Brea Albulov is a stay-at-home mom of 2 littles and founder of an online shop called Hope Carried. Hope Carried creates high quality, handmade, babywearing products – and employs mothers who face barriers to entering the traditional workforce.
1:02 – The Birth of a Babywearing Business
Brea, like many mompreneurs, opened her business by accident.
She used baby carriers but didn’t really love the ones she found. When her kiddos were tiny, she wanted a ring-sling type carrier, but her family just didn’t have wiggle room in the budget for one. So, being a savvy mom, she pulled out her sewing machine and made one for herself. Brea says she then became obsessed with creating baby carriers! She started playing around, making carrier after carrier and perfecting her design. People started asking if they could buy Brea’s carriers, and early on she simply sold her carriers for the cost of production. But seeing how popular her products were becoming, she knew that she wouldn’t last for long unless she made a few adjustments.
About six months after she started experimenting with carrier designs, Brea raised her prices, opened an Etsy shop, and grew from there! But one important piece of Brea’s mission was still missing. Brea never thought she would be a business woman, but she DID know that she had a passion for helping others and her business would reflect that. After hearing a story on NPR about refugee women who have barriers to employment, Brea found her mission. About six months after opening her Etsy shop, she hired her first employee who was experiencing a barrier to employment, and Hope Carried was in truly business, creating an amazing product and helping others.
5:23 – Adding Team Members
The number of team members she can hire varies based on whether or not the shop is in a busy or slow season, but generally, she has between 4-6 ladies working for her.
In fact, after Brea listened to our episode about hiring Virtual Assistants, she added an Operations Manager to her team!
6:05 – Hiring People Facing Barriers to Employment
Brea found her employees through her local community. She teamed up with a local non-profit that supports all populations who face barriers to employment to get employee referrals. Brea is especially interested in hiring moms, which fits her business model and mission.
The local non-profit hosts open houses where Brea can talk to job applicants and work with their case managers. At the first open house she attended, Brea was blown away! There were so many people who came, literally walking or taking multiple busses to get there. She couldn’t hire nearly as many people as she wanted, but she could hire some and that’s where the change begins.
Brea runs a training session with her new hires, either working through a translator or using Google Translate to teach them how to sew her baby wraps. Thanks to a non-profit generously providing sewing machines to any Hope Carried employee, Brea’s employees are able to work from home. This gives them a tool they can use to make all sorts of things, not just Hope Carried products.
We are just so excited for the business Brea is growing!
10:06 – Business Logistics
So Brea has multiple seamstresses, working in different places, all making the same products. How does that work?
About 2 years ago Brea’s family was able to move out of their tiny apartment into a house with more room, including an unfinished basement! The move was, in part, thanks to Hope Carried taking off.
Brea’s mom designed a cutting table for her to use, complete with a pulley system and custom tracks for different cuts and dimensions of fabric needed to create Hope Carried wraps and slings.
Here’s a peek at her process:
- Bulk fabric gets shipped to Brea’s house.
- Either Brea or a helper will cut the fabric.
- Her seamstresses will come and pick up the precut fabric, plus all the other parts they need: thread, labels, rings, and so on.
- Seamstresses assemble the products in their workspaces.
- Seamstresses bring the completed products back to Brea’s house, where Brea checks them and stocks them in her basement.
It’s pretty amazing that her operation is all local!
11:38 – Sourcing Materials
While Brea’s systems are down pat, she does say one tricky part of her business is sourcing materials. The certified babywearing non-welded rings are pretty easy to find. But she’s had more trouble consistently sourcing quality fabric. On a few occasions, she’s gotten a great order of fabric from a supplier but has had to send a second shipment back because the quality is just different. And, of course, those are often the most popular colors, cutting off that revenue stream.
She’s not a big enough operation to buy in bulk, wholesale, but that’s the long-term goal.
15:15 – Returning Fabric
How do you even deal with returning fabrics work? Often, Brea never gets her money back. And it’s rare to get back her shipping costs. A lot of times she’ll order samples as a safer bet, but it’s not a guarantee. Eating the cost is painful! It’s a bummer when manufacturers don’t hold up their end of the deal. It’s an unknown and a setback, but Brea doesn’t let that stop her.
16:30 – Keeping On Keeping On
Even though Brea always wanted to be a SAHM and not a business woman, the passion of the difference she can make keeps her going. It’s worth it to her.
There comes a point in business when the mission is bigger than you, and that’s what keeps you going through all the tough business moments.
Brea is not only changing the lives of people who wear her products, by giving them a high-quality product to use to cuddle their babies, but also the lives of her employees. It’s just beautiful!
Little Levi in one of Brea's beautiful ring slings!
19:08 – Baby Product Safety Checks
Do Brea’s babywearing products have to go through more safety checks than other products? Yes! There’s an alphabet soup of organizations that have to certify her products.
Baby wearing products have to be tested for weight limits, suffocation hazards, flammability, lead, and small parts, as well as the structural integrity. She has to have a recall registration system in place. It’s a lot!
How does a mom even get started?
- Don’t freak out! Take a deep breath, and get involved with whatever governing body fits your industry.
- Find Babywearing Compliance Facebook pages and support groups
- Baby Carrier Industry Alliance has great resources for this niche.
- Print off whatever you’re reading on the internet; it’s just easier to keep track of that way.
- Bring someone else in to read over the rules with you.
- Prioritize your tasks, and go one step at a time.
By breaking down her goals one at a time, before she knew it she realized she was certified.
24:00 – Instagram Marketing Strategy
Brea says her strategy is certainly evolving. She gets a lot of photos for Instagram from her customers. But a lot of her social media photos are from professional photo shoots.
Brea says one of the things that has grown her business the most is having a professional photo shoot.
Seeing beautiful images compels people to buy. It was a total game changer to invest in high-quality photos!
There are a lot of ways you can get creative with your photos if you don’t quite have the budget for it yet.
- Find a local business owner whose services you could pay for with your product. (In Brea’s case, she worked with a mom photographer who accepted part of her fee with money and part in free baby wraps for any future baby showers).
- See if you can borrow, rather than rent, a photo shoot space. (One of Brea’s friends has a beautiful home that she allowed Hope Carried to take over for a photo shoot.)
- If you’re part of a Facebook group that deals with small business, you might find a photographer in that setting.
You’re sharing a lifestyle with your photos. That’s the key to social media marketing.
The other key to Instagram is to be engaging. Share your life with your followers! Think about what else your target demographic might want. In Brea’s case, it’s not just babywearing. They are interested in healthy lifestyles. If the mom might be expecting, she could be thinking about a birth plan. Or if a mom is adding more children to her home, she might be wondering about managing time.
Think of your Instagram profile like a magazine. It needs to encompass all of your customer’s life.
29:40 – Influencer Marketing
Digital influencer collaborations are a big part of her strategy. She looks for pictures of people who embody joyful motherhood. She’ll reach out and ask if she can send them a product in exchange for beautiful photos. Sometimes she goes further and will ask the influencer to write a few thoughts to share.
- Sometimes she reaches out to people, sometimes people reach out to her.
- The app Collabor8 has been really useful for matching Brea with digital influencers: http://www.collabor8app.com/
- Be super clear with expectations. If you want 5 pictures and in certain settings, oh and a blog post, say that clearly!
- Brea made a contract to be incredibly clear about her expectations. (Even saying something like, “Don’t feature other products, just mine!”) Since instituting the contract, she hasn’t had an issue.
34:50 – Getting Featured in a Mag
Brea’s babywearing products have been featured in Pregnancy & Newborn Magazine. How did that happen!?
Brea just reached out to the magazine. She keeps a stack of media outlets that she’d like to be featured in, and has crafted an email template that she’ll use and customize for each one.
She wrote to Pregnancy & Newborn in May, but didn’t get featured until the holiday gift guide. And that’s the way that press works. It’s all planned months in advance, so be mindful of that if you’re sending out any emails.
- Share who you are and what your product is, and what the benefit is for them. Why would that particular outlet be interested in featuring you?
- Brea pitches all over the place! You never know who’s going to bite.
- Attach three or four photos to that first email.
- She hired a graphic designer that made Hope Carried a media one-pager. It’s got beautiful images of her product, what their mission is, and other interesting tidbits.
37:37 – Etsy vs. Self-Run Shop
Like Brilliant Business Moms, Brea uses both Etsy and a self-run shop with Shopify. We had to ask what she thinks about each!
Brea loves Etsy because:
- It’s more personal.
- People engage with her brand more. (Brea finds that Etsy users are more prone to communication before they buy, which can set your brand apart if you treat them well!)
- Her shop isn’t promoted, but sales stay consistent.
Brea loves a self-run shop because:
- It’s much more customizable.
- She can add more tutorial videos about how to use her products or to educate her market.
- She can do more hands-on marketing and advertising of her shop.
40:46 – Adorable Mom Moment
You know you love these! You’ll have to tune in to listen for Brea’s.
Facebook: Hope Carried