Mompreneurs turn their kids’ needs into a business plan
By Felicia D. Pinkney
Nia Umoja wanted African-inspired clothes for her young daughter. Nicole Burfield needed something that would keep socks on her infant daughter’s feet. Vesta Garcia looked stateside for a baby sling like the ones sold in Europe.
The answer, each of these North Texas moms found, was to do it themselves. Like many other women, they’ve drawn inspiration from their jobs as mothers to create their own businesses, becoming “mompreneurs.”
The mompreneur movement isn’t new – Sheryl Leach of Allen, Texas, became one more than 20 years ago, when she developed Barney. Now, the purple dinosaur is a multimillion-dollar entertainment dynasty. But you never know who’s going to hit it big next.
Here’s a look at six moms who’ve turned their children’s needs into a business plan.
MEET THE MOMPRENEURS
Nicole Burfield, 32, McKinney, Texas
Mother of: a 10-month old girl
Product: Baby Socks Appeal, an adjustable fabric-and-Velcro anklet that keeps infants from kicking off their socks.
How long in business: Since July
How the idea was born: Cute socks and cold feet got the wheels spinning in Burfield’s head.
“A friend of mine bought some really cute fuzzy socks for my baby when she was about 2 months old,” Burfield says. “But they would always come off. It was just wasting my time having to look for [the socks] or to keep putting them back on,” Burfield says.
“After a while I felt bad because her feet were always like ice. But I knew I had to figure out something.”
So – after a lot of trial and error – Burfield created Baby Socks Appeal and laid the groundwork for her business.
“I gave away a bunch at first, along with a questionnaire, to get some feedback,” she says. “Nine times out of 10 it was said to be a great idea [and] product.”
Her best customer? Her own daughter: “She takes naps in them, she plays in them … she walks around in them, and her socks stay on.”
Eventually, Burfield says she’d love to have Baby Socks Appeal mass-produced and sold in stores. For now though, she makes them at home and sells them on her Web site.
Vesta Garcia, 35, McKinney, Texas
Mother of: a 5-year-old daughter
Product: Organic-cotton baby carriers and diaper bags, which are sold directly to stores through her company, Ellaroo
How long in business: Since 2002
How the idea was born: Garcia preferred a certain kind of baby sling – a wrap, kind of like a kangaroo pouch – when her daughter was born. However, they were only being made and sold in Europe, she says.
“I wanted one, but I wanted to get it from an American company,” Garcia says. Since there wasn’t a U.S. company selling the carriers, “I kinda fell into importing them myself and then manufacturing them myself,” she says.
Garcia sold directly to consumers online for four years. But once she realized there was a bigger need in wholesale and manufacturing, she sold the retail division to a woman in Richardson.
Ellaroo, named for her daughter, was a green company before it became trendy, with most products made with organic cotton. Her company also certifies that employees making the items are in good working environments and that they are paid living wages.
Sondra Jenkins, 46, Frisco, Texas
Mother of: two boys, ages 7 and 12
Product: Stuffed Jerseys, throw pillows made out of old football or soccer jerseys, cheerleader uniforms or favorite T-shirts.
How long in business: Since the summer
How the idea was born: The first pillows evolved from a routine cleaning of her sons’ closet, when Jenkins came across some old sweat shirts the boys had outgrown.
“They had sports emblems on them,” she says. “My boys have always had sports-themed bedrooms, but instead of buying throw pillows for the beds, I thought I’d make throw pillows out of [the sweat shirts.]”
The boys loved them, she says. They were soft and the perfect size – 14 inches by 14 inches – for sleepovers and long car trips, Jenkins says.
“I’ve always said that a [shirt] – whether it’s a fraternity, sorority, college or high-school shirt – brings back memories. … You look at it and say, ‘Oh, I used to wear that, or I got that when.'”
And if it has their child’s name on it, most parents don’t want to part with it, she says. So Jenkins casually mentioned her idea to a mom friend.
“She showed up at my son’s next baseball game and wanted me to take her son’s jersey,” she says.
When Jenkins delivered the finished product to her friend at a later game, “all the other moms oohed and ahhed – even the umpire wanted pillows,” she says.
Eventually, Jenkins says she’d like to see Stuffed Jerseys grow into a full-time business with hired help and a storefront. For now, she’ll continue to make the pillows at home.
Christie Rein, 36, Highland Village, Texas (near Flower Mound)
Mother of: one girl and two boys; ages 15, 12 and 3
Products: Diapees & Wipees, a designer-look bag that holds a travel pack of wipes and two or more diapers; coordinating chenille blankets called Cuddly Wuddlees.
How long in business: Diapees & Wipees launched in June 2005; Cuddly Wuddlees were introduced last September.
How the idea was born: A new purse was the catalyst for Diapees & Wipees. Rein says she grew tired of using freezer-size Ziploc bags to hold diapers and wipes for her baby.
“One day while switching handbags, I told my husband, ‘I am NOT putting this [Ziploc bag] into my new handbag. I’m coming up with a bag to hold diapers and wipes.'”
For about two weeks, she researched the market, finding no such product. After a trip to a fabric store, Rein and her husband, Marcus, developed the first Diapees & Wipees prototype.
“We stapled it,” she says, “because we don’t sew.”
Within two weeks, Rein says, she had a manufacturer in Dallas. After appearing at a trade show in Orlando, Diapees & Wipees was picked up in 30 stores nationwide. Hollywood moms, including Jennifer Garner, Tori Spelling and Holly Robinson Peete, helped spread the word.
The demand for coordinating items led to the Cuddly Wuddlees blanket.
Now, Rein says, her products are carried in 1,500 boutiques worldwide. And last year, Rein developed the Diaper Me Darling, a cheaper version of Diapees & Wipees that is available in select stores, including the Grapevine SuperTarget. It is expected to roll out to 300 other Targets this month, she says.
Jennifer Spencer, 34, North Richland Hills, Texas
Mother of: a girl and a boy, ages 6 and 3
Product: The Take-Along Tether, which keeps bottles, sippy cups and toys from being tossed on the floor. Made of fabric and elastic, it can also tether child to parent.
How long in business: Since 2005
How the idea was born: Like most parents, Spencer was repeatedly picking up bottles, teethers and toys after her kids tossed them from the car seat, stroller or high chair. She tried other products, including button-close tethers and Velcro tethers, and they didn’t work for her.
So she went to a crafts store, bought supplies, blew the dust of her sewing machine and got to work at home, she says. By her fourth design, Spencer says she began using it.
“I had so many parents stop me in restaurants wanting to buy mine off me. I decided that maybe I needed to make it available to parents who were just as frustrated.”
At one time, Spencer made the Take-Along Tethers in her dining room. Now, the invention is manufactured by a company in Fort Worth and sold in family-oriented boutiques nationwide, she says.
Nia Umoja, 29, Fort Worth, Texas
Mother of: one girl and three boys, ages 8, 6, 3 and 15 months
Products: The idaBaby collection, which are African-inspired clothes for kids; idaBaby gift shop sells organic and fair trade children’s clothes, shoes, toys and items from all over the world.
How long in business: Launched clothing line in 2006; store opened in September
How the idea was born: Umoja and her husband had attended a Kwanzaa event, where all the grown-ups were decked out in traditional African garb. Her daughter, she recalls, was dressed in pastel pink and lace, which was a total clash of cultures. Other children were dressed in a similar fashion, Umoja says.
Frustrated, she spent two years trying to find African-inspired things for kids.
“There wasn’t much to offer,” Umoja says. “Most of it was really traditional stuff that children couldn’t wear every day. Or it was poorly made.”
So Umoja created the idaBaby collection, which she named for her daughter, Aida.
“It is personally inspired,” she says, “but it can still be worn everyday. It looks like western wear but with African fabrics. I made the clothing so that everybody, regardless of race, would love [it.]”
Umoja makes the idaBaby line by hand, and she uses all eco-friendly materials, such as organic cotton, hemp, hempsilk and plant-friendly dyes, she says.
Her collection sold well on the festival circuit, she says, but the constant travel wore her and her family out. So she opened the idaBaby store on Magnolia Avenue in Fort Worth.
“It’s a concept shop with my idaBaby label and other things that go with my vision of cultural diversity and international goodwill. I have fair trade products, eco-friendly toys, handmade shoes and things made from co-ops in Ghana, Haiti and Germany,” she says.