I’m excited to kick off a series today that focuses on pretty awesome moms that have created their own businesses which focus on kid, baby and motherhood centric products. I feel like every day I’m learning about a new business started by a mom created to help other moms and I’m always so intrigued about the process.
Natalie was introduced to me by a friend — and lives in my area so I’m even more excited to highlight her! If you follow me on Instagram you may have noticed Piper wearing the softest pair of mint green PJs on repeat lately… well they are Softsie! I’ve never heard or seen anything like Softsie so I was really excited to try out the Footie PJs. The fabric is formulated with aloe, jojoba oil and Vitamin E and leave your babe’s skin super soft come morning. I will say that Piper has had rough, dry patches on her back pretty much her entire life and now they are gone. Not sure why — but probably a combination of these PJs and me applying lotion 2x a day!
And now… let’s chat with Natalie!
Tell us about Softsie and how you started!
Ever since I was a little girl, i’ve always imagined myself starting a business and/or bringing a product to market. In the last few years, I started to think more seriously about it. I’ve just been waiting for the right time and the right idea. I earned my Doctorate in Psychology and i’ve been working as a licensed Psychologist for five years. I went down to part time after having my daughter, Abby in March of 2014. As much as I love my job, I came to a point last year where I felt a bit drained of my mental and physical energy. I felt a lack of balance – like I was always giving, giving, giving, and not taking enough time for myself. Not only with routine things like working out, pampering myself, delegating household responsibilities, saying NO when it’s too much, etc. but professionally and creatively, I felt I was lacking the drive and passion I once had.
When my daughter was about 7 months old, she developed eczema behind her knees. It became so bad that she itched and rubbed it constantly, which soon turned to infected open sores. She was in so much discomfort for that whole Fall and Winter, with red blotchy patches behind her legs. With there being no cure and only so much you can do for eczema, I desperately wanted to find something that could help her. I knew there had to be more that I could do. One very sleep-deprived morning, as I was rubbing Aquaphor on her legs as she was fussing and rubbing it off, I thought – “I wish this stuff was just in your clothes!!” That day, I spent every hour she napped researching on the internet about infused children’s clothing and even called my cousin who is an attorney, to have him look into it as well. It only took a few days for me to realize that there was nothing like this on the market. So, I got to work.
I spent weeks conducting market research, cold calling manufacturers and fabric mills, consulting with experts, discussing my ideas with my family and close friends, and coming up with a very informal business plan. After many dead ends, I was able to finally find a manufacturer and fabric mill who was willing to work with me. In a little over a year, I was able to create the fabric and a prototype and test it on my daughter the following Winter. I had her in these Footies most nights all Winter long and she had no dry skin or eczema, NONE. I knew I had something great that all infants and toddlers needed and all parents would love. So I decided this was the idea I was waiting for and I went for it. I purchased my first big lot of fabric, created an LLC, a website, and had my soft launch on February 29th of this year! I really took my time and have created something that I believe, is of the utmost quality, safety, and functionality. Softsie is all about bring comfort, care, and joy to all families. The infused fabric is undeniably the softest you will ever feel – not to mention, it gently and safely nourishes all skin types, is made in the USA, and comes in cool/stylish colors and prints. I have so many ideas beyond the Footie, the next of which will be separates coming this Fall. My dream is that families all over the world will fall in love with Softsie so that I can continue on this amazing journey and turn this into a major brand!
What’s a typical day look like for you? How do you balance running a small business with being a Mom? Do you stay at home? Have childcare?
Right now, I am a Psychologist two days a week and the rest of the days i’m home with Abby. On the two days I go to work, Abby goes to school/day care outside of the home. On a typical day home with Abby, I have her on a pretty consistent routine which helps so much with starting a business! She’s up around 6:30am, breakfast at 7am, followed by a long walk around our neighborhood if it’s not raining! I try to go out every day with her in the morning after our walk, even if it’s just to Target or the mall on a rainy day or to the local park. I think it’s so important to get out and be around other people every day. We get back, play a little, have lunch, and then luckily for me, she takes a three hour nap in the afternoon. During that time, I am usually multitasking as all Moms do – doing laundry, cleaning, making dinner, getting lunches ready for the next day, working on Softsie (packing up orders, answering emails, marketing, etc.), and on a good day, putting my feet up to catch up on one of my favorite guilty pleasure TV shows, like the Real Housewives!
How do you stay organized?
I’m not one to gloat but I have to say this is one my strengths, for sure. My organizational skills, I get from my Mom. She is the epitome of an energizer bunny and has always been extremely organized and detail-oriented. A perfectionist you could say. I’ve always been uber neat and organized, just like her. With my school work, with my possessions, with my space, with my time…i’ve always just naturally been organized. Like my Mom, sometimes organized to a fault. With my desire to be so in order, sometimes I feel a lot of anxiety when things are not in order. Especially now as a Mom, disorder of course is inevitable a good deal of the time. It took me some time to adjust to that. I’m trying to strike a balance and let little things go that I wouldn’t naturally have in the past. What really helps me is to write things down. I love writing my to-dos on a calendar on my fridge and then crossing things off as I have completed them. I love keeping notes on my phone and adding to them. This really helps me to stay on top of everything. For Softsie, I’ve kept so many notes and word documents. Every idea I have, I write it down or add it to my business plan. That way it’s all there and never lost – because as busy Moms, we have so much swirling around in our minds, so much to do, that it’s so easy for ideas to effortlessly vanish.
What are your favorite baby/kid brands and places to shop?
I love Baby Gap and Old Navy for every day play and school clothes – those are my go-tos! There is a local boutique in Baltimore called Wee Chic and I love it there! I sometimes pick up a cute piece or two when I’m in that area. I’m also an avid Lilly Pulitzer fan and much of my daughter’s dressier pieces are Lilly (along with her whole bedroom and bathroom). Lately I’ve gotten more into Instagram and have discovered all of the cool shops on there and I plan to dress my next baby in some fresh new duds from shops like Childhoods, Mama Said Tees, Tink and Key, June and January, etc.!
How do you treat yourself, indulge, relax?
My family and friends always tell me that I don’t do this as much as I should. It’s just so hard to fit it in but I try! Especially now being six months pregnant with Baby number two, I know that I need to take advantage of my time before things REALLY get busy this Fall. Recently I started to feel more sluggish and decided to make it my mission to get out for brisk walks with Abby in the stroller at least 3-4 mornings a week. Since starting that routine, I’ve felt so much better! Occasionally I love to get a pedicure or a facial – which is heaven! Every night after our daughter goes to bed, my husband and I spend time talking about the day/week and watching one of our TV shows that we love. This is so relaxing and makes me feel good! I make sure that I’m in bed by 9:30, which I think is crucial to me having the mental and physical energy to balance everything the next day!
What’s the best piece of advice you can think of for a new Mom who works or is trying to start a business?
My advice, and I need to look at myself in the mirror when I say this, is to be comfortable with delegating. I am not a natural delegator. I think as Moms, we constantly feel pressure to do everything ourselves. We just want it done right, so we’ll just do it ourselves, right? And while we usually can manage that quite well, it’s not healthy and eventually catches up to us. Looking back on the last few years as a new Mom, I wish I would have learned to delegate better and more frequently. I do believe I would have been much healthier and happier, and it would have also given my husband more confidence in his Dad duties much sooner and would have allowed my daughter to establish stronger bonds with him and other family members early on – so that Abby wasn’t always Mom, Mom, Mom all of the time. I’m working on this every day and hope to be much better when number two arrives!
What are some of your favorite things?
In no particular order, I love: going for long walks with my husband and daughter, my daughter’s laugh and the way she smells, the Fall season, giving presents, running, kickboxing, manis/pedis, facials, candy, any white flower, and buying something on sale!
What’s next for Softsie?
My hard launch is set for June and I couldn’t be more excited! I’m planning to focus a lot on marketing this Summer, along with perfecting the new pieces of my collection (separates and a cool new print). My goal is to have Softsie take off this Fall and Winter, while still maintaining patience and an openness to learn more and more every day. I want Softsie to reach far and wide – to all parts of America, to pediatricians, to celebrities, and to countries all over the world. I don’t plan to give up until it does!
What are some of the challenges you have had with starting a product line?
I’ve had a lot of hurdles and triumphs thus far and I can honestly say i’ve loved it all. From my hurdles, i’ve learned so much about manufacturing, business, accounting, etc. And from the triumphs, i’ve gotten that extra push to keep going. There were many dead ends in the beginning – many unreturned phone calls and emails, some family members who told me I was crazy or that it would never work, and some bouts of miscommunication between myself and my initial manufacturer. And truthfully, it all just made me want to push through and work even harder, so that I could prove to everyone that I could really make this happen and that it would be something great!
I do think one of the biggest challenges I am facing right now is my costs. One of my biggest goals was to have my products 100% made in America. For quality purposes, for practicality purposes, and also because i’m proud of my country and want to help American workers sustain their jobs in the manufacturing industry. Along with these amazing aspirations comes a higher price. I have to pay more to have my products made and I also have to sell them for more in order to run a successful business. I know that not every Mom can afford my prices which is something I struggle with on a daily basis. I want Softsie to be something every family can afford. So far i’ve been able to get my retail costs down by $8.00 AND keep everything in America, which i’ve been told is a big accomplishment. Most American manufacturers have very little wiggle room. I’m open to moving overseas at some point, if I have to in order to succeed and advance my business, but i’m remaining hopeful that I can succeed here in America. I believe in Softsie so much and know that my price is fair and that my products are actually worth even more. I’m hoping that customers will give them a try and see the value for themselves – the quality, the safety, the softness, the skin nourishing factors, etc. These Footies have much more to offer than any other Footie on the market. Many parents, grandparents, pediatricians and bloggers have already caught on and i’m hopeful this will continue to spread over time!
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