In our digital age (the age of online platforms and keyboard connections) finding a place for the personal, meeting with other creatives in person and collaborating with like-minded people is something that has kept me inspired and motivated on this blogging journey. And that is exactly what happened when I had the opportunity to finally meet Jennifer Myers Chua of Hip Mommies in person. We jived, I had a feeling we would and well, those feelings you get in your gut, they don’t lie. Someone once asked me why I take the time to meet with and interview people in person, “it seems like too much work,” they said. Well, I don’t always get the chance to meet with everyone I work with in person and that’s ok, but Jennifer reminded me why it’s so important and why it matters to make that effort when we can. After our two-and-a-half hour interview/chat, she reminded me that it’s because people matter, personal stories matter and that spending my time with an awesome person doesn’t feel like work to me, it’s actually what life is really about.
Jennifer is a warm, open minded and socially conscious person and all of these things are clearly visible on the Hip Mommies website, but in person they come alive. She welcomed me into the coffee shop (I was running late after a crazy morning … you know the story… “mom boss” life) and her smile, kind gestures and relaxed demeanor put me at ease right away. She looked at me and said, “How are you doing, everything ok?” She knew that when you’re a mom trying to make it all work (mommy life, building a business, keeping it “together”) can be a bit messy and right away, I knew we understood each other.
Then we chatted, and when I say we chatted, it was like the world stopped turning around us and we just talked … for hours. Conversations like that could never have developed over email and as we talked I began to realize that our underlying philosophies; quality over quantity, wanting to create something good and doing right by the world were exactly the same. Jennifer rebranded and redeveloped Hip Mommies with her husband Joey after losing her corporate job and what they have created is a modern day take on a mom & pop shop, a good company. A company that understands what parents and families need, a company that is socially conscious and wants to do things the right way, a and company that has heart. I am beyond thrilled to share Jennifer’s story with all of you today as this month’s creative career mom!
- I love to connect with companies that were inspired by motherhood and Hip Mommies is just that! Can you tell us a bit more about how Hip Mommies came to be?
In 2004, my sister in law had a baby and one of her friends in the UK sent her a Bumbo as a gift. She loved it and could not believe that they were not yet available in Canada. Seeing an opportunity, she called their head office in South Africa and convinced Bumbo to let her distribute their product in Canada. She then convinced her younger brother Joey (my husband) to come home from Japan where he was teaching English and run this business with her. She is both very gutsy and very persuasive. They started Hip Mommies (under another name) in the basement of her Victorian semi with the Bumbo, but they outgrew that space quickly. Over the years a number of things changed. My sister in law went on to have three more children and leave the business. The name of the business changed, we changed the entire line up and rebranded. I came on board in 2010 as a side hustle and 2014 full time when I lost my job in a round of layoffs. I was also pregnant, so it was the ideal time.
- As the creative director of Hip Mommies you have a lead role in the company; it’s creative elements and much, much more. How did your background as a digital art director for HGTV and Food Network Canada (two of my all time favourites btw) help you to take on this newer venture?
I think to myself almost daily how lucky I am to have had the career that I have had. The six years I spent in those roles is invaluable now that I am an entrepreneur. My husband manages the sales and the financial side of the business, and we have an operations manager that handles all the logistics. This leaves me to handle the more creative aspects, which often get outsourced or overlooked by small businesses. I designed, built and maintain our website, ecommerce site, and our online ordering system for retailers, and I manage all of our social media accounts, media outreach and creative strategy. I also art direct our photo shoots and find new products, which is really fun.
Having the experience leading a team of designers and working on such huge sites, I have learned a tonne about things like ad serving and SEO development… all things which I generally hire out, but it is really important to understand the basics if you want to grow a business in today’s world. Also, because I did event coverage and blogging for both of the brands, I have some connections in the media world and I understand how the brand / blogger relationship works, as well as how to create compelling content and share it across multiple platforms. I spent years working with websites with 50000+ pages and 55 million page views a year. The stakes were high. Now that I get to apply all of that to my own business, there is no question that we have a considerable edge in our industry.
- As a mother of two, I’ve learned a lot about the “bare necessities” in terms of what we need for our kids and it’s always so great to see companies thoughtfully curating their products and focusing on quality. I love the idea of mom approved products. How do these ideas help to shape the overall concept behind Hip Mommies?
Both Joey and I have spent years living out of backpacks. When we had our daughter, we lived in a 560 square foot loft. It is really important to us that we select quality products that we “buy once” and that really make an impact on the quality of our life. Living in a loft taught us some really powerful lessons about living with less, and once our daughter came along it was pretty ingrained. As the business shifted, I am the one more or less making the purchasing decisions. We maintain a very carefully curated lineup of products that we absolutely LOVE and that we use with our family first.
I have a long list of criteria when I am looking at bringing on a line. It has to be thoughtfully designed, and an original idea. It needs to be useful, multi-purpose if possible, and well made. I view all of the testing reports, and we make sure that the products are truly safe. We also support brands that operate with ethics and that do community outreach. We want to work with people that share our core values and we need to feel good about what we do. We get approached by new brands on a daily basis, but we try to keep our core lineup to eight brands or less, the ones we are fanatic about. We then have the attention to devote to their brands and it is easy to be enthusiastic about products we are in love with. Over the years we have developed a reputation for selling the highest quality products, and I am really proud of that.
I really don’t want to be in the business of selling new moms stuff they don’t need.
- I am all about shopping local and when I find a company that I really love, I keep going back! How has maintaining a smaller line-up of retailers helped to define Hip Mommies?
We made the decision a long time ago to focus our efforts on the smaller boutiques and independent retailers. Occasionally you might find a product or two of ours in a department store, but we shy away from “big box” retail chains if possible. We do this for a number of reasons.
First of all, Joey and I were both brought up in entrepreneurial families. Our parent’s owned small businesses and we understand that struggle, that passion. We are all about it. We also firmly believe that small business and boutiques are the lifeblood of a thriving community. We have so many small communities peppered across the country. Many of them still maintain a shoppable downtown strip with mom & pop shops and general stores. This is completely a key component to the spirit of the community. These small business owners are doing their best, supporting community activities, often providing a destination for tourism, and looking for really great products.
We support innovation and entrepreneurship so we choose to sell to, and buy from, independants wherever possible and supply the products invented by the small-business owners / visionaries. At this point we work with 300 or so retailers from coast-to-coast and are represented in all major communities in Canada.
- Being an entrepreneur and a mother has a lot of challenges; the balancing act can be difficult at times. How do you juggle the business, family life and ‘me time’? Do you have any tips to offer mompreneurs?
I know, this is so, so hard. After my daughter was born, I spent a lot of time working in the evening between bedtime and night feeds and I was burning myself out. Eventually we made some decisions regarding childcare and got the help that we needed. I am going to be honest here and admit that I have yet to figure it out. I have very little time for myself still, and self-care is only beginning to become a priority. Our flexible hours mean that I can be home in time to cook and eat dinner with my family, but we both jump back on the computer after bedtime. Working alongside your spouse can be challenging as well, but also tremendously rewarding. We are always trying to find the right balance, but often find business matters creeping into date night convos.
My advice is really to take help wherever you can get it. And figure out what you can let slide. For some moms it might be home cooked meals, other’s cleaning duties. Your children need a present parent more than a clean house, in my opinion, so I roll with that.
- Hip Mommies is such a thoughtful company, every choice you make seems to come from a kind and honest place. I always love working with companies that feel strongly about their choices and make an effort to give back! Can you tell us a bit more about your partnerships with local charities and the multitude of ways that Hip Mommies gives back?
The Hip Mommies team is committed to making the world a better place, and to doing what we can to support small business and Canadian families. I just feel so fortunate for everything that I have been given. It is incredible to me how brave, how strong parents can be in the face of adversity. There is nothing more incredible to me than a parent’s love so we support a number of charities that help families and children in some way. This includes the Sick Kids Children’s charities (HOW LUCKY are we to be in Toronto, Sick Kids is incredible) and a number of other causes close to our heart including the Galactosemia Foundation Inc., Cloth for a Cause, The Canadian Women’s foundation (because girls run the world!) and Evergreen because they do really wonderful things for the environment.
We also support the Down’s Syndrome Association of Toronto, and through ezpz we support the Changing the Face of Beauty campaign which they are a huge part of. ezpz is truly a unique business. They walk the walk. Dawn Winkelmann, M.S., CCC-SLP, as the Special Needs Program Coordinator and Feeding Specialist is on team ezpz and she spends her time working with families with feeding challenges, and doing outreach for ezpz. ezpz’s products are tested and approved by Dawn (and other therapists) to ensure that all of their products are suitable for neurotypical children, as well as kids with special needs such as Down syndrome, autism, low vision, cerebral palsy… just to name a few.
And lastly, I am currently wearing on my feet, “The Shoe That Grows” (https://fundraise.theshoethatgrows.org/fundraiser/945898) to raise money and awareness to help kids living in poverty get pairs of shoes! This is an incredible initiative, raising money to support underprivileged children worldwide by supplying them with thoughtfully designed footwear that grows five sizes, keeping them in shoes for an extended period of time. Click the link and donate if you can, this is a really incredible cause.
We also do everything we can to support women-owned businesses, small business and local business whenever we can. We ourselves pledge to #dobetterbusiness and operate with the highest standards, while encouraging other businesses to do the same.
- As a growing company that has so much to offer to Canadian families, what are your hopes for the future of Hip Mommies?
When I got into this business I was not sure if I could make an impact, and over the last two years I have tried to steer the business in the direction where I could actually make a difference in the lives of other Canadian families.
My next mission is to try to educate moms about the counterfeit baby products industry. Yep, you heard that right. “Knock off” baby products are everywhere, they are not safety tested and could be potentially damaging to your little one. I am up at night thinking about the moms that bought something counterfeit without knowing it. This is a huge issue with the ecommerce monoliths of course, and some solopreneurs are selling knockoff goods at small pop-ups and consumer shows or online too. Scary right? So #shopsmart is my new mission. I also hope to find more wonderful products for Canadians, some of which are coming this summer including Doddle & Co, which I have been DYING to show everyone, and Ono, our first “furay” into pet.
I hope that Hip Mommies continues to be seen as a trusted resource, and I hope that we get to partner with more amazing people that I feel great about supporting. I also love meeting other small business owners and helping them grow as well. Personally, I want our site to grow more in terms of creative and original content because I am itching for some creative expression. So a lot is coming this year!
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I pretty much love all of the brands that Hip Mommies carries and I’m so excited to be partnering with Hip Mommies for a giveaway!
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