Breastfeeding is a very special time for a mom and her baby. However, the whole process and logistics of breastfeeding can be challenging for new moms when they have to go out of the house. More so when they return to work and pump in the office.
Holli Harris, designer and founder of HadleyStilwell (www.hadleystilwell.com), understands this challenge. Through her mom-focused clothing line, she makes elegant, classic clothing for breastfeeding, pumping, and beyond that are designed to give women an easy, coordinating, effortless wardrobe appropriate for the boardroom or the playground.
Can you describe your business?
HadleyStillwell is about clothes for breastfeeding and pumping women that help them look and feel beautiful at a time in their life when they are going through immense change. It can make all the difference in confidence and therefore continuing to breastfeed. While our clothes are geared to working moms, they are clothes that anyone would want to wear and are designed to be appropriate for the boardroom or the playground with a quick change of accessories.What inspired you to start your business? What need did you see in the marketplace?
Like many mothers before me, I returned to work after maternity leave shouldering new time constraints, competing priorities, and a large dose of sleep deprivation. I ducked out of meetings to pump; pumped in parking garages; and arrived at business dinners carrying the telltale black bag. I quickly understood why a joint study by the National Women’s Health Resource Center and Medela breast pump company found that 32 percent of mothers in the U.S. stop breastfeeding 7 weeks after returning to work.
Caught in a constant quest for increased efficiency during work hours, I hit on the fact that in addition to the logistical challenge of pumping in cars and planes while in business attire, I was wasting precious minutes several times each day by having to undress just to use my pump.
What I needed was pump-friendly, work appropriate attire. I envisioned clothes that women want to wear, whether they are nursing or not; classic clothes that provide luxury, comfort and durability, but also have that hidden twist that gives women quick access for pumping or nursing with very low skin exposure.
HadleyStilwell gives women that wardrobe.
What was your biggest challenge in starting the business?
I came into this with no experience in the fashion industry. I had to seek outside expertise quickly, and was acutely aware that I didn’t even know what I didn’t know. I had to learn and incredible amount in an incredibly short time, even without the network of resources, manufacturers, and support that I’ve worked to build over the last few years.
The other huge challenge is that I completely underestimated how much continuous effort it takes to get word out about HadleyStilwell to drive steady business. I had no idea, and it’s absolutely critical to keep it up.
How did you finance your business?
HadleyStilwell has been self-financed with my personal savings.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far in terms of entrepreneurship?
You can’t do it all yourself. At the very least, you have to have an excellent virtual team. Without that, it’s nearly impossible to move your business forward. I just don’t have enough hours in the day to keep all the balls in the air by myself. I have to seek support, but a very limited budget means that I have to make careful decisions about where to spend the money. There’s no room for mistakes – I have to spend my money on just the right support.
What do you find most exciting about being an entrepreneur?
It’s an unchartered adventure! Being open to amazing opportunities and the way they unfold is so exciting and energizing.
How are you balancing your family life with your business?
Most of the time, sleep is what gets sacrificed! I prioritize carving out time to be a mom to my young daughter and most days I will go back to work after our bedtime routine.
Do you work at an office or from home? What are the positives and negatives of this arrangement?
I work from home. Some of the positives are reduced overhead costs; I can fluidly jump back and forth between mom-mode and work-mode; and my inventory is easily accessible for convenient packing and shipping. Some of the negatives are limited space; and I have no technical help desk for me to rely on.
Where do you see your business 5 years from now?
I see HadleyStilwell continuing to evolve into a valuable international brand with multiple partnerships around the specific needs of breastfeeding women. I want to empower women at every level, not only through the HadleyStilwell designs but also by the choices I make about running my business as a social enterprise that actively supports working women through our business practices.
What advice can you give other entrepreneurs?
Being a small business owner is a true test of believing in yourself and in your product or service on a daily basis. I go through this every time I make a large fabric purchase or put a new design out there. A lot of mothers start businesses for the flexibility. But that doesn’t mean fewer hours – on the contrary. So I’d say that if you aren’t 100% passionate about your idea, wait for another idea to surface. It’s the passion (and really the fun) that will keep you going in the wee hours of the night when everyone else has been tucked into bed for hours!
I can’t resist one more piece of advice: If you support other entrepreneurs, it will come back to you in spades. I have met such wonderful people along the way and we all help each other get the word out about our businesses.