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Have you ever heard someone say that their grand idea came to them in a dream? That’s exactly what happened to Margie K.P. Fudge. Before the pregnancy dream that helped her find her way to becoming a self published children’s book author (her book, Being Nice is Magical, came out in May 2018), Margie was “a college dropout just working full time, mostly in retail, and trying to be a person.” “I wrote an immense amount of poetry and I’d give a reading here or there when the courage stuck me,” she remembers. “I’d work on pieces of novels or screenplays, but I never finished them. I’d get too tired or busy--or, admittedly, when I was younger, I’d just stop and go hang out with friends or something. I was just kind of going through life completely confused and living very day-to-day.”
To Margie, being a mother and being a business owner are intricately connected. “The idea of being an entrepreneur was always in the back of my mind for as long as I can remember,” she says. “I’ve always had this drive to build something of my own that I could eventually leave as a legacy, but I never knew how to go about it or figured I didn’t have what it took to do it. Once I became pregnant with my son, however, the idea of being a business owner moved at lightning speed from the back of my mind to the forefront. There wasn’t an option anymore. Once I delivered him, I had to go back to work full-time at only 6 weeks postpartum. It destroyed me. I was battling postpartum depression, my baby wasn’t sleeping through the night yet, so I’d come to work on a half hour of sleep, perform really badly at my job as a result, and they were constantly threatening to fire me. I’d cry all of the time because each day, I was missing out on precious time with my firstborn child to make money for a company that was constantly reminding me that I was replaceable. Quitting to stay home with him wasn’t an option, either. Finally, I reached my breaking point and decided to not only write the book, but grow it so largely that the book, as well as my name as an author, has its own brand. I want many more children, and I was (and still am) determined to never, ever be in that position again, so this was truly a do-or-die situation. I only get one life. I’m not going to limit what I want to do in this life because I have to go to work for someone else when there are ways around it.”
Her son, Titus Love, is two and a half but her journey to publishing began when she was only five week pregnant. “I had a super vibrant pregnant lady dream (yessss, you know the kind that I’m talking about!) about writing a children’s book about a little boy who does nice things out of the goodness of his heart and eventually turned into a wizard,” she explains. “Even his name, Claude, came to me in the dream. When I woke up the next morning, it was go time. Literally.” Though the idea may have come to her in her sleep, she still had a long road ahead of her to bring that dream into reality. “While the dream I had was the thing that lit the fire in me and gave me most of the ideas, it didn’t give me all of the details,” Margie says. “I decided to specifically make this book diverse because as the mother of a Black child, I realized that diverse books are dire. While children’s books are getting much better with diversity in the past few years, they have a long way to go, and I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted my son and others just like him to be able to open a book and think, ‘Hey, This kid looks like me!’ and find happiness there. With my partner being a Black father, I have witnessed first hand a lot of the discredit and disrespect he’s gotten--even just the looks he gets when he’s out with our son. It’s hurtful. I could really go on an entire social rant here, but I’ll leave it at this: fathers in general, and Black fathers especially, deserve a lot more credit, love, and recognition than they’re currently getting.”
In addition to creating a diverse character, her book is also aimed at kids on the autism spectrum. “The context of the text doesn’t change at all--just the presentation of the text,” Margie explains. “I’ve learned so much about autism in children during my time spent pursuing a clinical psych degree, and the reality of it is: many children on the spectrum can understand the same exact things that any other child can--they just need different tools sometimes. I had learned about the visual literacy technique that I used in Being Nice is Magical in school, and after researching it much more extensively, decided to apply to my book. It was honestly fun deciding which text styles and new colors to use for the emphatic words.”
Bringing her book to life was a long undertaking. “Initially, I spent weeks researching the entire process,” she shares. “As most entrepreneurs can probably attest to, you can read all of the articles you want about how business goes, but until you truly dive in with full faith in what you’re doing, you can’t truly know how it’s going to go. The one thing I will say, though, is that the more you get into the field, the more people you surround yourself with who are doing similar things, before you know it, you’re kind of just taking all the necessary steps without having to research it just from being around it so much.” After she spent time researching and learning, the real work began. “Well, first, I had to sit down and write the manuscript, that was the best part,” Margie begins. “I had written a lot of adult-reading-level novels and short stories before, so the first draft read like that. I didn’t intend for it to. It just came out that way out of mindless habit. It was actually hilarious because I gave it to my partner, Titus, to read and he was like, ‘isn’t this supposed to be a children’s book?’ and I was like ‘Oh. Yeah. Whoops!’ So, I had to go back and rewrite it in the way a seven year old would be able to understand. I had to employ our niece who was 6 at the time by asking her ‘what would you say in this situation?’ and things like that. Then came the reading, re-reading 800 times, and editing. I knew what I was writing was good stuff, but re-reading it is like hearing yourself speak on a recording. I’d cringe in that odd fear and self-loathing every time just because I could hear myself speak through my manuscript--if that makes sense. It helped to hand it off to everyone I knew and have them give me feedback, though. Most of the feedback was very useful and nice and that helped me get over that silly feeling. Had I not passed the manuscript around, I don’t know that I’d have ever got over that. After I knew the manuscript was totally solid, I found an illustrator. Titus had recommended an artist that he knew already from being a part of the art and music scene in Detroit--Sade Robinson. She had previously had her art on display at the Baltimore Gallery, so needless to say, she was legit and on top of that, I loved her work. Ironically enough, a few weeks later, I was at a dinner event in Detroit for the musician Jaye Prime where Sade was seated across from us at the table. I introduced myself, told her about my manuscript and asked her if she would illustrate the book. She was immediately about it. A few days later, she drew up a contract and she was ready to go. I told her what I needed the illustrations showing, what needed to correspond with each page, etc. I gave her descriptions of what I needed, but she had a lot of complete reign on creativity, and trusting her judgement on it took the book further than I ever dreamed of. After lots of questions and patience on both ends, in a little less than a year, we had a complete and illustrated book. After that, the hard part truly began, and I, in no way, was prepared for it. Self-publishing has lots of very particular sizing guidelines (that I was previously unaware of) and Titus and I stayed up many, many nights trying to get the page sizes right. Getting the website up and running was equally as tedious of a process. Initial investment costs were expensive. Many days, it felt like it wasn’t going to work out. Marketing was difficult with no printed book produced yet, it was hard making ends meet with bills and now book expenses. I cried a lot. I began grinding my teeth at night. My diet suffered because I’d literally come home late from my day job, get my son to bed, and because I didn’t want to waste any time (or simply out of exhaustion and stress), I’d just eat frozen pizza or eat Taco Bell for the fifth time in a week. I was breaking out a lot more. I was angry a lot just as a result of anxiety. That part was dreadful. But within a month and a half, we got it worked out, and a lot actually came together in it’s own time. Finally, the book was ready for printing and distribution. But I’ll tell you--that was the longest month and a half of my entire life to date. You know that face that all the new moms have in the photo when they’re holding their new baby right after delivering? After everything was said and done, it all felt like that face. Exhausted, proud, in love, terrified, and certain somehow, all rolled into one.”
If you think writing and self publishing a book sounds daunting, imagine doing it while also trying to spend quality time with your family, going to school, and working a full time job. “I’m in the stage where the balance is very small and very scheduled,” Margie says. “It’s a wild understatement to say that it’s incredibly difficult to juggle still having a day job, finishing up my degree, being a mother, and being a person, too. In the morning, a lot of times I have to be at work before my son even wakes up. Some days, I do get to wake him up and get him breakfast and so on, but with that comes the vehement ‘NO GO TO WORK, MAMA!’ protest. Any mom can relate when I say that part hurts me more than him. We have a lot of ‘I know mommy is working a lot, but mommy is working so hard right now so she can be home with you all the time very very soon’ discussions. I facetime with him, a lot of photos are sent back and forth, and when I come home in the evening, it’s just quality time with him and his dad before it’s his bedtime. If I get home really late, like 8 or 9 o clock, if my son isn’t already asleep, sometimes I keep him up a little later just to see him for a bit. I try to make every moment with him so special. Once he’s in bed, though, the work on all things book related begins and I repeat that same process all week long. I have to schedule entire days off of everything to keep sane, and it’s usually Sundays. Some Sundays we just lounge around and play all day, and others, we visit museums or the park or some other fun place--but no matter what, I always keep my time with my son as qualitative as possible. It’s never easy, but it’s getting easier. I’m beginning to see the fruits of my labor ripen. My biggest struggle? Patience. I can see that everything is growing in the right direction, but it’s hard to keep pushing through until it gets as large as I know it will be. People tell me that all of the waiting I’ve had to do for various things is supposed to teach me lessons in patience, but if I’m being honest--all it does is stress me out.”
Though Being Nice is Magical was born from a dream, Margie was a writer long before. “I’ve been writing since I’ve been eight years old,” she shares. “I even used to participate in all of the Young Authors events in grade school. My first ‘book’ was called Bug Mud. I illustrated it myself--it’s just these pieces of paper stapled together with Crayola marker pictures and my wobbly handwriting as the text. It’s silly. It was about bugs who were stuck in the mud. My mother had books on tops of books on top of BOOKS of poetry that would write and keep for herself and I probably internalized that somewhere. It sounds cliche, but I speak the truth when I say that writing has always been something that I’ve done just the same as tying shoes or washing my hands.” Before she delved into children’s books, she covered quite a few other genres. “When I began writing seriously, I started off creating transgressional fiction pieces,” she says. “I loved the idea of the main character finding new and crazy ways to try and change the cards they were dealt. Being insurgent is something that always engaged me, and to find an entire genre of literature that catered to that had me flying over the moon. I wrote a few unfinished novels and even some screenplays in that genre. Eventually, that evolved into a lot of horror writing. A lot of people have asked ‘how do you even think of horror pieces to write? Like, are you okay in the head?’ The answer is absolutely and even more so for writing horror. I’ve suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember, and writing about scary things that I know are fake and controlled by me, the writer, is a way of coping in a symbolic way. It keeps me grounded during the days that are extra anxious. My favorite piece? Probably the one that was published in Vine Leaves Literary Journal. It was a vignette about a demon escaping someone’s body in a very detailed, bloody fashion and then ended with the demon finally escaping, left to be walking the earth. It was so significant because I was battling postpartum depression at the time, and that’s how I envisioned it as I healed. It was painful, mentally gory work. It petrified me almost all of the time--but after really going through the ringer with it, it finally left me and I have been restored more than I ever knew I could be.”
As she comes out of 2018 with her first self published children’s book put out into the world, her future is bright. While Being Nice is Magical focused on niceness, she has plans to expand it into a series. “The second book is focusing on the magic of being patient,” Margie says. “After that, we’ll focus on being honest, having empathy, displaying manners, having integrity...the list goes on and on!” Putting out more books isn’t the only thing on her list of goals for the upcoming year. “Aside from getting another book or two and some merch out, I definitely want to be part of more author events and book expos,” she says. “I love interacting with my magical little readers and their parents and hearing all of their feedback. I love getting the chance to answer questions, or even ask my readers questions about what they enjoyed about the book, what they would like to see next. Overall, though, the end goal for 2019 is to be able to be completely full time with being an author and not have to have a day job anymore. And mark me on this--it’s going to happen.”
As she reaches towards that end goal of writing full time, there have been, and will be more, hard days. So what keeps her going? “It’s a combination of a lot of things,” she explains. “I try to listen to a lot of ultra-inspiring music. It’s been a lot of super motivational hip hop and cozy nostalgia music from the 90s that I grew up with. My partner, Titus, is also a huge driving force. He just listens, understands, and helps in any way that he can. He’s the most supportive person I’ve ever met. He works on all of the graphics you see on margiekpfudge.com or the flyers, and that man is tireless. He’s constantly pushing me to be my best self--the person he sees in his eyes. Even after all of these years together, it still feels like a new light to be seen in. It makes me feel giddy. He also cooks mean vegan food that soothes the tortured soul. He’s such a great dad, too, so when I’m working a lot, I know that our son is still being nurtured the way he needs to be when he’s with his dad. Finally, as the cornerstone of everything is my son. He wakes up asking to read mama’s book. He tells me he’s ‘going to the store to get mama’s book.’ My book is only in one store for now, but his little exclamations are enough to bring me to happy tears. He’s counting on me too much now to let him down, so quitting or giving up is never an option no matter how stressed I may get.
In all honesty, when it gets really bad, I just try to remember these good moments. I vent a lot. I allow myself to experience the anger that arises sometimes at the time and money constraints. I allow myself to feel all of the emotions. I do the ol’ drive-n-cry sometimes. It’s always best to acknowledge our emotions.” Though her little family is amazingly supportive, she also has dealt with those who aren’t so encouraging. “I run into this a lot,” she says. “Far more often than I could have ever imagined and from a lot of people I never thought I’d hear it from. It’s going to sound silly, but I’ve never been hurt by it. Only confused. In any regard, it only gives me fuel. For each person that doubts me, I turn up the push on what I’m doing by 200. I thrive off of proving people wrong.” Keeping those who doubt her to the back of her mind and focusing on those that show support is the key to not getting weighed down by negativity. “My overall mood has been that of gratitude,” she shares. “I never imagined my career as an author to be taking off the way that it is, and to each and every one of you reading this--I thank you for taking the time to do so. I thank every single person who has bought a copy of the book, attended one of my book events, enabled me to be a part of a book event, or even just gave my posts on social media a like or share. That is so invaluable to me, and this dream of mine that I’m literally giving my ALL to exhibit wouldn’t even be possible were it not for folks like you.”
So what advice does she have for other mothers looking to start something of their own? “Acknowledge that it will be time, money, and sanity being poured into it,” Margie says. “It will get hard. You’ll have days that you’d rather just give up because it may feel easier-but you must continue on. Take solace in knowing that there are others in your exact situation. It’s normal to lose sleep. It’s normal to lose friends. People get resentful sometimes--try to lift them up if you can, and don’t take their bitterness personal. It’s normal to lose faith in ourselves sometimes, but keep it at a minimum. Allow yourself to feel and express your feelings, but do so tactfully, quietly, and in sophistication. Emotional self expression can be done in these ways. When you run a business, even that one crazy tweet while you’re in your feelings can ruin your entire market. Do your best to think forward as much as possible and at all times. Above all, the outcome will outweigh all of this. Believe in it and it will be so.”
What does success mean to you?
“Success is certainly a multi-faceted concept and probably has different meanings for everyone, but to me, personally: I’ll know that I’ve become successful when I can continue to have children without worrying about going back to work for someone else and it doesn’t cause any financial strain. I don’t care about making millions or living lavishly--I just want to create enough successful books to be able to live comfortably. By that, I mean, I want to make enough for my children’s future, our retirement, getting a new house built, and enough to be able to go out and celebrate with a nice dinner when the hard work pays off. I want to generate enough income from my books and publishing house that I won’t ever have to worry about bills or groceries ever again.”
What’s on your business bucket list?
"-Acquiring my own book-printing machine
-Owning an actual building for my own publishing house
-Create 20+ books
-The New York Times Bestseller List.
-Also, having a drink with author Bunmi Laditan.”
Connect with Margie:
On the web
Sometimes our businesses don’t start out as businesses. They can be a slow burn born out of a need you wish to fill in your own life. They take on a life of their own and become something you never really imagined. Such is the story of Zoe Powell and The Mama Book.
The Mama Book, a special journal created to help mothers take time for themselves, was officially started just over a year ago. Zoe’s first round of preorders became available in July 2017, but the roots of The Mama Book run a little further back. “I have a degree in English Literature,” she begins, “which wasn’t so straightforward since my husband and I had our first daughter in the middle of my degree! I took a leave of absence for a year and continued where I had left off. A few weeks before the end of my degree our son was born, and that summer after graduation we moved down the county to Oxfordshire, so my husband could start his new job in London.” Unbeknownst to her, that move would set her on the path that would eventually lead her to creating The Mama Book.
“I vividly remember when I created the journal, going to find a blank notebook and filling it with page titles and prompts,” Zoe says. “It was something I really needed myself, after years of not giving myself enough breathing room to process motherhood and all its highs and lows. I really felt like my mind was becoming crowded and it was harder and harder to keep track of all the things, never mind contemplate the nature of motherhood. Initially I just felt compelled to make a physical space for myself to be able to write down all the things in my mind but I quickly realized that this was what I had needed to allow myself all along. Some breathing room, some intentional reflection and planning time, somewhere to focus on the joys and acknowledge challenges too.”
Creating that space for herself was the first step to getting where she is today. “I started slowly, because I knew from past experience that I am an ideas person, love new ideas but I needed to wait for all the puzzle pieces to fit together,” she explains. “I took it slow and steady, using my own handwritten version of the journal for a year before I started digitizing it, getting opinions from other mamas, and researching printing options. I had a clear idea of the kind of stock I wanted the cover to be made from and that was one of the hardest things, since I also wanted to try to keep it local and within the U.K.,avoiding outsourcing to other countries. I took part in the 100 day business goal challenge by The Business Bakery which helped me stay focused as I headed towards preorders and learned from articles and podcasts along the way, too.” That slow and steady mindset allowed her to really take her time and steer clear of the stress we often put ourselves under to get things done quicker. Her progress was “mostly done in odd evenings or nap times when my little ones were sleeping,” she says. “I tried to take away the pressure to rush for a certain date or anything, and instead focused on getting it tested by mamas from different backgrounds, different aged children and some who worked outside the home, inside, etc. Once I had the print file ready and I was happy that I had taken all the research into account, I was finally able to get a proof copy and start using the real life version!”
Her mission behind The Mama Book resonates with a lot of women. “So often in mothering we are reacting to situations, problems, or dealing with the myriad of everyday things that need to be done, feeding, playing, cleaning, tidying, feeding, washing,” Zoe says. “We can get lost in the smaller things and forget the bigger picture--to remember that it matters, it counts. We can also forget to see the joys in those mundane things, and forget to intentionally make time to do things that go above those quotidian occurrences. Writing it down is much more concrete and affects us in a different way than ideas we keep in our heads. I love having a written record of so many parts of each season to look back on.”
Her seasons have changed a lot over the years as she got her degree, started a business, and grew her family. She does all that she does while caring for her three kids. “We have a little girl, Phoebe, who is our oldest, a little boy, Simeon, and our youngest is Amelia,” she shares. “They each have different personalities but you can see that they are related! When The Mama Book website went live they were 5, 3, and 18 months but I had been using the journal in some form for about a year before that--when they were all underfoot and before my oldest had started at school.”
As anyone balancing motherhood with business knows, there are always challenges and problems to solve. “The hardest thing at the moment is mentally switching between the two,” she says. “On the whole I try to get things done when they are asleep or at nursery on my one day of childcare, but with the joys of smartphones it can be easy to find yourself stuck looking at something which could actually wait. I tend to lean towards spending time with them and the blog post or email I’m wanting to get to being pushed to the bottom of the pile--so content isn’t always as regular as I’d like but they will only ever be this young once!” One of the things that helps her is removing the temptation to do those other things. “I do try to keep apps off my phone,” Zoe says. “I deleted my email from it which has been so freeing and regularly log out of social media so that I’m not tempted to check in. Batching helps me a lot when I have enough time or brainpower to be able to do a lot of similar tasks at the same time. I do try to explain to them what I’m doing and include them though--Phoebe was gleeful when she watched the video I made explaining The Mama Book, and I have a precious memory of Simeon helping me to package up preorders.”
Another obstacle that she has overcome in her quest of balancing a family and a business is the dreaded and relatable imposter syndrome. “Honestly, I’m probably the one who doesn’t see it as a real job since imposter syndrome can be so hard,” she shares. “I’m the worst at fumbling over my words when people ask what I do, or if I work! My friends and family have all been supportive of The Mama Book, but I could be better at asking for what I need!” As so many of us can attest, those feelings can present themselves even outside of running a small business. “Feeling like I can’t do everything perfectly is something I find challenging in all areas of life,” Zoe says. “I’ve had to realize I can’t be a perfect mother, and housewife, and personal assistant, and writer, and business owner 100% of the time. Different things and people need more and less attention at different times so now I’m trying to aim for balance overall than perfect balance of each thing each day. We have to give ourselves grace and do the right things with those around us in mind.”
The Mama Book has evolved so much since Zoe first began. “It has been so fun to see the community grow and to send journals to all kinds of places,” she says. “We have started interviews on the blog to get to know some mamas better and to learn from each other which I love. With maternal mental health awareness week we started #mamatakesfive to encourage mothers to take five minutes each day for some breathing room and I’m hoping that will continue to grow. We are starting to venture into being stocked in real life shops and so I’m excited to see what will happen over the next year or so. One of my favourite things is getting to donate a portion from each journal sale to PANDAs and support mothers with mental illnesses that way, too.”
Despite her business being young she has done so much already for mothers with her work. We all deserve that time to do something that we enjoy--whether that is journaling, being part of a community, or even starting a business. Zoe leaves us with a bit of advice that everyone, regardless of what season you’re in, can take to heart-- “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, you are human and you need to rest and breathe as much as anyone else. These are the good old days--look up and see them!”
Connect with Zoe:
On the web
If you want to see the profound effects that women (and mothers) supporting and encouraging each other can have, look no further than Erin Giordano. Erin had thoughts of starting of her own business but hadn’t yet taken the plunge until one day she saw another mother maker hosting a collaboration contest. The contest, run by Nicole Sloan of Drawings by Nicole, was looking for submissions for new designs that she would help turn into enamel pins. “My husband and I had talked a LOT about me starting a business from home making the enamel pins,” Erin shares. “But I am quite pessimistic, I kept telling myself it was just wishful thinking. So when Nicole posted about her collaboration contest, I figured I didn’t have anything to lose. And if I won an opportunity to work with her, it would give me a little more insight into what it would take for me to start on my own. I was really encouraged by the support I received and I told myself it was now or never!”
Not only did Erin go on to win that collaboration In January 2018, it also proved to be the tipping point that officially led her to entrepreneurship. One of the things that had been holding her back was not having the right tools, but that first pin with Nicole changed all that. “I didn’t have the necessary equipment needed to start designing,” Erin explains. “For those who don’t remember or didn’t see, my design idea that I sent to Nicole was a pen/colored pencil drawing that I scanned using my mom’s computer and emailed to her. With the money I made from the sales of our pin collaboration, I was able to buy a used iPad Pro.” The other hold up she had, that I’m sure most all of us can relate to at some point, is that pesky little feeling of self doubt. “I really had to talk myself out of a negative mindset,” she says. “I tell myself ‘it’ll never work’ too often. This was one of those times that I had to push through my self-doubt.” The fact that it was joint effort to put her first design into the world gave her a bit of pause, but afterwards she decided to keep it going and start her own shop. “I was thinking ‘what if the only reason I did ok with sales is because of being associated with a bigger shop? What if the only reason they turned out so well is because I had a second person working with me on it?,’” she says. “But I dove in anyways. And so far it’s working out pretty ok!”
Prior to having children of her own, Erin got her Associates Degree in Child Development and worked as a preschool teacher for two years. “From there, I decided to try out the medical field,” she says. “I was a pharmacy technician for seven years, which is funny because I am quite ‘crunchy.’ I worked in a pharmacy full-time until I was 38 weeks pregnant with our first baby, my son Jones, and then we decided that being a stay at home mom was the best choice for our family.”
As we all know, starting a business from home with our kids is never easy (though perhaps her background as a preschool teacher gives her an edge!). Not only is Erin running her business with two children, she is doing it as a mom of two under two. “My son, Jones, is 20 months old and my daughter, Pearl, is 7 months,” she says. “They definitely keep me on my toes but I love being a mom so much. Being a mama is just as wonderful (and exhausting!) as they said it would be.”
While working with any age of children is hard, working with two babies comes with unique challenges since they can’t do anything alone. “The biggest struggle is that both of my kids are so young and need their mom SO often for SO many different reasons,” Erin explains. “My son, being an inquisitive toddler, wants to play with the pins and play with the printer and play with my packing supplies and unravel the tape dispenser. My daughter pretty much wants to nurse and be held 24/7, like most 7 month olds do. So yeah, still trying to find the best way to balance! With designing and talking to manufacturers and packing orders, right now I’m just trying to get as much done while my husband is home, while also spending enough time with him, and when the babies are asleep.” Another challenge with very young kids, she says, is that “toddlers and babies don’t understand that you just need a few minutes to get some work done. And I’m trying to find the most efficient way to pack orders. Most of the time, I pack them with Pearl in the carrier on my back and when my husband is home to play with Jones.”
One of the greatest things about social media is the connections you can make with people you may have otherwise never known existed. This is one of Erin’s favorite parts of starting her business. “With pins being so popular right now, I’ve found and gotten to talk to so many artists over the last couple months!,” she says. “Everyone is so nice and so encouraging. And it’s been awesome connecting with so many other moms running businesses.”
She may have just started her business but Erin has big plans for its future. “My goal is to really just see how far I can take this and take it to its limit, whatever that means,” she says. “My goal three months ago was to maybe do shirts one day, and now I’ve almost sold out of two designs. So now my current goal is to have a few shirt designs in rotation by the end of the year, while still adding new pins to my shop!”
As many of us know, sometimes a general lack of support can come from those around us who don’t share our vision but we can sometimes also be our own worst enemy. “So far, I haven’t had to deal with much negativity besides my own,” Erin shares. “But sometimes I’ll talk to people about what I’m doing and they seem to see this as more of a hobby, rather than a business. I’m pouring my heart into this, along with a lot of my free time. Which as other moms know, I don’t have much of. I am determined to make this work and to prove to people, and especially myself, that I CAN be successful.”
So what is Erin’s advice for other mothers looking to join the entrepreneurial ranks? “I feel like I’m still trying to figure all this out,” she says. “Surround yourself with people who cheer you on, find other moms who you can reach out to for encouragement and advice. And definitely don’t get discouraged on the bad days.”
“The encouragement I’ve gotten and the friends I’ve made is what helps me to keep going and keep putting myself out there,” says Erin. Never be afraid to reach out to someone and tell them you love what they’re doing— a little support can go a long way!
Connect with Erin:
Thank you so much for reading!
Yours in business + motherhood,
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?
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?
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:
Thank you so much for reading!
Yours in business and motherhood,
Tabi Falcone of Annabelle Beet Designs is a woman who wears many hats. From her day job as a technical apparel designer, to her creative small business, to being a biological and foster mother--her days and her heart are full.
By day her occupation as a technical apparel designer keeps her busy. “The easiest way to describe my occupation is that I write the blueprints for clothes,” she explains. “I work directly with the creative design team and turn their vision into specifications (the measurements of the garments, construction, etc) and then work with the vendors to turn it into an actual garment that can be sold in stores. The biggest thing (and what makes this a very specialized field) is I am in charge of the fit of the garment. If you buy a pair of pants that fit really well, you have a technical designer to thank! My education is in Fashion Design, and I sewed professionally for years at a bridal shop as well as freelance corsetry. This past month I was also promoted to senior technical design so I have responsibility over a large popular brand and have three people reporting to me--no pressure or anything!”
Her degree even led to the beginning of her new small business, which she started in November 2017. “I have a background in painting through my college education and I’ve been consistently painting with my kids for years,” she says. “I started experimenting with watercolors about a year and a half ago and have absolutely fallen in love with them. I started off with the food pun paintings as an extension of a separate business I briefly stepped into with a partner. This business (reusable bags) was short lived and I learned that for my creative side I work best on my own for the core part of my business. After a small break I was feeling that ‘small biz’ tug again and decided to just put aside my fears and jump in to selling the part of that previous business that did the best - my paintings.” Her decision to start selling her paintings is likely relatable to many handmade artists—“Honestly I made more paintings of food puns than my husband wanted hung in our house!,” she says. “He told me to either start selling or stop making, and stopping making was definitely not an option. I knew I would have limited time/energy as a full time working ‘mom of many’ and wouldn’t be able to do enough craft shows to satisfy me, so I decided to list my shop on Etsy.”
The third element of Tabi’s story is her family. “My kids were (and still are) 5 and 7 when I started my small business,” she says. “To them the only thing that has really changed is that every once in a while I pop out of the house for the day to sell at a craft show. We have always been an artistic family and paint a lot together, and I do a lot of my business painting after hours as well. My kids are still young so they have a 7:30 and 8:00 bedtime which gives me two hours free every night before it’s time for me to go to bed. Liam is 7 (and a half he reminds me) and is a cyclone of energy. The only time he stops moving is when he’s reading; we have read-a-thons every night before bed as our cuddle time. Going to the library is one of his favorite rewards and he will sit and read easily for 2 hours straight. When he’s not reading he’s building forts or literally running around in circles. Maxwell is 5, and is a precocious little one with a surprising vocabulary. Some of his favorite words are ‘consequence’ and ‘difficult,’ which always surprises newcomers to the house.”
In addition to her two biological children, Tabi and her husband are also foster parents. “It’s an extremely detailed, invasive and long process,” says Tabi. “We were required to take a long class (30 hours) to learn trauma based parenting, invasive questions (including about our sex life - no lie), our friends/family were interviewed, our home was studied 4 times, we needed a fire inspection, medical reports on all members of the family living in the home, comprehensive background checks, income information, details on how much money we spend monthly on our bills, CPR certification and honestly probably more that I’m not remembering. Between my work schedule (I travel internationally twice a year and to NYC in between), the two birth children we already have, and my husbands school schedule it took us a total of 10 months to receive our license.” That long process to become foster parents was well worth it. “The actual day to day of fostering is the most rewarding and heartbreaking thing we have done as parents,” she says. “We’ve said goodbye to children we parented for over 5 months knowing that we may never see them again, and we are preparing to say goodbye to a baby we have had for almost half of her life. We’ve seen our children grow in empathy and we have celebrated and grieved with them. At the end of the day, it is something that has become ingrained in the fabric of our family, as much as it can suck sometimes.”
With everything Tabi and her family has going on, finding time to devote to her growing business has been a bit of a struggle. “Finding time for everything that I need to do, and accepting that I can’t do everything that I want to do has been the biggest challenge,” she says. “I use a day planner and that has helped me a LOT, when I can remember to keep up with it. It has a page a day so I can break it down to realistic time slots of what I can actually get done in a day.”
That limited time hasn’t stopped her from getting her art out into the world and accomplishing her business goals (which is fitting as she says one of her favorite pieces is “purple to yellow ombre with the saying ‘slay your own dragons’ on it!”). She already has a couple craft shows under her belt and even though her fair days didn’t get off to a great start she didn’t let that get to her for long. “That [first] show actually did not go well and I left very discouraged,” she recalls. “It was a smaller show which had not been done before and it ended up POURING all day. I made about $10 more than what I paid for the slot and was questioning my dedication afterwards. I just did my second show, though, which was a larger show with beautiful weather and I ended up making four times my vendor fee and had an AMAZING response from the community. There will be some collaborations coming out of connections I made and I’m feeling really positive about the direction my shop is going in.”
One of her goals for the year was to have her art in two local shops. It’s only June and she is already well on her way to surpassing that. She recently got her first wholesale order from a local business owner and has her art displayed in a local gallery. “The gallery came about organically when my husband and I were on a date night at our local gallery hop,” she explains. “I talked to the woman working at the gallery for our local DADA (Downtown Arts District Association) and mentioned I was interested in joining. I showed her some pictures of my work and it turned out they had some spots opening up! Within three weeks I was setting up my space there! With the shop I had been following them since they opened this year and based on their IG I felt my art would be a really good fit. They happened to be around the corner from a space I was attending a ‘Creatives and Cupcakes’ event at so I swung by to say hi and introduce myself. We set up a meeting and I frantically threw together a wholesale linesheet the day before to try to look professional. It apparently worked because the owner loved it and put in an order on the spot! It’s so amazing to know that my work’s in an actual store. Somehow it makes it so much more real than selling on Etsy. I feel like it took me to a different level and it actually inspired me to create my own website! I took a quick break while I was travelling internationally for my day job, but now that I’m back I’m going to start reaching out to more retailers and try to expand my reach.” In addition that those goals that she is already smashing, her business future has one more major one in it. “My full blown bucket list is to open a gallery/studio space that is part art gallery/shop and part adult/children’s art studio,” she says. “Similar to the ‘wine and paint’ studios but with splatter painting and REALLY messy types of art like that.”
A lot of small business owners have a hard time finding support from those around them who may not understand what goes into starting and running your own business. Tabi is one of the lucky people to not have this problem. “This part is awesome,” she says. “I surround myself with really supportive people. My husband is absolutely my biggest supporter--he built my displays and helps me find time to focus on my art; as well as puts up me turning our dining room into my studio. I have a very tight knit group of friends, many of whom are makers as well and have side hustles; we all build each other up constantly.”
With all that she has going on, Tabi isn’t slowing down and has some sage advice for other mothers looking to do the same. “DON’T GIVE UP,” she stresses. “Seriously, do not give up on yourself. Change the plan, change the path, change the process, but never change the goal. You absolutely can do it, even if it’s not in the way you originally envisioned. Find your tribe and lean on them. I could not be doing what I’m doing without having my friends and family to build me back up and be my sounding board when things aren’t doing what I want them to do.”
Connect with Tabi:
On the web
Thank you so much for reading along!
Yours in business + motherhood,