I’m headed now is to go to the gym, not because I hate my body and I want to change it, but because I love my body, and I want to take care of it,” says Legato.

Sharing these journeys with her followers through her YouTube channels has been transformative. “I’ve let them into my life and as a result they’ve let me into theirs,” she says.

She would go through all of the pain and struggles again because she knows it happened for a reason. “Accept your experiences for what they are, but become a better person because of them,” she says.

“I’m excited to bring authenticity and truth into people’s lives,” says Legato. “In the next year I want to release my first body of music,” she says, excited to share her story through music.

It grows darker as the sun on the other side of the café window is slowly setting, but Legato’s face lights up speaking about her future and her present. The sun may be setting, but this star is rising.


TRW NYC Profile: Chinae Alexander

The Refined Woman Profiles

Written by Kitty Williams for The Refined Woman

“I am one of those people now,” she says. “I have become the person that I wanted.”

The sidewalks of Williamsburg are busy with people, some walking in groups, some walking alone looking at their phones. Sitting at an outdoor table at a small café, Chinae Alexander tries to put to words the many things she does in her life.

Alexander is an entrepreneur, a speaker, and a social media personality with a focus on lifestyle and fitness. Her career aspirations have shifted over the years from fashion magazine editor, to event planner, to where she is now. Through all of these professions, there has been a consistent and powerful driving force: people.

“I remember sitting in a diner on 33rd and Lexington and writing down all the things I loved in my life,” says Alexander. She found that human connection was the common thread. Now, she interacts with women in meaningful ways, whether in person or on social media.

Alexander emphasizes, “It’s about finding what’s badass about you and bringing that to the surface.” She notes that it already exists within everyone; it just needs to be realized.

It’s not her goal to change people or show them how to be like her, but rather to show them that the life they want is possible, and they won’t be alone on the journey to making it a reality.

Alexander believes that, while people should make an effort to better themselves, they should also maintain self-love throughout that process. She has always been a confident person, and she wants to help others feel the same.

Her confident attitude isn’t limited to certain chapters of life. No matter where she has been in her life, either professionally, personally, or physically, she has always maintained confidence as her baseline; it is not circumstantial, and that is the key.

She also hopes to be an important presence in the lives of others by simply being there. “If I can make people believe that they are not alone in their thinking, their sorrow, their joy…” says Alexander, “whatever it is, if you can tell people they are not alone, there’s hope there.” Her social media presence is an open one that invites followers to feel as though they are friends.

When with other people, it is easy to fall into a trap of not taking enough care of herself. Alexander finds that it’s important for her to eat well, exercise, and focus on community.

Taking this time for herself to relax and reset can sometimes be attended by guilt, especially when she has to say no to certain things. “I have to be a good sane person to do any of it,” says Alexander. She is learning to be honest with herself and others when it comes to what she has the time and energy for. Remembering a specific moment when she was honest with someone, she says, “It was so freeing.”

Alexander speaks lovingly of her mother, noting that her mother always believes in her. “Every time I talk to her in my life she’s told me she’s proud of me,” says Alexander. Her mother has been supportive every step of the way, including when Alexander decided to move to New York City.

Her first introduction to New York City was watching Home Alone 2 as a child. “[Life in New York] is nothing like Home Alone 2,” says Alexander. She pauses for a moment, then adds, “besides pigeons being everywhere.” As she got older, her view of New York went on to be shaped by shows like Sex and the City where she heard of “this place called the West Village.”

When she was in high school, she had the opportunity to visit New York on a school trip. While most of her classmates were off mixing into crowds of tourists, Alexander went in search of the West Village with map in hand.

Seeking shelter from pouring rain, she found herself in a French café. She remembers hearing jazz music playing and seeing people sitting around with newspapers, coffee, and friends. “It felt like a movie,” she recalls.

She remembers thinking, “I have to live in this city, and I want to be one of those people.” Now, Alexander has been living in New York coming up on ten years. “I am one of those people now,” she says. “I have become the person that I wanted.”

Pondering whether she’ll stay in New York forever, she says, “I think for the first time, I’m living freely without a plan in that way.” She loves New York, but she wouldn’t be heartbroken to leave it or spend her time in both New York and California.

“My growth is daily leaning in to what the world has for me,” Alexander says. She is welcoming of changes that may come, but she knows the most effective growth comes only when she is consistently mindful of core values and old lessons learned while effecting that growth. Helping promote positive growth in others is a natural extension of her willingness to grow herself. Her common thread remains: people.


TRW NYC Profile: Molly Hartman

The Refined Woman Profiles

Written by Kitty Williams for The Refined Woman

“I needed to be brave and honest in ways that I didn’t necessarily want to be yet,” she says with a laugh, now that she has come through the other side.

Four stories above the Industry City streets of Brooklyn sits a small studio. One wall, from floor to ceiling, has shelves packed with boxes, vases, and jars of every imaginable size and style, and everything decorative. The summer evening light streams through the large windows to give life to the many flowers and plants that call this room home.

Lounging on a couch, a glass of Rosé in hand, Molly Hartman speaks fondly of the magic of New York City. “I never get over that moment of being in a cab with all of our flower boxes and going down 7th Avenue and zooming past tall buildings and small buildings and West Village and cobblestones,” she says. “You go through seven worlds in one 45-minute drive.”

Hartman is the founder and creative director of Brooklyn-based event design company Rye Workshop. Along with her team, she works on brand events, weddings, and other collaborations, bringing ideas to life in beautiful ways.

Living in a cramped New York City apartment has its downsides, and being an event designer who carts boxes of décor and flowers around a bustling city just adds to that. But it’s worth it to Hartman. “There’s a reason we make our lives so hard,” says Hartman. “It’s because we love this New York City life so much.”

For many, there is an epiphany in which they realize they have found what they love to do.  For Hartman it hasn’t been a single moment, but rather a constant feeling and reminder that she is doing what she loves.

Now seven years into this adventure, Hartman says they have achieved what she refers to as flow: “this great balance of where you’re feeling super challenged but also actively and productively learning and meeting your new needs.”

However, where success lives, challenges grow. This past year she focused on personal growth. Working in a creative field, she finds it is impossible to escape certain self-reflections.

Feeling insecure and placing blame on herself, Hartman realized she needed to make a change. “I needed to be brave and honest in ways that I didn’t necessarily want to be yet,” she says with a laugh, now that she has come through the other side.

Luckily she has a wonderful support system to help her through challenging times. “You need someone who, when you reveal those demons, will hold your hand and be like ‘you’re still a good human being,’” says Hartman, gesturing toward Wedding Design Director Julie Guinta across the room.

She expresses great appreciation for Guinta and everyone on her team. “It is never a one person thing,” says Hartman.

The most important thing for Hartman during this time was “letting go of the reins a bit more.”

As a creative director, Hartman finds her work can be constant if she allows it to be. “I can only achieve rest when I ask for help,” she says. Handing a project off to someone else is not always the preferred option, but she is beginning to recognize when it needs to be done.

She also credits her husband for being a great support system. He works in a completely different field as an engineer, but they manage to give each other “space to grow.” They’ve been together since she was just sixteen years old, and their marriage has been built on kindness and celebration.

After college, she began working in television and production in D.C. She was always drawn to projects that gave her the opportunity to work with her hands.

Even as a child, she showed signs of becoming someone who would one day work in a creative field. “I was a kid who ran away all the time,” she recalls. “I would run away from home and make homes somewhere else.” From the age of three, she could be found designing spaces for herself, using anything from a picnic bench to a rhododendron bush as her house structure. “My poor mother,” she laughs. “My poor, poor mother.”

Looking forward, Hartman sees the Rye Workshop continuing to operate as a small team as they begin to make their way into the interior design scene. She also hopes to set aside the time and space to have art shows and showcases celebrating their passion projects.

Though she’d enjoy having a chicken coop upstate, Hartman remains in the gentle grip of New York City. So here she stays in her fourth floor studio: a place of beauty that can sometimes get messy in the service of making beautiful things happen.