I’m so excited to introduce you to Katie, a talented fashion designer, mother, and craft enthusiast who is living the dream, making cute things for tiny humans in Hudson, NY. Her company, Chelsea & Marbles, was born out of the desire to create something unique & creative for the little ones in her life. A product assortment of baby items such as crochet animal pacifiers, super cute wearable chewelry, and original artwork printed on swaddles and milestone cards that are sold her Etsy shop and cute kids boutiques around the country.

In this interview, Katie shares how she juggles being a mother, a wife and successfully running and growing her business Chelsea and Marbles. She shares tips for turning a side hustle into your main gig, managing her time between family and career and how important dating is to the health of your marriage. Full of wonderful advise that any mom can benefit from- and stories I’m sure most mothers can relate to.

If you have a baby in your life then I’m sure you will love this product as much as I do!

Where did you grow up?

Katie: I grew up in Annapolis, MD. A lot of people tend to forget it’s the capital of Maryland! (Baltimore is more well known, so a lot of times that’s the assumption) It’s known for the Naval Academy, and a colonial history. At one time, it was going to be the capital of the USA. It’s not a big city, and most of it is quite suburban, but it was a beautiful place to grow up…being on the water of the Chesapeake Bay…It has a very preppy, East Coast vibe…a little different than the true New England vibe, (a little more “southern”) but still very classic and nautical.

I love your handpainted alphabet so much! The fruits and vegetables have so much personality. And you’re so talented with crochet and sewing too! Did you have creative parents growing up to foster your artistic side?

Katie: My mom is more creative than my dad, but I wouldn’t classify her as an artist. My dad always worked with his hands, he’s a maker, not a designer though. He’s always worked very hard, too, so I think I get my work ethic from him a little bit.

My mom, on the other hand, is pretty creative. I think if she had more time when we were growing up, she would have been a master DIYer before that was even a trend. She taught me how to crochet when I was probably about 8 or 9, and later to knit when I was about 12. She also taught me how to sew at a very young age. We would make American Girl Doll clothes together. We would buy the patterns at JoAnn Fabrics, then she taught me how to lay them out properly, pin them, and sew them. I don’t know if many other girls my age did that with their moms…but I loved learning how to make things with my hands!

She had this amazing collection of (what are now very vintage) craft and hobby textbooks from the 70s, and they are organized in alphabetical order by craft. So there was Candlemaking, Glass Blowing, Macrame, Terrariums, etc. It’s so funny how that entire arts and crafts movement has come full circle since she was in college.

Where did you go to college and what did you study?

Katie: I studied Women’s Sportswear/Fashion Design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. I also spent a year abroad in Milan studying knitwear.

Did you plan on having a family?

Katie: Hmm, yes and no. I’m not sure if indifferent is the right word, but I felt like I would only want kids if my circumstances allowed me to live the lifestyle I wanted, in addition to giving them all the opportunities that I wanted to give them. In other words, I would have been OK not having kids-if it meant that me, my partner, or worst of all, the kids would struggle. It wouldn’t be worth it. I wanted to be responsible when making such a big decision, I guess.

Once I got married, felt like my career was in a good place, my husband’s business was set up to grow, things became a little clearer. We decided we did want to have at least one child.

Is being married and having kids different than what you expected?

Katie: 100% yes, different than what I expected! At least the having kids part…the marriage part was easy. Scott and I had been living together for 2 years before we got married, so marriage didn’t change our relationship or day-to-day lives. It only changed us on paper.

Having my son Parker in 2017 turned my world upside down! I wish I had gone into having a baby with zero expectations. Of all the advice I received when I was pregnant, I wish that someone would have said, “Don’t have ANY expectations!” That way, I wouldn’t be disappointed or confused or as overwhelmed when I had a baby and nothing was as I had expected!

For some context, my husband and I moved from NYC to upstate New York when I was about 6 months pregnant. He had an office upstate already, so his work transition was seamless. I quit my job in the fashion industry, essentially decided to leave a career I had spent 10+ years building, and honestly, didn’t look back.

The plan was for me to work on building my handmade Etsy business full-time from home once we moved. I was ecstatic to have this opportunity! My business had been a side hustle for me since 2013.

Now it was going to be my main hustle, and I could work in sweatpants 24/7, and be with my baby, right?? Wrong. I got the sweatpants thing right, and being with the baby was right, but everything else was wrong!

Ah, how naive I was. Parker did sleep a lot in those first few weeks, cumulatively. He slept in 30 minute spurts every hour. He breastfed every 2 hours. He slept in my arms…a lot. How was I supposed to do laundry, or dishes, or straighten up with no arms? Let alone get work done…

And that was just during the day. The nights were harrrrd. He wouldn’t sleep in the bassinet. Or the bouncer. Or the crib. Or the swing. Or in the bed between me and Scott. He would only sleep in my arms. And he wouldn’t fall asleep easily. Nursing wouldn’t even put him to sleep. I would sing to him, walking around the apartment with him in my arms, for hours, to put him to sleep. And then two hours later, he was awake again, and needed to be fed.

That was my life for the first 3 months of Parker’s life. I was exhausted. Parker was almost 11 weeks old the first time I got out of the house alone. I went to get a manicure and had anxiety the entire time.Y

The recovery wasn’t as I expected. My body wasn’t what I expected.

To be clear, it’s not like I was expecting perfection – I wasn’t expecting this ideal labor like we see on TV, where my make-up is done, my water breaks, and 20 minutes later, I have a beautiful baby.

I wasn’t expecting an ideal post-partum body. In fact, I was expecting a lot of extra weight, flabby skin, and stretch marks. What I got was all of that, plus an ugly scar, extremely swollen calves and ankles from the 3 blood transfusions I needed after the surgery, terrible hormonal acne, hair loss, and eczema. I didn’t even have bigger boobs! After breastfeeding, I was left with small, and funny shaped boobs.

After 3 months post-partum, did things get easier? Did I now have realistic expectations for what the future had in store for me and child-rearing?

No, it didn’t get easier. But it got easier to cope.

My body learned to live off 4-5 hours of sleep a night. I got mom arms, from holding him all the time like superwomen. I learned to not have expectations of getting anything done, so I wasn’t as disappointed when I saw the trash can full, laundry overflowing, and toilet bowls that weren’t sparkling. I learned to have more patience with my husband. We were both doing the best we could with the amount of sleep we had.

And then Parker started Daycare full-time. I hate to say it, but that day couldn’t have come sooner! I was relieved to drop him off that first day. I could take a long, hot shower. I could take a nap if I wanted to, but I didn’t, because I had too many other things on my To-Do list, which had been piling up for months.

Mother in the Middle for me is about finding the balance between motherhood and the rest of your life; like career and marriage.  How do you find that balance?

Katie: I get asked this question a lot. Everyone wants to know how to achieve that ever-elusive “balance”. Here’s the tough answer – you can’t. At least not without sacrifice, and that is a struggle, for sure.

For me, I sacrifice sleep if I want to find the time to create, run my business, my household, and be a mom.

On other days, my work suffers due to my other obligations. Sometimes I choose housework over actual work if the mess is making me feel overwhelmed and out of control.

Inevitably, I have to accept that some things just won’t get done. And if I can’t accept that, then I need to be OK with pushing myself to do what it takes to make it work – whether it’s saying no to that weekend in the city, or staying up late a few nights in a row.

That’s the silver lining, right? Being a mom makes you realize your body can do things you never thought possible! I know what my real limits are now, and if I got through those first few months, I can get through anything.

This may not sound like the most balanced situation. For me, it’s more a juggling act than a balancing act. To juggle all the responsibilities we have as working moms, something has to be up in the air. And eventually, that ball will come down, and something else is thrown up.

How has becoming a mother changed you?

Katie: Becoming a mother has made me so much more empathetic for other women and mothers. I’ve always identified as a feminist, but becoming a mother has changed something inside of me, with regards to women’s rights, that I never would have predicted. It’s put this fire in my belly, like, we really ARE Superwomen! We endure so much as women, we deserve justice. And I have respect on another level for mothers who choose to stay home with their children. It’s the hardest, most selfless job of all.

Do you ever worry that the business won’t work and think about going back to corporate design?  Or have any other doubts and fears as a mompreneur?

Katie: Oh yes, every day! My business is what I make of it. So if it fails, it’s on me, and I think I would have to go back to corporate design. And honestly, that is my fear. I don’t fear failure, I fear that I’d have to go back to doing something that didn’t bring me joy, that I wasn’t invested in, and made me pretty miserable sometimes.

Date nights- do they exist?

Katie: They do! We make this a priority. At least once a month, ideally twice, or even a weekend away without Parker on occasion. It’s so important to remind yourself of that relationship with your partner, so you don’t just become “mom” and “dad. (Or mom and mom, or whatever your situation is.) You have two identities in addition to “mom”, one is yourself, and one is “us”, so don’t lose them!

I have noticed your customer base is growing and business is booming, do you have any advice for mothers who want to have creative businesses?

Chelsea and Marbles Chewelry/ Dino Teether Pacifier Clip

I have noticed your customer base is growing and business is booming, do you have any advice for mothers who want to have creative businesses?

Katie: My business has ups and downs like any other. It was booming around the holiday time, and then I felt a little burnt out and gave myself a break to re-energize and reflect on last year, and where I want to take it going forward.

I don’t claim to have it all figured out, I learn new things constantly, implement new strategies all the time, and I’ve taken steps in educating myself for running a business – It didn’t come naturally, nor was it intuitive or easy.

Social media allows people to filter the struggles out.

So the assumption is that everything is great if I’m sending orders out all the time, and gaining followers. But the truth is that my business isn’t that profitable yet. Very few followers convert to direct sales, so popularity is not necessarily indicative of success.

I wish I could say there’s a magic formula for running a creative business, but that would be a huge disservice! It takes A LOT of hard work, perseverance, and time management. (Especially if you’re a mommy, too!) It also doesn’t hurt to have some start-up cash.

I don’t have an uplifting riches to rags story. I am building a business from the ground up, yes, but I started with a (very) small nestegg. Which I acquired from working my butt off in the fashion industry for a decade. It wasn’t a few hundred dollars and a ball of yarn, it was all my savings.

I say this not to discourage other entrepreneurs, but to provide some perspective for realistic expectations. It does take money to make money. I didn’t “get lucky”, I worked and continue to work really hard. And I would bet that the other small businesses you admire didn’t start without a little boost, and it took time to build what they have. We all start with just 1 follower, so it’s up to you to grow that following how you see fit.

So, my advice is to first, have a plan. A financial one, a marketing one, a production one (if relevant), and a timeline. Set realistic goals with deadlines, and have specific action steps to take to achieve those goals.

One of my creative mentors told me most handmade businesses take 5 years of focused work to become sustainable and profitable. If you can get through those first 5 years, you will probably be successful.

So don’t give up! Be prepared to work really hard, overcome setbacks and challenges, and make sacrifices along the way. If you have days where you feel overwhelmed, discouraged, or like you just can’t do it, take a step back, look at your plan, and commend yourself on what you’ve done thus far.

Also, identify that thing that you’re doing all of this for, and always hold that in your heart and in your head.

For me, it’s Parker. I am building my business so that I can send him to college one day, and afford to give him experiences that I didn’t have growing up. When it’s 9 PM, and I’m starting to feel lazy, like I just want to sit on the couch and watch another episode of Game of Thrones, but there are orders I could be working on, or photos I could be editing, or an online class I could be taking to better myself, I think of my reason, and it motivates me to turn off the TV and get up. It may sound cheesy, but it’s the truth! If you don’t have something that will keep you going, why do any of it to begin with?

Milestone Blanket Card Set/Jungle Tropical 

I love to support small businesses and shop on Etsy for unique handmade gifts. And now more than ever, as Etsy just announced that they are 100% carbon neutral, which means they are offsetting all emissions generated by shipping, thru investing in solar, wind and other sustainable projects. You can find Katies Etsy Shop here and follow her on Instagram here

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