Becoming a “mompreneur" wasn't a top priority for me when I was working in corporate America in the 1990s; I'm not even sure the term had been coined yet.
It's amazing what a difference two babies and more than a decade of self-employment can make.
Just over a year after opening in March 2014, my fitness-oriented apparel company, Klara Kelly Designs, is doing a brisk business selling our flagship product, a made-in-the-U.S.A. headband scarf that comes in more than 25 solids and prints.
I design our headbands and other items, which we sell in high-end fitness studios and online via our eCommerce website. Life and business are good – even though my path to becoming a fashion-designing entrepreneur was neither linear nor part of my long-term plan.
After the first of our two children was born 14 years ago, I took an eight-week maternity leave, then headed back to my corporate job at a tech company, leaving the baby in the care of a nanny. That's when things started to shift for me, as I felt a pull toward baby and home.
While I didn't quit my job the next day, a layoff nearly a year and a half later, when our daughter was 18 months old, suddenly moved things along. I was distraught at first, but the change pushed me into a new lifestyle that ultimately — many years later — led to Klara Kelly Designs, which is based in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
Among other lessons, this is a story about how one change can lead to another, and how unexpected, even unwelcome twists can be serendipitous.
I'd missed being with the baby after my maternity leave ended, but the actual transition to stay-at-home mom after the layoff was difficult, because so much of my identity had been wrapped up in my job. I never thought I'd be at home with my kids full time, and it took me a couple of years to really settle into being a mom and not losing myself in it.
I started going to the gym every day and soon started teaching fitness classes, increasing my workload as my daughters grew older, and then set up my own fitness business.
The fitness industry allowed me to have something for myself, to keep my foot in the game and have responsibilities in addition to the girls — as well as some income. I needed another revenue stream, though, so I started selling items from the NUX clothing line from California in my fitness studio.
Before long, I started pitching design concepts to the clothing company, and it opened my eyes to a new idea: Maybe I'm a designer.
My interest in fashion design grew, so much so that I realized I wanted to focus my energies there more than on my fitness business. This was a couple of years ago, when I was 42; I knew there were creative things I wanted to do, even though my background included a psychology degree and work in corporate recruiting, not apparel design.
My husband and I took a big chunk of our savings to start my design business; he's always been very supportive of me and looked at it as an investment in my potential. We're already close to making back that investment.
My daughters are 11 and 14 now, and the older one helps in the business, using the Square app on her phone to accept credit card payments. I have a bookkeeper, a technical designer and a salesperson, in addition to myself, and I outsource manufacturing to a Massachusetts factory. All of our products are made in the U.S.A., which is very important to us.
A website has been important from the start for Klara Kelly — a family name I chose to honor my mother. It looks great, visually, for such a young company. That's the feedback we keep getting. When you land on our page, we want it to be obvious what we're selling, and we've achieved that.
With the help of our web designer we were able to take a template and customize it so it doesn't look like a template. The designer also makes updates to keep the design and content fresh.
We are now using Square to accept payments directly on our website, which has helped a lot, cutting our work in half and allowing us to streamline our financial reporting.
As for me, I no longer have my own fitness studio, as I'm focused on the design business, but I teach six indoor cycling classes a week. Moving from the day job to mompreneurship was tough at first, but now with a growing business and more time with the family it's really paying off.