Mama Maker: Elizabeth from Vacay Style

When I first came across Elizabeth, she was honeymooning on a 38-foot catamaran in the pre-Instagram, pre-GoPro era. My husband stumbled across the Hynes Honeymoon sailing blog, and we read all the way through their 18-month cross-Pacific sailing chronicles in a couple of nights.

Fast forward 10 years later, and back on Northern California soil, Elizabeth has raised three young boys and built an American-made apparel business inspired by her travels.

In 2015 she jumped ship from her corporate job and launched Vacay Style, a nautically inspired capsule wardrobe collection for fashionable (yet practical) seafarers. She’s been enjoying a more fluid schedule ever since.

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“Since I work for myself and do not have a commute, I can easily walk my young children to school in the morning and volunteer every so often in the classroom,” she says.

“It is a luxury that I really appreciate after working for a big corporation in the City for many years. I actually think the ‘all in’ or ‘you’re out’ mentality of today’s workplace is unfortunate and unfair.”

How Motherhood Inspired a Business

“I have always wanted to have my own business and quite frankly (for a lot of the reasons I already talked about) I got over working for a big corporation,” Elizabeth says.

“In addition, I love actually doing the design, sourcing, marketing, etc — not managing other people to do it,” she says.

Like so many of the mompreneurs I’ve met, Elizabeth rekindled her creativity by building her wardrobe collection from the ground up and staying hands on.

“As you move up the ladder, it all becomes having a team of people. I just want to be the one creating, not managing.”

Because each Vacay Style piece will be worn frequently in rotation, Elizabeth keeps the manufacturing local so she can personally ensure the quality of every garment that’s made.

“I hand select every fabric and road test every style before putting it on the site. Everything is manufactured at an ethical factory in San Francisco and made in travel-friendly fabrications.”

Elizabeth knows firsthand what women need while traveling — whether that’s from her sailing adventures, or her experience in merchandising.

“Packing is horrible and planning outfits is really difficult for some people. I love pulling together these capsule wardrobes that create 15 outfits from 5 items.”

“When I get a thank you email or a 5-star review, I know I have really helped that woman have an amazing vacation.”

How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

“I have an amazing husband and a multitasking full-time nanny. We all work together and share the load,” says Elizabeth.

“Often my nanny will do other types of household things for me so I can do the good stuff — hang out with my kids!”

She acknowledges how fortunate she is to have this support, and wants to pay it forward to her future “Dream Team” as she calls it.

“I hope one day to bring more parents on my team who have a lot to contribute but want more of a work-life balance than typical corporate America is willing to offer,” says Elizabeth.

Women Helping Women Succeed

Her advice to aspiring mompreneurs who also have big dreams, but don’t know how to start?

“Go for it! But, don’t expect to make money right away. It takes time to build a business.”

Elizabeth takes the waves of entrepreneurship in stride — a lesson that comes pretty quickly with the constant swells of sailing and motherhood.

“I have high expectations for Vacay but it has been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. However, if you do it for the right reasons there is no failure,” she says.

“Not trying is the failure in my mind.”

Elizabeth and her family share a spirit of adventure, and there’s plenty more to come –on both land and sea — in their future.

Mama Shaker: Lori from Mindful Return

Every mom knows what its like to find herself at the brink. For Lori Mihalich-Levin, those feelings of overwhelm multiplied after her second child was born, “at that moment of desperation where one child plus one child felt like 85 children.”

“I was sitting on the kitchen floor crying many nights because I just didn’t know how I was going to hold everything together.”

“I was a wreck. It was really at that point when I realized I needed to build in some moments of intentionality,” she says.

After discovering Abundant Mama, which helps mothers focus on abundance instead of overwhelm, Lori “came out on the other side feeling so much better.”

“I had tools for focusing on gratitude and abundance, I had a community from moms all over who understood I couldn’t get the Cheerios off the kitchen floor and that was okay,” she says.

She noticed that there were programs for everything from birth plans to baby massage, but not how to plan for your maternity leave and return in a way that felt empowered, “like you weren’t going to go off the rails.”

Lori was inspired to fill this gap for new moms “who are just trying to get out the door to work.”

Women Helping Women Succeed

As a lawyer by day, Lori burned the midnight oil creating Mindful Return, a 4-week cohort-based program to help new moms plan for working motherhood, that’s flexible enough for any schedule.

“A lot of moms are in the course while they’re feeding their baby at 3 ‘o clock in the morning.”

  • Week 1 is about a mindful mindset for returning.
  • Week 2 is all about the logistics (“pumping, not pumping, putting food on your own table, negotiating flexibility, dealing with sick days, snow days and the unexpected”).
  • Week 3 is about how to view your maternity leave as a leadership opportunity (this particular topic has me intrigued!)
  • Week 4 is all about staying in a community and not isolating yourself.

“It’s so important to stay connected to other new moms and share in all the struggles.”

Lori partnered with a Mindful Return alum to create an artistic reminder of all the skills that working moms gain — something that we can never hear enough.

I spoke with another one of Lori’s students, who says she feels “more prepared, confident, and excited for this new chapter of my family’s journey.”

“As a first-time mother, the prospect of returning to work after maternity leave was both daunting and exhilarating,” says Jen. “The content of the course and the opportunity to connect with like-minded mamas going through similar experiences really helped ground me and helped me feel more prepared to re-enter the workforce.”

“I start work tomorrow and I am grateful for the community Lori created, and for the lessons learned,” she says.

Note: I’m not the only second-timer to find all this proactivity to be intriguing, after fumbling a bit the first time through.

“Some women didn’t have the best return the first time, and they want it to go better the second time.”

Mindful Return is not limited to first-time moms, or even just moms at all.

In fact, Lori recently launched a paternity leave course to help address the stigma that many dads face about asking to take time off.

“I really, truly believe that we all succeed when both men and women are engaged in the very early days of childcare and child-rearing.”

“Comparison is the thief of joy. If I’m looking around at my colleagues at 4:30 when I’m heading out of the office and thinking, ‘oh my gosh, what are they thinking of me?…”

“No, I need to worry about my plan, my life and what’s right for my family.”

Asking For It

Through the growth of Mindful Return and Lori’s family’s need for a more flexible schedule, she’s become a living example of how to create a “career portfolio” that works for you.

“I think we often have a lot more power than we think we do.”

While interviewing for a new role, Lori first presented herself as a candidate for counsel, instead of a partner (one level above), because she desired a 60 percent schedule.

“Then at some point, I said ‘no, I think I should be a partner at this law firm on a 60 percent schedule,’ and most of the firms that I was interviewing with said, ‘okay, sure, fine.'”

Her natural reaction was, “if it was going to be fine, why didn’t anyone say ‘you can be a partner’?”

“Because nobody is going to say it. If you don’t ask for something, people aren’t just going to offer it up to you,” she says.

Lori recalls another example where a mom who took her course was terrified to meet with her boss during maternity leave, to ask if she could switch to an 8-4 schedule (instead of 9-5) so she could have more time with her baby after work.

Her boss was so relieved that she wasn’t there to announce her resignation, she quickly realized she had “lost all this sleep over asking for this silly thing.”

“You never know until you ask,” says Lori.

So where to begin?

“Dare to dream about what might be possible in your world. Sit down and journal about it, exploring all your different options and trying to figure out what would be best for you,” she says.

“Then break the dream up into bite-size pieces and go after one of those pieces.”

Lori recommends starting by proposing a trial period for a flexible arrangement. In her experience, it often works out just fine.

“I attend to my legal clients’ needs whenever they happen, but I don’t have to be in one specific place at any particular, given time. So it allows for some flexibility in weaving together those two worlds,” she says.

How This Mompreneur Makes it Work

Lori builds moments into her daily routine very intentionally, along with mantras like “I am enough.”

“I think ‘enoughness’ is a huge problem in new parenthood. Because there’s never enough of anything,” she says.

Every morning, evening and sometimes on the way to work, she “carves out times of pause.”

Before the kids wake up, this includes:

  • Writing in a gratitude journal
  • 10-15 minute yoga practice

Between 7:00 – 9:30 a.m it’s a typical morning:

  • Her husband makes breakfast
  • Everyone gets dressed and off to school
  • She hops on the metro to get into the office

After work:

  • At 4:30 she hops on the metro
  • She picks up her kids with her husband
  • They alternate who makes dinner
  • She has “Thomas & Friends” playtime with her kids
  • Then it’s bath and bedtime

Her evenings after the kids go to bed, include:

  • Working on Mindful Return for a couple of hours
  • Gratitude journaling
  • Meditation

“You have to be patient with yourself. Know that each incremental step matters.”

“You can really make an impact, and be a leader, and start something amazing with a lot of baby steps,” says Lori.

Mama Shaker: Jennifer Jordan, Aeroflow Healthcare

When Jennifer Jordan returned from maternity leave back to her business development role at Aeroflow Healthcare, she set a goal to continue breastfeeding for the remaining eight months of her son’s first year.

Realizing that “being a mother made me the subject matter expert,” Jennifer identified an opportunity to create a new division at Aeroflow to make it easier for women to meet their own breastfeeding goals.

“Luck, opportunity and hard work came together,” she says. And in 2013, Jennifer became director of Mom and Baby at Aeroflow Healthcare.

While pumping is a non-negotiable for any mom returning to the workplace, the Aeroflow Breastpumps team is on a mission to make it accessible — and reimbursable — for more women in all walks of life.

Only the Best for Baby

Jennifer’s team searches for quality breast pump manufacturers to partner with, like Medela whose products are manufactured in the United States, Canada and Switzerland, and packaged in the U.S.

During my first pregnancy, I chose Medela’s Pump in Style since it got the highest reviews and the bottles were BPA-free. I rigged it with a portable battery to make pumping on-the-go somewhat easier, sported a poncho or nursing cover, and carried my precious cargo around in an insulated lunch bag and cooler.

This time around, I may opt for the Sonata, Medela’s first smart pump, since it’s designed to be quieter, and comes with a portable battery and mobile app. I’m also excited to add the much more discreet Freemie hands-free pumping to the mix, and perhaps a sleeker-looking Petunia Pickle Bottom Tote too.

How This Mama Makes it Work

Jennifer believes as mothers that we’re our greatest critic, and proudly describes herself as “perfectly imperfect.”

By finding a way to channel her passion at Aeroflow, she’s also discovered the formula to being the best mom and wife she can.

“I’m a better mother because I work,” she says, encouraging moms to embrace whatever balance is right for them.

For Jennifer, that means a daily ritual with her son on the drive to school every morning. They have what she calls “our special time together” to talk and prepare for the day.

Women Helping Women Succeed

Jennifer’s advice for other entrepreneurial moms is to trust your instincts, live your truth and your passion, and surround yourself with powerful women you can learn from.

“Put 100 percent into each and every moment,” she says.