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About a week and a half ago on a beautiful Friday afternoon at Tiny’s No. 5, I had the pleasure of meeting our featured November Mommy Chick, Esther Freedman, for the first time. I have been following and admiring her adorable kids clothing line, Cuteheads, and blog, the cuteness, from afar for a while now, so I was thrilled to have the opportunity to finally meet this inspiring lady in person. During our interview, I loved hearing her passion and candidness about all things business and babies. With every response, it’s obvious why she’s on to great things as a business owner and as a mom.
May I introduce you to our November Mommy Chick, Esther!
N: Thank you so much for meeting with me, Esther. I am so excited to have you as our November Mommy Chick! For our readers at Baby Chick who don’t follow you or know you just yet, tell me a little bit about your business.
E: Well I’ve been doing Cuteheads since 2011 — officially launched in 2012, but I quit my job and got started in 2011. It took me a good 9 months to launch. Before that I was a PR manager at an online retailer; I have a background in marketing. I knew that that part of building a business was not going to be hard — not easy — but that part was going to be easier for me to be able to grow my business. And I always knew I would be my own boss because I come from an entrepreneurial family. I also always knew that I was going to work and have kids. Like you, I wanted to do something where I could be home with my kids that gave me flexibility but was still mine. I didn’t want to go to an office everyday. I wanted to work for myself. Cuteheads was born from that.
Another thing, I always loved clothing and design. It was something that me and my mom shared together and it is a passion of mine. I was never interested in adult clothing though. The previous job I had was a really fun job, but it was a really challenging job because it was a hard product to sell. We were constantly trying to figure out how we were going to spin this and make that exciting. I knew that children’s clothing was something that could sell itself if you marketed it correctly.
You still have to build a brand. Some people think that is easy, but branding is a very challenging thing. People make a lot of money doing it. That’s how Cuteheads was born because of that desire to have that “balance”. I say in quotes because balance doesn’t really exist, but I wanted to have the best of both worlds as best as I could.
N: You have to tell me how you came up with the name Cuteheads for your brand? Tell me the story!
E: It’s really quite simple actually. We used to call our dog “cutehead” — our cutehead — and one day we were sitting on the floor in the kitchen playing with the dogs (pre-kids), we were still living in a little townhouse, and I thought to myself, “Cuteheads… that’s a really cute name for a business. I wonder if that’s already something. I don’t even know what it is.” I looked online to see if the name was taken and I bought the URL before I even knew what it was going to be. And I just said, “This is going to be my business name. I don’t know what it’s going to be yet, but this is going to be it.” It was an a-ha moment.
You can’t force it. The name just has to come to you.
N: If you were to describe yourself in three words what would they be?
E: Oh my gosh. How I would describe myself and how my husband would describe myself are two different answers. haha! I would say driven, passionate, and probably fun. I think I try to have fun with everything that I’m doing and I try to not take anything too seriously. Because at the end of the day, my family is the most important thing. Even when I’m having a really bad business day, I can step back from it and say, “But look what I have.” Even if I don’t have my business, I have my kids and my husband and that is enough.
As for my husband, he would say that I… I don’t know if there is a nice way to say controlling… haha! But in the best way possible. I’m a very ‘type A’ type of person. And so is he. When people want to get things done they give them to me for better or worse. I don’t want to be the person in charge of every shower. I don’t want to be on every committee. Sometimes you just have to say no. Actually, three years ago my New Year’s resolution was to start saying no. It’s out of necessity when you have kids because you just can’t be out every night; you can’t be out late all the time. I just don’t want to. But he would also say those other nice things. So Type A, driven and wanting to succeed.
N: Well obviously you have been doing that. People have been loving everything what you have been doing with your business and with the community.
E: Thank you! It’s like I told my best friend who is pursuing acting — it’s not the person who is the best at acting or the most talented, it’s the person that keeps doing it every single day. Because one year in you wonder what you have gotten yourself into, but then you wake up 5 years later and say, “okay, maybe I have built something.” Now it doesn’t feel so stressful. Because now you know that there will be ups and downs and every day is different, which is what you want because that is why you are doing this.
N: What inspired you and motivated you to make Cuteheads this cute children’s clothing line that it is today?
E: It’s kind of a boring answer. The marketing person in me wanted to know what was going to sell. So I starting talking to people and doing market research and showing samples to moms. And I would sketch things out, I would work with seamstresses and have samples made. I would then show people and ask them, “Would you buy this?” Because at the end of the day, if it’s not going to sell then why are you doing it? I hate to say that the commerce outweighs the art, but you kind of have to make money doing it or there is no point.
It’s not a sexy answer at all it’s very boring, but the truth is it all came from what the market demanded or what the market asked for. And that’s how my business has morphed to what it is today because I just went in whatever direction the market took me.
Every time I release a new collection it shocks me at what sells the best. It’s never my favorite. It’s never my favorite dress or my favorite piece. It’s always something like yeah, that’s cute. But sometimes I do make pieces that will sell really well even though they aren’t my favorite thing.
N: Walk me through the whole conceptualization/ design process and how all that works behind the scenes.
E: So these days (over the last year) I’m usually inspired by one fabric or a flower or a color. Something will spark. I have a notebook where I write things down. Even a phrase. Last year I thought of the phrase ‘prep-eclectic’. I thought, “That’s cool. What is that?” So I just put together all these fabrics that were preppy and some eclectic. They all meshed together and they were all in a similar color family.
This past collection I found one fabric that I loved and the whole collection was inspired by that one fabric. And then I named it at the last minute. I didn’t even have a name for it. And then the name appeared to me and it worked. So there is kind of a rhyme to it. At this point I know what I like and I trust my instincts to go in that direction.
N: What is the most challenging part of your job?
E: Honestly, the most challenging part of my business is selling. I’m not good at sales. I don’t like it. I don’t enjoy it. It’ just not for me. I’ve gotten better at it over the years and I know how to do it now, but it’s still something that I’m not passionate about. I would much prefer to sit behind a computer and do the marketing and sell in that way.
I definitely have a lot of introverted qualities because I’m better one-on-one. If I’m in a big crowded space, I’m worn out. It doesn’t give me energy it sucks my energy. Even though I would call myself an extrovert in a lot of ways, I also think that this is much more my speed. A small group, a couple of people is great for me. So that part is challenging. And there is a lot of ups and downs. One month you are like, “Yes, we are on the right track!” And the next month you’re like I want to quit and, of course, I never do.
N: That is actually reassuring because as an entrepreneur myself I have those moments. I think to myself, “Am I crazy for doing all of this?”
E: You kind of are. I mean, I had a friend ask me the other day, “How are you doing all of this?” And I said, “I don’t know. Sometimes I really don’t know. You just power through. You just do it.”
I do some mentoring and consulting and the main thing that I tell people is that you have to have the discipline. That is probably the deal breaker in my opinion. To work for yourself, you have to have the discipline to sit down and work. You have to do the boring things that no one wants to do. You are the tax filer, the trash taker-outer, the order fulfillment person. Now I have people who work for me but when it was just me, filling the orders, doing the marketing, doing the PR, taking out the trash… It’s a lot. You just have to do it or you’ll never succeed. So when a 22 year old right out of college person says to me that they want to start a clothing business, my advice to them is to go get a job. And even if it’s a job you hate, get a job. Learn how to do a job you hate, learn how to do things you don’t want to do. Because if you don’t have that discipline you won’t make it.
N: How are you able to do it all with children and a business?
E: So with being 100% honest with you, the truth is I have a lot of help. Or else I think it would be impossible to do this without help. Both of my parents live here, my in-laws live here and I have a nanny full-time. And my two-year-old goes to school half the day every day.
So on the weekends, I will tell you, I get almost no work done even if I need to get it done. I’ll stay up late or get up really early in the morning to do work because during the day, no work gets done. Because with my kids around and the nanny isn’t there and my husband isn’t there, it’s not a priority. I can’t have my children see me addicted to my phone. I try to be as present as much as possible. It’s not possible all the time and I’m not the perfect mom. I don’t do everything right, my house isn’t always clean and I don’t cook dinner every night. I’m sitting in my office at 6pm when my husband comes home. But it works for us. You know what I mean? He is so supportive.
That’s the other thing. Cheryl Sandburg said this, “the best business decision she ever made was marrying her husband.” Because he was so supportive of her career. Having to justify her work all the time to her partner would have been impossible. And I have that partner. It’s the only way. If you’re at home battling everyday saying you should be doing this or you should be doing that, it would be impossible. You have to compartmentalize. At 6pm the nanny leaves and I shut if off and work is over. Again, you have to have the disciple to do that.
N: What was the transition like after you had your first daughter?
E: The first kid rocked my world. For someone who had a lot going on, a lot of freedom, someone who was very active doing things everyday and every night… It was difficult. It was a difficult transition. Now going from one to two was a piece of cake compared to that. Just because it wasn’t the mental shift. That’s what was so hard for me the first time. I realized, “Wait, I can’t just go and get a manicure? I can’t run and do my errands?” No, I have this blob that needs me that I created that no one else can take care of except me. It’s got to come with me to Walgreens right now.
It was very difficult for me the first time around. I got postpartum depression. It was a rough first few months with my first daughter. There were a lot of other factors too. I wasn’t taking care of myself, I wasn’t seeing people. I was just letting myself get deeper and deeper into it. And I didn’t realize that I had it. So when I went to my doctor and she was asking me all of these questions, she was like, “uhhh, check.”
N: Postpartum depression is more common than people realize. I’m really glad that you were able to receive the support and help that you needed. Thank you for sharing your story.
N: Tell me more about your blog, the cuteness!
E: I didn’t initially start blogging when I started Cuteheads. I knew that a blog was really good for SEO and I wanted to do that so I could have certain words and phrases to link back to my business. When I did start it I found that I really enjoyed it. I love writing and on my blog I talk about kids fashion, motherhood and owning your own business. It’s been fun. It’s connected me with so many different people. It’s allowed me to connect with lot of people too. Now I dress a lot of blogger kids. It’s gotten me connected to so many people that have kids. You’re already promoting and talking about kids clothes so it’s just a natural fit.
N: What is the number one thing that you want people to take away after visiting your site?
E: The main thing that I want people to feel about Cuteheads is that our clothes are not only for special occasions, they are meant for getting dirty and for everyday life. They can be fancy. They can be great for birthday parties or family pictures, all of that. We also do custom orders. I do flower girl dresses, but I mean you probably don’t want to get that dirty. haha! But in general, our clothes are meant for comfort. Comfort comes first. Especially since I have my own kids I know that if something is uncomfortable they are not going to wear it. So my main focus is to make it comfortable and make it cute and then the styling of it comes second. I try to show that in our branding and marketing.
These are fun pieces. This is not just a fancy, big taffeta bow kind of dress. This is made out of 100% cotton that you can throw in the washing machine. Because if something needs to be dry cleaned for my kids, it’s never going to be worn again. Let’s just be honest. 😉
N: What is the greatest lesson or lessons that motherhood has taught you?
E: That’s easy. Patience. Patience and just learning how to breathe through stressful situations. I have realized that I don’t want to be the kind of mom who yells. And I don’t want to be the mom who’s kid thinks their moms is a royal stick in the mud. At the end of the day, all that matters is showing up for your kids and being there, supporting them and doing your best.
My 2 year old has a very, very strong personality. I know that we are going to butt heads at points, but I want her to feel comfortable coming to me. I want my daughters to feel that closeness with me and not combat. I’ve even talked to a parenting coach about it, I’m that serious about it. Learning to be more patient and accept her for her and who she is supposed to be. I don’t want to try to change her. You just learn how to let go and not get upset by things.
N: What is your favorite part of being a mom?
E: My favorite part lately is seeing my girls interact. My little one is now 8 months old and now they laugh together and play together. I just love seeing Tovah laughing at things that Naomi (my two year old) is doing. It’s so sweet. And Naomi is such a little entertainer so she loves to make Tovah laugh. They have a good dynamic. Naomi and has loved her sister from the moment she was born. It’s just fun to watch all the funny things they do and say, and it’s fun to watch them go through all of the milestones. And Tovah dances now. All you have to do is talk and she starts dancing beause she thinks you’re singing. It’s just fun.
The two of them could not be more different. But really, even the terrible parts are great. Those are part of it and I know from talking to other parents is that when you look back you don’t really remember all of that bad stuff.
N: As a veteran mom what would be your advice to an expecting mom or a brand new mom?
E: As an expecting mom, I would say listen to your gut instinct and do what’s best for you. Don’t stress out and read too much stuff.
Truthfully, I had a vaginal birth the first time, I went into my first delivery with a 10 page birth plan and my doctor looked at it like it was on fire. Since my baby experienced some stress during the delivery and had an infection she had to have an IV. The nurses were looking at my birth plan and said to me, “I see that you have on your birth plan no sugar water and no pacifier. We are about to stick a giant needle in her arm and those two things are really going to help her calm down and not feel that intense pain of having on IV going into her tiny arm.” I looked back at the nurse and was like, “Absolutely. What else can help? Would she like a pony? Would she like a Ferrari? What else will help? Can we give her anything else that will not make her feel pain?” When you’re told that your child will feel pain you realize, birth plan? Forget that! You do whatever you need to do to make sure your child is okay.
For my second baby, I did not have a birth plan at all because I just wanted to get the baby out. All the important things to me are standard with my doctor so I didn’t need a birth plan. We had a c-section with my second daughter, and as soon as she came out I was immediately able to hold her and do skin-to-skin. I was still open on the table and I was able to hold your baby.
So I would say for pregnant women, don’t get wrapped up in advice. Do you notice that the only time you hear horror stories about birth are when you are 38 weeks pregnant? That’s when everyone tells you their horror story. And then I think, “Is that helpful for me to know that? I’m sorry your experience was so terrible, but I’m literally about to do this. This is the time you want to tell me this?” And they always think that their choice is the right choice. You just need to do what is right for you.
For a new mom, I would say the best thing you can do for yourself is to take care of yourself. I lived it both ways; not taking care of myself and taking care of myself. It was to the degree that I was not showering or brushing my teeth every day. It was all baby all the time. I could not get my act together. The second time around, I brought the Rock-n-Play into the bathroom and put my baby in there and she would be screaming her head off, but you know what? I needed to take a shower. I said to myself, “She can scream for one minute.” And that’s what she did. She would scream for one minute while I took a quick shower and it just allowed me to feel human. I didn’t want to feel just like a milk machine, and not just like I was run over because, again, I was recovering from surgery and taking care of a toddler. I needed to just feel human.
So those are the main things. Listen to your gut, don’t get wrapped up in everyone’s advice and take care of yourself.
N: Who would you say is your mommy inspiration and why?
E: My mom is definitely my mommy inspiration. She’s deceased, but I just loved her whole spirit. She had a very giving spirit. I was not the easiest child so I think about her when I’m parenting my own children. I just think, “Give her space and give her time. Let her be her.” That’s where I get inspired so I want my daughter to also have what I had.
My mother-in-law is also amazing. She is one of the most selfless people I know. She still puts her kids first to this day, which is incredible. I think that’s very rare. She takes great care of her grandkids, too. And she’s so helpful, and tries to do things that are in line with what we are trying to do with our parenting philosophies. Even if she disagrees with them, she has never shown it.
N: What are your ultimate hopes and dreams for your daughters?
E: I would like them to be successful in whatever that is for them. Obviously, I want them to be happy. I don’t want to project my own happiness onto them. Whatever they want to do, however they turn out, as long as they are doing it their way and they feel fulfilled, that’s what’s important. I also want them to be responsible. I also want them to be good people, kind people and inclusive people; considerate of others. I think that’s so missing from kids nowadays.
Like last week, a little girl was picking on my kid and the claws came out. My daughter is two so I’ve never seen someone pick on her. I just couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. A mean girl at the age of maybe five. It made me sad. So every day before school we have a conversation about being kind, being a good friend and being a nice person. I tell Naomi that if she sees someone that’s not playing with someone else you should go over and you should go play with them. I don’t want my kids to be the kind of people that make others’ days worse. That’s very important to me. And I want them to be successful, driven, and do what’s right.
N: What are your greatest hopes for women and mothers everywhere?
E: To respect each other and to be kind to each other and to cut each other some slack because we’re all just trying to do the best we can. I just give people a pass. Whether you breastfeed or not, have a vaginal birth or c-section, not everyone has the same situation as you. You just have to give people a little grace.
Thank you so much for your time, Esther, and for sharing more of your story with us. I have loved following your shop and blog, and I hope that more women will too!
Who are you inspired by? Share with us and they just might be our next featured Mommy Chick of the Month. 😉