Monday, January 12, 2015

Moms on Mondays - Brooke from Swell Forever

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I am so happy to feature Brooke from Swell Forever today on Moms on Mondays.  This mama holds a piece of my heart and I have collaborated with her in the past on a write up for her blog and a giveaway of one of her Forever Birds, and we actually own two of them (go here or here).  She took her heartache and turned it into a business that helps other families - from people wanting to adopt, raising awareness about infant loss and also miscarriage.  She is just amazing and if you support any mama this month, please support her.  A portion of what you buy always goes to someone in need and the pieces in her shop are just beautiful.  Make sure you visit her blog as well, or direct someone there who has experienced a loss, it is a great place for guidence and solace.  I am so happy I found Brooke and just love what she's doing, now go shop!!

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What is the name of your shop and how can we find you?
​Swell Forever is my shop and I am also on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

Tell us about what you make/sell in your shop. 
We sell ever after heirlooms that are created to be uniquely personalized with loving words that linger. We have Forever Blankets in throw size and baby sizes, Forever Dresses and Forever Suits, and our Forever Bird line that was inspired by my experience with miscarriage and grief. Every thing is Made in USA, even most of our fabrics and packaging. My mom and I stitch all the personalized tags in my home studio. Our baby line of Forever Blankets are handmade in Atlanta.

How/why did you start making these products and open this shop?
I received my MBA from Duke and just could not let go of this feeling that I could do something very meaningful with my skill set. I wanted to find a way to fuse my love for pretty things and my desire to do something for foster children. I have always loved babies and sought opportunities to volunteer or make life better for children in crisis. A Swell Forever is defined by us as a "life filled with all things joyful, vibrant and beautiful." By giving our gifts, you wish a Swell Forever for the person who receives it (and is blessed by the message you inscribe on the gift) and the children who are in need of Forever Families and benefit from our Adoption Fund.

How long have you been in business?
I did a very soft launch with just our Forever Bird gifts and three limited edition Forever Blanket designs for the home in December 2013. I had my daughter in March 2014 and got back to work over the summer when we launched our Forever Blanket {baby} and Forever Dress lines.

What is your background (college/career/etc.)?
I went to Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina then transferred to the University of Georgia and graduated from the Agricultural Communications program. It was the only way I could transfer in time and still take classes in their famed Grady School of Journalism but I did learn a lot about sustainability. I was a sustainability consultant with a large firm for four years. In 2008, I read a book about women entrepreneurs that my dad gave me one Christmas and decided I would join my husband for grad school at Duke University. I received my MBA and was a Donald R. Draughon Scholarship Recipient. That scholarship was everything. I knew I would never go for a big corporate career so finding a way to afford my MBA was huge. I did work for Orbit Baby and BABYBEARSHOP Organic, both amazing baby brands, that really taught me a lot about the baby products industry and entrepreneurship in general.

Tell us a little bit about your family.
I am married to someone who loves me enough to do all the day-to-day hard work of paying the bills so I can pursue something that has been tugging at my heart for several years. We went to graduate school together, studied abroad in Switzerland together, took two cross country trips across the United States and still liked each other, and have lived in NYC, San Francisco, North Carolina and now our new hometown of Sandy Springs, GA. We went through several miscarriages before having our sunshine in March 2014. Isla has been a very motivating force for me each day. I want other kids to have the love and support she has.

How does this company help your family?
My husband and I work hard to pay off all of our student debt so that I could be free financially to work on this venture. I don't have regular childcare so Swell Forever is my chance to bring in extra income and save money for my daughter's future. It is also something we both get excited about and have worked at together.

Did you ever think you'd be doing this?  What did you think you'd be doing instead?
I always thought I would work in an orphanage or be a neonatalogist. I realized when I was in college and worked in a NICU that the doctors did not get a chance to help these babies when they went home. It opened my eyes to the social side of things. I think I always knew I would own my own business. It was just a matter of what and how I would help others through it.

Does anyone help you with your shop?
YES!!! I would never have been able to do this without several key people. My husband took the pressure off me financially and let me try it. My mom has a home economics degree and brushed up on her sewing skills. She is also a floral designer and great business person. She can do about anything she decides to do. We have spent countless hours experimenting and perfecting as much as we can. Her best friend is also my neighbor and she has helped me tremendously. She was my first customer and also helps sew tags when I am in a pinch. I named The June Forever Blanket after her. My cousin launched her shop Swell Caroline a few years before me and has always been willing to share her lessons learned. I am very, very blessed to say the least. My mom also introduced me to Susan, the lady that helps hand make my blankets and brings ideas to life because I can only do so much on my own.

How do you find time to run your shop and create products?
I have a million ideas. I am a fly by the seat of my pants type of person. I sketch out ideas and pull together concepts on Powerpoint slides. Because I do not have child care full-time, my mom helps me fulfill orders. I stay up until 2 am numerous nights and work through my daughter's three hour naps. It takes a ton of discipline and I am really having to work hard to make every minute of my day count, but also put my work down and focus on my family so it doesn't bleed too heavily into my time with them. It's hard to put it away. I really love doing this. I get a rush being creative and thinking of how I can brighten someone's life through something I design and sell.
What do you love about this business?
It's all about heart. I have met some wonderful strangers who are now friends. All of my gifts are pretty much named for people. I named one of our Forever Dresses for a precious little baby girl named Millie who passed away in June. It broke my heart. I have never met her parents in person, but we chat on Facebook messenger often. Her mom is helping me with my efforts to raise awareness for Pregnancy and Infant Loss. I now have a whole new world of mompreneur friends and get an insane amount of joy helping them with their businesses and seeing the way they support mine. I also have friends who are not yet moms who I spend a lot more time with thanks to our shared interests running start-ups.

What is the most challenging part of this business?
Fear. I want to make people happy. I want everything I send to be perfect. No flaws. I like to think my blankets have a little bit different aesthetic than a lot of the ones available. The personalization piece is very unique but it took a lot of effort to figure out. I have worked countless hours with my mom trying to problem solve and make everything as wonderful and long lasting as possible. The nature of handmade is that it can't be perfect. That can be a great thing, but it is an adjustment for me and I have to learn not to nit pick everything or I will drive myself crazy. I also put my heart out there a lot. I mix my personal life with my brand. There are pros and cons to that.

Where do you see your shop in the future?
I put a lot of effort into my brand before I even finalized my products. I purposely do not sell on Etsy only because I want to focus on using the brand as a strong element to raise awareness for children in need of Forever Families. I think big, but I also love the idea of having a business that is always made with love and not too big for it's britches. You lose the intimacy and connection with your customers if you don't scale it carefully. I think I see it as a family business and hopefully people will cherish our products and one day look at them as collectible heirlooms made just for them. Completely irreplaceable.

Tell us your favorite product or your most favorite thing you've created?
I designed one of the first Forever Blanket throws and named it after my mother's mom. It is called The Carolyn Forever Blanket. She was a very kind person. She always made me feel loved. I lost her when I was in fifth grade and it was very difficult to adjust to her absence. It changed our entire family because she was our matriarch and I am a fiercely sentimental person. Her blanket is a classic color palette with taupe and cream patterns on wool fabric and has layers of various ribbons. The ruffled ribbon and lace trim really do her justice. What's interesting is Carolyn also loved hummingbirds and had glass birds in her breakfast room windows. That is how they became so intertwined with my brand. I designed my own line of lamp glass hummingbird ornaments (Forever Birds) to give to someone needing a touch of hope in their life. They seemed like something that would have brought me joy after suffering from my several miscarriages and feeling heart broken.

Do you have any advice for future mom-entrepreneurs?
Align yourself with someone who is business savvy and will mentor you. It will save you time and likely a good bit of money. Look for any programs or seminars you can attend that help you with business start-up basics. Even with an MBA, I am still trying to figure out basics. You learn a lot about strategy in business school, but a lot of marketing is intuitive and opportunity driven. I'm still learning accounting and how to do the books. Put out requests with local college or design school programs for interns. I had a lovely intern from Savannah College of Art and Design work with me on developing the baby blankets. A lot of students need experience and want to build up their resume. Don't assume they won't want to work with you! I met the founder of BABYBEARSHOP Organic while looking for an MBA internship. Sometimes I worked for pay. Sometimes I didn't. What I gained in experience was invaluable and the time was totally worth it. Value yourself and what you have to offer. Realize that being fulfilled in the work aspect of your life can make you into a better mother and teaches your children about confidence and self-worth.

What are some of YOUR favorite shops/products, besides your own?
​ I have been eyeing Emily Jeffords' stunning art. It's just my taste and style. Sweet Littles Handmade makes dolls that are beyond beautiful. ​Emerald August is an Atlanta baby and kids clothing line made by a very talented mama. I actually came cross a really unique designer at Jenny's Dresser the other day. She doesn't sell them, but she hand makes angel burial gowns out of vintage and embroidered pieces so families have something beautiful to bury their sweet babies in. I definitely cried scrolling through her designs knowing how special they are.
Thanks Brooke, it was a pleasure to feature your shop today!

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