Mama Maker: Ramona, Creating Space for a Fluid Career and Family Life

When Ramona Albert arrived on U.S. soil at the age of 16 on a one-way ticket from Romania, she began constructing a life of limitless potential. With a Master’s degree in architecture from Harvard in hand, she landed in New York and began a career designing skyscrapers–until motherhood changed her perspective.

“I had a kid and before that I was literally building these humongous buildings,” she says. “I realized, okay, I can’t possibly be thinking about 100 things in the same time. I have to think about things in the present and realize that I have to do whatever I can do best right now, because I have only two minutes or five minutes or 20 minutes.”

Before motherhood, Ramona says it wasn’t unusual for her and her husband to stay up working until midnight.

“I feel like I have become more humane because of time,” she says. “I’ve become more understanding rather than” what she describes as a “crazy New Yorker.”

Ramona’s high-profile projects have appeared in Gotham, including one of her early experiments laminating the glass panels of a high-rise in Hermès.

“I was in China, stretching the fabric and we’re all looking at this, like, ‘Oh my God, how do we do this?'” she recalls.

Ramona now gravitates towards “projects that have this kind of tangible quality to them,” she says in reference to direct interaction with her clients and interiors “down to the levels of like door knobs, or things like that.”

“My work is very inspired by nature,” she says. “So it’s very fluid. It’s very organic, in a way, but very minimal, so to speak.”

It’s apparent that Ramona’s approach to workplace culture and parenting are similarly intertwined.

“I really want to keep the integrity of who we are,” she says about Ramona Albert Architecture. “I’m very careful about hiring people because it matters a lot to be trustworthy and reliable, and be able to think for yourself and be independent.”

She works from a home office upstairs in her Brooklyn townhouse, which affords her the opportunity to pop downstairs to see her 2.5-year-old son anytime she wants to grab a cup of coffee or get a quick hug.

“We just did a house in the Hamptons and literally there were times where Egon was in my lap while I was there talking to contractors trying to get things done and it was such a normal thing,” she says. “But I’m thinking like, I can’t believe I’m holding this child on a construction job talking to these guys.”

“But I wouldn’t do it any other way.”

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Ramona loves that she can work right up to 6 p.m. when the nanny leaves–which she points out is still considered early in the architectural community–and then switch into dinner prep with her son.

“One thing I don’t compromise about is my gym time in the morning,” she says about her daily self-care routine of CrossFit, Pilates or yoga, that gets her out of bed at 5 a.m.

Ramona and her husband foster a sense of self for each member of their family.

“When you have a kid you always want to be with him,” she says about one of the many contrasts in parenting. “I like his own independence. I like the fact that he does his own things. That’s how he should be, you know, have his own opinions.”

Seeing her son’s “relationship to the world outside is so precious,” she says, noting that it drives her to “make it better in a certain way” by taking on experimental projects like a solar-powered installation in the Children’s Pavilion at Design Week in May.

“I feel like my parents were very brave to send me here when I was so little,” Ramona says. “It was a lot of growing on my own–because they’re still in Romania, my parents weren’t there. It was a little bit of trying to figure things out as they go. But it was great. I learned a lot, I’ve worked with some amazing people, and I think a lot of it has been very, very fruitful.”

Although Ramona got a jump start on building a life of her own, motherhood has reinforced what she learned early on.

“There’s nobody on this planet that can tell you what to do, but you yourself, and you can figure it out,” she says.

Mama Maker: Shweyta, Going the Distance

After leaving New York to spend a year in Singapore and Mumbai, Shweyta Mudgal reconnected with a childhood memory that inspired her to repurpose her design skills as an airport architect into an ancient form of Indian textile printing.

“Singapore is a takeoff point for anybody to travel that side of the world,” she says, which exposed her to Asia’s maker economy and gave her the opportunity to rekindle a creative pastime from her youth.

Shweyta fondly remembers how she would “walk in to a tailor in Mumbai in this lane that I was living in and give him a piece of scrap cloth, or even fabric or material that I found somewhere,” and together they would design something completely original out of it.

“So that’s the how the idea of ‘8,000 miles’ really started after all of that travel and being inspired by the rich textile culture of Asia,” she says about the birth of her clothing brand.

It was integral to Shweyta to weave social impact into the fabric of Eight Thousand Miles from the start, so that it wasn’t merely an “afterthought.” She identified two ways to empower the local community of artisans in India who would bring to life the garments she designed.

“One was to be able to work with artisans and communities that were either disadvantaged, financially,” says Shweyta, or “were working in textile cultures which are being threatened by extinction now due to mechanized, digital printing and more modern techniques of fabric production and printing.”

She was equally clear about the other major thread of her purpose-driven model: “I wanted it to be done in a fourth generation textile printing design community based out of a village investor in India, which has been block printing for generations on fabric.”

“Both of these worlds came together” when she found a “small sewing unit, which was very, very self reliant and independent because it was set up by a woman who really just wanted to do the same, which was to give work to disadvantaged women,” she says.

This culminated in a process that requires Shweyta’s presence in two time zones (primarily through WhatsApp), now that she’s living back in New York with her husband and daughter. She designs all the prints by hand or on her computer; they’re printed out at scale and attached to two pieces of wood back in India, and then replicated for every color needed for that particular print.

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“This is in fact a very, very ancient way of printing fabric but to me it was the best way of representing drawings,” she adds.

Women Helping Women Succeed

In the six years since she launched, Shweyta has maintained the same standards for her garments and the women who craft each one by hand.

“Every unit that we’ve ever worked with has been composed or vetted to make sure that the end artisan is also someone who has undergone training, but is also very, very happy working in the unit, not being exploited,” she says. “It’s fair trade, the unit is well lit and clean; the artisans are being provided for.”

Going back to Shweyta’s original vision, she ensures the artisans are paid for each piece that they make instead of “an assembly line method because then you know they’re not sort of small cogs in the machine, but they are responsible for having created the entire garment from scratch.”

“We also invest back in their children and in their lives by doing this on a day to day basis,” she says, noting that making it to work is not without its challenges “if you’re a woman in that strata of Indian society.”

“Women are not always available to come work because they’ve had a problem at home or they just were not able to walk to work that day or had to stay home to take care of an ailing mother-in-law and things which you know come in the way of your working life,” she says.

The endurance required by all involved is not lost on Shweyta.

“We’re just happy that we’ve been able to keep the business model alive and always have social impact in every little piece that we make.”

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Shweyta has had to learn how to pace herself and stay present in her two different worlds of motherhood and entrepreneurship.

“I try not to push myself too hard,” she says reflecting on how far she’s come since the “initial years trying to set things up and establish everything.”

Shweyta admits to “mom guilt” while not feeling totally present with her daughter.

“We would read at bedtime, but I would still be thinking in my head about my next print that I should line up for the season ahead,” she says.

So she’s started treating her evenings like more of a “9-to-5” and tries “not think about work unless it’s just before a show, we’re rushing a deadline, or things like that.”

“I used to be really, really harsh on myself about trying to get a lot done and this whole philosophy that I’ve literally been brought up with of ‘if you have to do it tomorrow, you do it today; if you have to do today, you do it now,'” she says.

Shweyta cautions other entrepreneurs just starting out to temper their enthusiasm so it doesn’t snowball into martyrdom.

“I know it’s very difficult early on, especially if it’s your passion that you’re transitioning into a profession or if your business is really your baby,” she says. “In that case, ImI know it’s very difficult to draw a line between how much of yourself you want to invest in it.”

“If you’re going to do a lot of it yourself, then you really have to understand that you’re doing four or five different jobs at the same time,” she says, pointing out how long it would take that many people to work together to get a job done.

“If you’re doing it all yourself then give yourself that kind of time,” she says.

Now, when Shweyta finds herself up against a deadline that’s pulling her mentally away from time with her daughter, she takes a different approach.

“So now what I’ll do is I just talk to her about it,” she says. “She has her own inputs. I realized that sharing it with someone is better than actually just ruminating about it in your own head and constantly being obsessed with your work.”

“If you just seek out or find a mentor, or just tell a friend or family, it gives you some sort of a break from the journey, which is really, really hard as somebody starting out,” she says.

Mama Shaker: Claudia, Encouraging Us to Believe We Can

About 15 years ahead of the curve, Claudia Reuter chose to start her own company as a return-to-work path after staying home full-time with her two young boys.

“When I stepped away, I remember feeling like I didn’t think of it so much as a choice,” she says, describing her initial decision to pause a career she was passionate about, despite the fact that she “didn’t see how I was going to make that work with a new baby.”

Without the blended approach to commingling careers and motherhood that we’re seeing more of now, Claudia felt she was forced to choose between the two.

“Everything I was reading on one hand was saying stick with your career, and on the other hand was saying the most important thing you could do is be with your baby,” she recalls. “I’m like, these two things are not adding up.”

A few years later, when financial reasons drew Claudia back to work, she was concerned that the skills she honed at home wouldn’t be recognized in the business world.

“I remember realizing that no one was going to really value the experiences I had had as a stay-at-home parent, even though I knew that they were incredibly valuable,” she says. “And I knew that other moms, too, are in the same boat.”

“You’re doing a million different things, you’re managing a million different priorities, you’re worried about the long-term outcomes for your kids,” she says, noting the parallels with a start-up.

With two young kids just 23 months apart, Claudia bootstrapped a software business, raised capital (which led to some all-too-familiar clandestine conference call scenarios that any working mom can relate to), and successfully sold her company.

“All these years later, now I can connect the dots,” she says. “But at the time, I wouldn’t have been able to predict how this would have all turned out.”

Now she’s encouraging other women to do the same by “celebrating entrepreneurship as a way to lean in” in her brand new book Yes, You Can Do This! How Women Start Up, Scale Up, and Build The Life They Want (Techstars).

“What I realized is that I think we talk a lot about celebrating female founders, but we don’t talk enough about why to become one,” says Claudia. “If you become an entrepreneur, you have an opportunity to improve your own personal outcomes and have more control over your destiny.”

“If you can either build a company that’s big enough–or if you’re acquired and you can have some influence at the new company–you have a real opportunity to think through why only 17% of companies have paid maternity leave,” she says. “Why do we spend all our time talking about bringing dogs to the office, but we don’t really talk about kids in the office?”

“I just think there’s this huge opportunity to rethink things.”

How This Mompreneur Made it Work

Claudia started laying the groundwork for her business when her boys were babies, especially when sleep was at a premium with her youngest.

“I remember thinking, well, I’m already up,” she says, identifying herself as a morning person. “I have some of my best thinking really, really early in the morning.”

Even so, it wasn’t as if she had all the answers.

“I didn’t know anything about how to start a business at that point in my journey,” Claudia says. “So I started with a lot of research, and a lot of reading, and a lot of looking at what other people had done and trying to figure it out.”

She also points out that “it wasn’t totally linear,” and she often had her boys in tow, like the time she took them to the bank to open her first business account.

“I negotiated my first term sheet from my older son’s closet,” Claudia says. “I remember thinking, that was the one area I could go where I knew it would be quiet.”

“I was starting to fundraise and I got a term sheet, which was a huge deal for me just to even get a term sheet,” she says, describing how she put the kids in front of the TV with crackers and hoped the noise wouldn’t echo too loudly in her 1920s home.

You can hear her story on her podcast, The 43 Percent, which is currently in its second season.

“Now, I’m so much more open about the blend of personal and professional lives,” says Claudia. “But at that point, I remember being so nervous about letting anyone know that I had all these other things going on. Work at home wasn’t quite as common and that was 17 years ago, give or take.”

Claudia remembers at the time noticing “the contrast between how I was in my yoga pants” and “what I assumed to be the mindset of the people on the other end of the call, who had administrative assistants and people who are making sure they could be focused on what they’re doing.”

“I think that’s one of the challenges moms have, but it’s also one of the benefits,” she says. “We actually know how to juggle things and how to deal with a lot of different inputs coming at you, at once.”

In her current role as general manager of TechStars, Claudia has an eye on the next generation of startup success stories. In doing so, she sees similar traits that will help future leaders thrive.

“The Fortune 500 today is not going to be the Fortune 500 a few years from now,” she says. “Leaders know that their business can be disrupted. They’re going to rely on people who can balance both an operational mindset–to keep things rolling steady and growing–and people who are entrepreneurial–and can keep coming up with new ideas and thinking about how to incorporate those into the core business–in a way that is cost efficient and yet produces results.”

Claudia points out that the value placed on “disruption and innovation” opens the door for women who are constantly finding solutions to the challenges of motherhood and business.

“I think it’s important to own your experience, own your value and be able to talk about where you can contribute from a leadership perspective,” she says.

And perhaps most importantly, “not shy away from it.”

Mama Maker: Jen, Casting Motherhood in a New Light

Photographer Jen Goldberg found herself having a mother-daughter talk about boudoir photos, when she started fielding questions from her 68-year-old mom about her evolving style of portraits.

“I said ‘I think it’s boudoir, mom, but I’m not sure because the boudoir I knew before was very red and glossy,'” she recalls, while they reviewed her sophisticated black and white photos together.

Her mother responded with a simple but powerful question.

“Can I do this?”

When Jen reassured her it’s for anybody and everybody, the cowboy boot-wearing art teacher she calls “mom” had one condition: no high heels or lingerie.

“I think you’re the most beautiful when you’re wrapped in a towel and you’ve just come out of the shower,” Jen suggested, an ode to the style of Mario Testino — which some of us may remember from his portraits of Cindy Crawford in the 80s.

Together, Jen and her mom created the stunning image that headlines this story.

Conjuring each subject’s personal definition of style, comfort and confidence is how Jen draws mothers of all ages out of their shells to reveal their most radiant selves.

“I want to feel that I am capturing the essence that is you, and you recognize–in the image–the beauty that you create, and we create together,” she says. “We talk about who you are in this moment of your life and why we’re capturing these images at this time.”

“Some people come for reasons that are quite hard for them, or they’re marking the end of a moment, or something has happened and they feel that these pictures will add positivity in their life,” says Jen. “Some people cry.”

She says that more often than not, it’s an emotional release that she describes as exhilarating, “freeing and liberating,” and even surprising, to see themselves “in such a beautiful way.”

Jen often meets clients earlier in the journey of motherhood, starting with maternity shoots and continuing through newborn portraits. By becoming familiar with her and the process after those initial sessions, if and when they decide to return to be photographed by themselves, she notices an immediate level of comfort.

Either way, she believes “it’s never too late and never not the right time to do it,” she says. “You’re different now than you were 10 years ago, you’d have made a different picture.”

In fact, it was the return of one of her maternity clients two years later asking for Jen “to photograph me with that same feeling of empowerment and beauty and delicacy that those pictures represented for me,” that inspired this new direction.

Not all moms immediately grasp the power of being in front of the camera–even during family photo shoots with their kids, when she’ll reassure them, “they want you in the picture.”

From Jen’s point of view, it’s not only family portraits that can create powerful memories for our children — it’s how we see and treat ourselves during these selfless seasons of motherhood.

A new mom 3-4 months postpartum and mothers of kids in their twenties have had identical reactions to seeing themselves photographed by Jen, “I can’t wait to show my daughter how beautiful this picture is.”

“They want to know what you look like, and having these kind of photographs becomes a legacy of things that you pass on to your kids as something that you did for you that was really beautiful,” she says.

When Jen did what many people do with boudoir, and gifted a portrait of herself to her husband–holding a guitar for the music-lover’s 40th birthday–she learned the biggest lesson of all.

“Living with it changed the way I felt as I started my day,” she says, about her striking silhouette hanging in her bathroom.

“This feeling is real,” she observed. “It feels tangible that I have inspired myself in the morning, getting up, in those two minutes while brushing your teeth.”

Jen’s reaction to seeing herself was, and always will be, completely different from her husband’s or her two daughters.

Her image is uniquely hers.

“I always say love it for you first.”

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Photos courtesy of Jen Goldberg Photography.

To access Jen’s gallery of sophisticated boudoir photos, visit PrivatePortraits.com. Her gallery at Jen Goldberg Photography features maternity and family photos, as well as headshots.

Mama Shaker: Ashley, Getting to the Heart of the Matter

As a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine toggling between practices in Malibu and Beverly Hills, Ashley Beckman knows firsthand why many women feel spread thin across business and motherhood.

“The main thing is honestly that they’re usually the last to take care of themselves and they’re so rundown,” she says about the moms she meets with in person and virtually through DrAshley.com.

It’s one of the reasons Ashley relishes the opportunity to get ahead of the inevitable exhaustion that comes with motherhood, by providing support and resources before the pregnancy journey begins.

“I really love to help patients focus on getting really healthy prior to actually getting pregnant,” she says. “Not everybody is planning and knows when they’re going to, but at the same time, often there’s a window when people know they’ll be starting to try in a year or two, and that’s the perfect opportunity to start cleaning up your system.”

Ashley applies traditional Chinese concepts of body constitution, seasons, and warming and cooling foods, to help women through infertility, conception and postpartum.

As described in The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother, many cultures place a strong emphasis on postpartum care for moms. However, it’s not part of modern healthcare in the U.S. where Ashley points out, many women lack “the same sense of community where there’s somebody there to also take care of the mom, and those times are crucial.”

Even if those postpartum days have become a blurred memory, she believes there’s still plenty of ways for moms to find support and get back on the road to health.

“As a mom, everyone is sort of overworked and exhausted and it can get much better,” Ashley says. “There are a lot of tools out there–and that’s the whole point is to see someone who is experienced; you don’t need to wade through all the different options.”

As caregivers, it’s easy to fall into the trap of being so consumed by the well-being of others that the thought of addressing our own lingering needs feels daunting.

“What I love to do is figure out a very targeted solution for each person that I talk to,” she says. “I like to help you come up with a plan, and then we can bring you back to balance and try to get you feeling exactly how you used to feel prior to kids.”

Even beyond motherhood, Ashley cautions against following popular trends or extreme dietary restriction, “unless warranted by their health situation,” she says.

“Ideally you work with somebody who can guide you to find out what is the best thing for you to be doing, as opposed to something you read somewhere that’s really popular,” she says. “The whole point is to really get to the root cause, as opposed to just keep removing things from your diet or adding medications or supplements to balance it temporarily.”

While most of her clients have “multiple layers of things happening,” Ashley begins with small, manageable changes while simultaneously “peeling back those layers and addressing them one at a time to really create some lasting change.”

Nutrition provides a good starting point for her clients, because “they have the control over the food they buy and what they’re putting in their body every day,” she says.

Ashley believes “just getting people to learn to read labels,” can be a simple first step. “A lot of times, even those healthy swaps have a huge impact. Some people have things they just won’t give up, so I find healthier options for them.”

“My main thing is to just help women make the choices that will help them have really great health in the long term, and especially for your little kids–we want everyone to be happy.”

She counts fellow mama Gabrielle Bernstein, author of Super Attractor: Methods for Manifesting a Life Beyond Your Wildest Dreams, among “people that I really love that talk a lot about the power of our thoughts,” she says.

“Even though we’re exhausted and overworked and tired,” says Ashley, “so much really boils down to taking care of yourself, and loving yourself, and even just telling yourself that you know everything’s okay and that you have the power to create amazing health.”

Mama Maker: Olga, Weaving Together Fashion and Childhood

Growing up in communist Belarus, Olga Jaeckel found respite soaking in vibrant colors at her local museum on Sundays, which were a stark contrast to her restrictive, monotone wardrobe.

“There was no fashion at all,” she says. “We all had to pick one brown dress that we would wear to school every single day.”

Olga’s experiences at the museum opened her eyes to a new world of self-expression, “so when I came to United States, I feel like I had such an appreciation for all of it,” she says.

Now with two sons and a daughter of her own, “all the choices and colors, fabrics and textures” have inspired her to create unique, high-quality clothing that’s able to transition seamlessly between school and special occasions.

Olga didn’t let lack of design experience stop her from launching Little Olin. After taking online classes and talking to friends to get her business off the ground, she subsequently sold out her first collection.

“One thing that I learned growing up is that I never really had much to lose,” she says. “So I’m never afraid to hit the rock bottom because I’ve been there so many times.”

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It Takes a Village

Olga’s journey as an entrepreneur and as a mother are intrinsically linked. Her children have also directly influenced her design choices.

“I don’t think we, as adults, appreciate how much our kids know and understand at this age,” she says. “They have their own styles. They understand more, and in a children’s business they’re going to be the biggest judges of success of the line.”

“My daughter who’s six, she loves it,” says Olga, describing how she comes back from Europe with fabric to show her, sparking a mother-daughter design session.

She even takes sketches to the playground at her children’s school in the Washington, D.C. area, so she can get feedback from the kids and the parents.

“There’s so much overlap,” she says. “This is like the best thing that happened to me as a mom because I feel like my friends, and their children, are part of the process of designing and development and they’re just as invested as I am in different level of course, but it’s super fun. It’s fun to do it together and I love the feedback.”

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Despite growing up in two different worlds, Olga sees a common thread.

“When I look back at my childhood and I look now at my daughter, I feel like she resembles me so much in what she likes and what she likes to wear,” she says.

“Being a mom is the most amazing thing,” she says. “It’s transformed me as a person and made me so much better.”

“As they grow, I grow with them.”

Mama Shaker: Natalie, Helping Generations of Mothers Finally Heal

Decades of dancing carried Natalie Garay through university and all the way into her seventh month of pregnancy with twin girls, before it came to an abrupt end when she was placed on bedrest and immobilized by a C-section.

“My body completely atrophied,” she says. “I could barely stand up straight. After the surgery the doctor is like, ‘okay, get up on your feet and start moving around as soon as you can.’ I could barely get my body out of bed.”

Fortunately, Natalie rediscovered movement through a friend that taught Pilates and soon realized it was something she wanted to teach to other women. Eventually, she started helping moms through post-baby rehabilitation as part of her services as The Pilates Mama.

“Nobody talks about how to rehabilitate after having children,” she says, describing the all-too familiar scenario of being sent home in excruciating pain with a newborn (or two) to take care of on little-to-no sleep.

“For a woman to have a C-section and not be prescribed physical therapy seems absolutely ridiculous to me,” says Natalie. “It’s a major abdominal surgery, and if someone was having a shoulder surgery or knee surgery they would get prescribed physical therapy right away.”

“I knew none of this when I had my girls,” says Natalie. “Back then, I probably could have advocated for myself more but we’re kind of conditioned to just go along with what the doctors say.”

That’s especially the case with Natalie’s clients in their 50s, 60s and 70s that have endured a lifetime of shame and fear associated with accidents that happen while sneezing or jumping, and are afraid to veer too far from a restroom.

“We have generations before us that put everybody else first and we are just starting to learn that we have to take care of ourselves more so, and first, before we can take care of others,” she says.

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Women Helping Women

Natalie’s noticing a generational shift in how mothers are making time to take care of ourselves and address the issues that previously lingered for decades after giving birth.

“Moms of our generation are going ‘okay I get it, I can’t do anything and everything falls apart if mom’s sick or mom’s not feeling good,” she says. “The world falls apart when mom’s not available. Nothing’s working if I’m not working.”

As a single mother, Natalie knows this firsthand. She counts on the women she’s surrounded by to help her through the ebbs and flows of motherhood–especially now that her three girls are in their teenage years.

“This is a time where you really need the village, and you really need the team and I had to call in the aunties and the village to help me navigate all of this because it’s really, really hard.”

She also carves out time in the morning to set her intentions for the day. This includes writing her “morning pages,” a practice that’s helpful for capturing all the thoughts percolating in our minds, as described in the book, The Artist’s Way.

It helps to have a little humor too. Over the holidays, Natalie’s “Calm the F*ck Down” theramist went viral after a friend posted it on Instagram.

Before reaching our boiling point, Natalie encourages moms to get educated about the options available for things like ab separation and pelvic floor rehabilitation, and advocate for ourselves.

“We can’t be as present and we can’t mother, or run our businesses, or be the community members that we want to be, when we have this constant nagging pain or lack of energy,” she says.