Mother Run: Hannah McFaull + April Hobbs of ...And Out Come The Boobs

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    Have you ever felt like you’ve lost part, or all, of your identity after becoming a mother?  Your priorities have shifted and you no longer have time for those things that made you YOU. You’re tired, wishing you could feel like you did before, feeling guilty for wishing you felt differently, and on top of everything else--your regular clothes don’t fit because you just had a baby.  Well, Hannah McFaull and April Hobbs knew that feeling and they decided to do something about it.

    Hannah and April, whose husbands have been friends since high school, met four years ago when April’s husband took a job with Hannah’s and relocated from the UK.  The two became fast friends. They talked about their future business for 18 months before finally taking the plunge in September 2017 and began preparing for their launch.  Their company, ...And Out Come The Boobs, went live right around Thanksgiving of that same year and took off. This is their story.

What all did you do before going into business for yourself?

H: I had my daughter in March 2016, and before that was the Co-Director of a radical women’s rights nonprofit, specializing in communication and finances. I’d always worked in non-profits in the human rights field, both in the UK and the US. I didn’t earn enough to cover the cost of my childcare, so becoming a full-time parent was a no-brainer.

A- Prior to this I was a bartender for 10 years, most recently at Forbidden Island in Alameda - and I have been sewing for 13 years before that, both for recreation and for a specialty western riding apparel company.

What made you want to take the plunge into entrepreneurship?

H: I’ve always been surrounded by strong women who have made things happen and being punks, the concept of DIY (Doing It Yourself) has always been central to the way I’ve tried to live my life. My husband started his own company in 2004, and is now one of the world’s biggest vinyl record manufacturers. His passion for his work, his drive and ambition inspires me every day.

...And Out Come The Boobs started as a conversation between friends - me complaining about the nursing clothes on the market, and April telling me that she would be happy to alter some of my clothes to turn them into nursing clothes. And we figured if I was feeling this way, then there must be others who were also unhappy. Turns out we were right!

A- I’ve always wanted to have my own company, sewing, punk and upcycling are right up my alley - and because I felt breastfeeding in public was such a pain in the ass, mostly because I am shy, I wanted to make clothes that I would feel comfortable nursing in. Something I felt cool wearing, but also could comfortably breastfeed in public in.

When you first went into business, did you dive right in and work things out as you went or were you more a researcher and planner?  What parts of running a business did you both struggle with at the beginning?

H: I think we are still at the beginning! We’re definitely working it all out as we go along - refining our business model and our approach to our work. We come across things all the time that we know we need to develop, and have to spend time thinking and talking things through. One thing I think we are good at is learning from our mistakes and giving ourselves a break when we mess up! We know that there’s no handbook for this and we’re trying to be kind to ourselves, and allow ourselves to grow as we gain more knowledge.

I’m definitely a planner and organizer, I’m never happier than when I’ve got a to-do list to work from. It definitely helps me keep all the plates spinning as a parent, as a partner and as a business owner.

A- Luckily I partnered up with Hannah who likes to plan! On the manufacturing side, customizing the shirts requires cutting into the design of the shirts and consideration of how to preserve the integrity of the T-shirt design, while still providing a totally comfortable nursing shirt. Each shirt takes some time to figure out which of our nursing designs fits best.

When we were starting out we made some prototypes and got them out to nursing parents to give us feedback on placement of the zippers, how long they should be etc. We are refining our process constantly through the reviews and feedback we get from our customers.

Your idea is so great, I know I personally didn’t buy nursing specific clothing because I just didn’t like what was available so I made what I already had work.  What personally led you to decide to begin making your products?

H: I hated the nursing clothing I had (I hated the maternity clothing too, but that’s an interview for another day!). It either made me feel like I was swamped by material, or that my boobs were always on show. I also struggled with breastfeeding at first, put on a load of weight, and felt like I was losing grip on who I was before I got pregnant. I have this really vivid memory of crying while trying to nurse my daughter, and looking at this enormous box of band t-shirts that I’d lovingly collected over years of going to shows, and wishing that I could just throw one of them one, fit into my pre-pregnancy jeans and leave the house with my bright pink hair spiked. I couldn’t do any of those things! I happened to mention to April how unhappy I was, and she offered to alter some of my clothes for me.

A- I just wanted to wear my clothes and I couldn’t!

Feeling like you’ve lost your identity after having a baby is a very common issue among women.  Something as simple as having clothing options available that make you feel like yourself can go a long way in helping women feel better.  How does it feel knowing that your product can really help new mothers in this way?

H: It’s honestly the driving force behind why we’re doing this. Becoming a parent is one of the most transformative things you can experience in life, and I personally wasn’t expecting to miss my pre-baby self as much as I did. For me, the expression of self through choices of clothing, hair color etc is such an important part of who I am and all got put on hold when I got pregnant - nothing fit, couldn’t bleach my hair, couldn’t get any new tattoos. So after the birth of my daughter I needed to claw that back as quickly as I could to prevent me feeling like I was drifting even further from myself.

A-  This is exactly why we do this. Breastfeeding is hard and when we’re on the go, we want to be able to feed our babies comfortably anywhere we are and feel like ourselves while we are doing it.

How do you balance your work with motherhood?  What struggles have you overcome while trying to find a balance between the two?

H: one of the reasons I love working with April, and with other parents, is that our kids come first. Always. No ifs, ands or buts. So if one of the kids is sick, or teething, or just being a nightmare, we totally get it and there’s no judgment or need for explanation. We took 3 weeks off in February this year so I could give birth to my son and April could move house, and we could have lost momentum, or found other distractions, but we really missed each other and came back to AOCTB more fired up with bigger plans than ever before!

A: You know that saying, ‘you sleep when they sleep’? Well, I sew when she sleeps. When my kids are around, I focus all my attention on them, it makes it so that sewing comes second, it's hard trying to find a balance between my children, work and sleep.

You ladies are the first Mother Run Interview team! How does working with a partner compare balance/scheduling/working wise compared to if you worked alone?  Do you think you face different obstacles working with two schedules or do you think it makes it easier to not have to do everything single handedly?

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H: I don’t think we could do this single handedly - I personally can’t operate a sewing machine, so our division of responsibilities completely plays to our individual strengths and skills. I think this is what makes our partnership work so well, is that we understand what our roles are. I love working with April - not only do I get to hang out with my friend but she has such great ideas and is such a positive person. We definitely keep each other going, keep each other motivated. I think it took us a while to get into our groove and find the best way to work together (and we’re still making it better all the time!), but as long as we are open and honest with each other about what we need, or what we have going on, then we can only hope to make our relationship stronger!

A- Working with a partner that does the stuff I don’t like to do (like computers and the facebook) is the best. She keeps the orders going/moving while I can just worry about  production.

Tell me a little about your kids, how old were they when you began your business journey?

H: My daughter Rosie is 2 and my son Joe is 10 weeks old. I tend to wear Joe in a carrier when I work but Rosie wants to help with everything, so she has a babysitter who comes to play a few times a week so I can get things done. We have a pack and play at the AOCTB workspace, an endless supply of goldfish crackers and have hosted a few toddler dance parties while we get orders finished off!

A: My youngest is 14 months old and she was 9 months old when we started our journey. My oldest is 21 and my son is 18. My oldest daughter has a 2 1\2 year old who is amazing! Grandma’s little rebel. My son is a bass player and a singer for a punk band in San Diego. They are my everything and driving force….(no one believes I’m a Grandma, but it’s true).

As small business owners, it can often be hard to see ourselves as entrepreneurs or to receive support in what we are doing.  Have you dealt with people doubting your ability to run a business or telling you it’s not a “real” job? If so, how do you handle it?

H: I think because our business is so new, we haven’t really seen ourselves as business owners yet, or had to describe ourselves that way very often. We did our first event a few weeks ago, and I think the more of those we do, the more real it will feel. We’ve definitely had conversations where people have had questions about our plans and have walked away impressed when we’ve answered all their questions and ‘proved’ that we know what we’re doing.

A: I have dealt with a little doubting, but that pushes me more. That’s just the way I’m wired. I really never thought about entrepreneurship, I just really wanted to improve our selection of nursing clothes.

Anything on your business goals bucket list?

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H: The name ...And Out Come The Boobs comes from the Rancid album ...And Out Come The Wolves, and the album art work is what our logo is a parody of. I’d love to get a photo of Lars from Rancid wearing one of our shirts! Aside from that I’d like to get a handle on Pinterest - I know it’s a hugely underused way of getting information out there and its on my to-do list for 2018.

A: Absolutely what Hannah said. My goal was to to go international and we’ve done that, so I guess I have to dream bigger. I would love to be able to have an employee or two. Hiring other moms is the best - no one manages their time more efficiently than a working mom!

Any favorite business or creative resources you love?  Favorite inspiring books, films, podcasts, blogs, speakers?

H: I find business inspiration in loads of small-business owning parents that we’ve connected with on Instagram - their honesty, passion and dedication takes my breath away and I strive to be as genuine about their challenges and achievements as they are.

A: The thing that inspires me are all the personal stories I’ve heard of women who were shamed and criticized while trying to breastfeed in public. I felt that with my older children and my youngest at times. I get inspired to normalize breastfeeding through their struggles as well as mine.

Any advice for other business owning moms?

H: Be real about your achievements and your goals. We all want to make enough money to put our kids through college, but not all of us are going to do that with our Etsy stores. Decide what your motivation is for running your business and remind yourself of it regularly.

And have a ‘get up and dance’ song, that makes you get off your ass and get things done. Motherhood and tiredness go hand in hand, so if you have a song that makes you wiggle, gives you energy and makes you smile, keep it on heavy rotation on your playlists...

A: Always put your family first.
 

Connect with Hannah + April:

On Etsy

On Instagram

On Facebook

 

Thank you so much for reading!

Yours in business and motherhood,

Brittany

 

Mother Run: Karen Liebner of Finding Your Momtra

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    Karen Liebner always knew what she wanted to be when she grew up.  “I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was five years old,” she remembers.  “I always played school at home and loved being at school during the day. I’ve taught in Philly, Hawaii, pre-school to graduate school.  I love engaging people in learning and figuring out what their learning style is.” Her calling to teach has recently led her down a new and exciting path toward entrepreneurship.  “I love teaching but every time I’ve started a new teaching position, after the initial excitement, I’d suddenly start to feel in my gut that it just wasn’t right,” she explains. “I kept pursuing degrees and certifications trying to find my niche.  I spent 10 years bouncing around in education. As a side note, I’ve always been into mindfulness, meditation, the law of attraction, etc. Once I became a mom I started to rely on my intuition and inner voice more than ever. When I went back to work when my son was eight weeks old I was miserable but I also really didn’t feel as though I wanted to be a stay at home mom (also, we couldn’t financially handle that).  After some soul searching, I just kept hearing the word ‘teach’ in my heart and couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to teach. In the months following my son’s birth, several of my friends were giving birth. I found myself being someone that they reached out to for support often. Suddenly, I realized that ‘teach’ meant I should be teaching (I use that term somewhat loosely here) moms about caring for themselves and showing up as their best selves for their families.”

    That message of ‘teach’ morphed into her new venture, Finding Your Momtra.  “This realization just hit me like a ton of bricks one day,” she says. “I was having a serious internal struggle-- trying to justify wanting more satisfaction in my career, wanting more freedom in my day to spend with my son, but also knowing that financially (and mentally) I needed to work.  I always felt called to teach but then I’d have a visceral reaction to having to report to a school every day and adhere to the bureaucracy that is education today. It just didn’t feel right. Suddenly, I had a major ah-ha moment, all of my experiences started linking together in my mind. I truly saw this picture coming together of people and classes and experiences and I realized that I never could’ve done this prior to becoming a mom so really it had all been building up to this.”

    The idea of Finding Your Momtra is that every person's Momtra is different.  Karen’s goal is to help mothers really see themselves, which can look different to each of us.  She describes what it means to her by saying “I’m still finding myself as a mom and I think that that is an evolution that continues through every season of motherhood.  You don’t just ‘arrive’ at the destination because you gave birth. Your baby changes, you change, the world changes and you adapt. Our mindset has so much, if not everything, to do with how we respond to this constant evolution.  I wanted to create a place where I could share my growth and provide support and resources to inspire other moms to share their stories and grow with me.”

    Finding Your Momtra began as a website and blog.  It was an entirely new type of work for Karen who just dove into learning everything she needed to bring it to life.  “All of it was very new to me since I have zero technology background or marketing expertise,” she says. “But my head was bursting with thoughts that I had to put out there before I even got my website to look as presentable as I’d like (that’s still a work in progress).  I’m researching and planning as I go. I’ve made some mistakes like signing up for services too quickly and then realizing it’s not the right one for me/my business. Thank god for free trials! For example, I started with one email service and quickly realized it was too complicated for me.  I thought that ‘complicated’ meant I’d be able to tinker around with every single detail until it looked professional. But instead it came through that I had no idea what I was doing. Since I’m still at the ‘beginning’ my struggle has been deciding what to focus on. Do I work on making my site more presentable today or do I build content?  I just sat down and wrote a plan for for the entire month of April [note: this interview was completed in March] and today I’m creating most of that content so when the day comes I can click submit, serve my audience, and have some free time to play around with website formatting, etc.”

    She soon realized that a website was not all she was meant to do and began work on a podcast in addition to the Finding Your Momtra blog.  “A podcast was definitely not the plan,” she explains. “I definitely thought I’d hide behind a keyboard and send out my words after carefully crafting and reading and rereading them.  Anyone who knows me knows that I love to talk and I do consider myself a good storyteller. I was working on building my site and was listening to other podcasts about launching a business and it just dawned on me that I’d be much more natural at sharing my thoughts that way instead.  I have to say, if you listen to Episode 1 I probably sound a little stiff, but I’m getting more comfortable with each recording!” Starting a podcast with no tech background was another challenge she overcame to bring her vision to life. “I, again, had absolutely no idea what I was/am doing,” she says.  “RSS feeds? Royalty free intro music? A foreign language. But I’m learning and I’m finding it really fun to learn as I go. I’ve made mistakes, signed up for services I probably didn’t need, etc, but those are the normal growing pains of diving into something completely new.”

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    Starting a new business and mixing that with motherhood always comes with a few challenges.  “My biggest challenge has been fear at this point,” Karen shares. “I’m finishing the year as a school administrator and then setting out as a business owner to see what happens.  I’m a very driven person and one of the things that got me through my doctoral program was thinking of how I could tell my future children that I persevered through that challenge.  So I should say that part of the inspiration for taking this leap is my son. But also my fear that it will put us in a difficult spot financially is also tough. Thankfully, I have the support of my husband and we have other options if I need to take on other work.  I guess the answer to how I overcome this challenge is sort of metacognitive--I’m sharing my thoughts on meditation and mindfulness with other moms while at the exact same time incorporating this practice into my own journey of parenthood in order to overcome my own hangups.  My podcast and blog have always been about this full circle.”

    Another challenge she has encountered since the birth of her son in May 2017, has been “asking for and admitting I need help,” she says.  “I had a strange compulsion to make sure that my husband’s life stayed as pre-baby normal as possible. I thought that he’d think I was superwoman and could just do all of this without my mascara running.  And a few months into that charade I realized that that was insane and none of us were benefiting from it. Also, he chose to be a parent too so I feel like he also put some thought into how his life would change.  Once I started asking for help and being unapologetic about needing time for me, it was tangible how different I felt and how much more manageable and enjoyable life became.”

    We all have things that help us get through those tough and challenging times--both in the case of motherhood and running a business.  “Staying sane on challenging days is the point of my entire business, you know?,” says Karen. “Recognizing that is and will almost always be challenging in some way but also remembering that I have power over how this all feels for me is very liberating.  I can change my vibration in an instant if I decide to. My current ‘momtra’ in launching my business, blog, and podcast is to remind myself ‘to be of service.’ One of our big concerns in starting a family was that this world seems to be losing its collective mind.  BUT when you dive into this community of mindful parenting, etc. you realize, thank god, that there is a huge movement and shift going on of this new generation of parents who seem to be also raising their children to just be good people. We wanted to be a part of this movement in our home but then it dawned on me what a bigger impact we could make on the world if moms had a place where they felt supported in doing the same.  This helps me remember that all the work I’m putting in is in service to a much bigger picture, it reminds me that it is totally worth it.”

    One thing a lot of entrepreneurs have in common when they get started is that they often deal with doubt from those around them.  Those who don’t share their vision may not be able to see the value in what is being done and may inadvertently, and sometimes even purposefully, make comments that are unsupportive.  “This is something I think about constantly,” reveals Karen. “Not only is this not a ‘real job,’ I also don’t have a ‘real product’ in some people’s eyes. I’m pretty guarded with who in my family knows I’m doing this at this point.  The thing I remind myself is that they are not my target audience and so I don’t really need their approval. I actually got in a little bit of an argument with my dad about what exactly I’m doing and I ended it by saying, ‘You’re not my target audience, so I don’t need you to understand it.’  That’s been a sufficient answer for now. Thankfully, I have a ton of support both from people I know (especially fellow moms) as well as the virtual community that I’ve grown into.”

    Having a year of motherhood and a few months of business under her belt, she leaves us with a bit of advice.  “You are you and that is your power,” she shares. “One of the biggest things that held me back from initially hitting ‘publish’ on my first blog was that I felt like my message was overdone, like there were too many others wanting to do the same thing.  But I’ve learned that there’s room for all of us. We don’t all have the same vibe, or exactly the same message, and we definitely don’t have the same goals. Some moms are going to resonate with me and click ‘subscribe,’ others won’t find me interesting or appealing and that’s perfectly fine.  I can’t be that for everyone nor would I want to be. My hope is that we can all find support and leaders who fire us up and get us vibrating on a higher level. That’s what it’s all about in the end.”

 

Connect with Karen:

On Instagram

On the web

Finding Your Momtra Podcast on iTunes

 

Thanks so much for reading!

Yours in business and motherhood,

Brittany