full circle

This week is a bittersweet one for me. Sunday night at midnight I closed the Natural Urban Mamas online boutique.

It was a decision that was a long time coming and one that was and is the right thing for me to do for myself and for my family.

But that is not what I want to write about today. Today I want to tell you about this journey, this chapter in my life and what it has meant to me.

In the summer of 2007, I was a new mama with a six month old (adjusted premature age) baby boy and I was struggling.

He was SO tiny and I was so new to this. I kind of knew what I wanted to do and what I needed to do as a parent, but I had no idea where to go for advice and support from like-minded mamas. Yes, I belonged to a new moms group through my public health unit and I did connect with a few of the mamas there (and I am glad to say that we are still friends 5 years later), but there was a part of me that didn't quite fit in and I didn't know why that was.

I started cloth diapering on a whim one day (I called a diaper service and had them start me the next day) and all of a sudden I needed a lot more diapering supplies than what I had on hand. So I headed out to the only baby store that I knew of that catered to cloth diapering mamas. And a funny thing happened. I found a sanctuary of sorts at this tiny little hole in the wall shop. And I started going there often. To shop, to hang out, to just talk to another person who could answer my questions and in a somewhat odd way nurture the budding natural mama in me. I would stop there when Little C and I where out and about to breastfeed him in the owner's old rocker in the back room and hang out for a while (sometimes a LONG while).

And it was at this shop that I met the first of many women who have changed my life. She was the store manager at the time and her son was 6 months older than mine. We bonded over some pretty weird coincidences. Our kids names were one letter away from being exactly the same. Her son was also a preemie. And for some reason she just seemed to get me. She was the one who invited me to my first La Leche League meeting. She introduced me to an amazing group of attachment parenting mamas, and a world of parenting possibilities that I had only read about before (The Dr. Sears Baby Book was my bible during and after my pregnancy).

It wasn't long before I started working part-time at said baby store (often with a baby on my back). It was there that I became somewhat of a cloth diapering expert. And I become way more proficient and knowledgeable about babywearing too. Mamas started coming to the store and asking ME for advice! Which kind of reminded me of that time in my Calculus 101 class at university when everyone was cheating off of me during midterms, even though I was the only one in class with no Math 31 skills to back me up! (If you have ever met me, you will know that Math is SO not my strong suit!)

With working at the store, attending my monthly LLL meetings and hanging out with my new group of crunchy friends, an amazing thing happened. I started to truly find my mama groove.

In December of 2008 after looking at my very long list of bookmarked parenting sites and natural products that I had on my computer, I had a stroke of brilliance. I approached my friend and asked her if she wanted to start a website with me. It was something we had kind of tossed around in the past, but this time I was serious. And so was she.

The original vision that we had for Natural Urban Mamas was that of a 'Mama Hub'. A central place on the internet that mamas could go to for information, support, and recommendations for products that we loved. And then even before our site went live, our vision grew to include our little Natural Urban Marketplace with natural parenting products that we just couldn't find anywhere else.

We started doing small trade shows and local events. I remember our first event, it was Earth day at Hawrelak Park, in April and it was -20 degrees Celsius that day. We toughed it out for 6 hours with my partners six month old strapped in a baby carrier and wrapped in a warm fleece babywearing poncho on one or the other of us the whole time! The Mayor even stopped by to check us out!

The Natural Urban Mamas Version 1.0 website had a LOT of information in it. Lists of the best places to shop for mama and baby in and around Edmonton, all the La Leche League meeting times, info on lactation consultants (that was a small list, and unfortunately still is), and contact info for every doula and midwife we could find!

And slowly but surely, our list of hard to find and unique products grew as well. We were the first store in Edmonton (online or otherwise) to carry baltic amber teething necklaces, we had the amazing Wisey Playmat Bag that is just plain brilliant if you ask me. We sourced out some pretty unique baby carriers as well, and helped popularize the awesome Canadian-made Pipa Pack soft-structured baby carrier! We found Annie Marie Padorie (AMP) cloth diapers and instantly fell in love, sold off all our own personal diaper stashes in favor of these amazing diapers and refused to carry anything else!

We started to get some press as well. Natural Urban Mamas has been featured on the cover of our local Edmonton 24 hours magazine a grand total of 3 times and in the Edmonton Sun and Journal as well. We were getting busy and noticed and it was starting to be a lot of work. But work that my partner and I loved and work that did not take us away from our families.

We hosted Natural Urban Mamas Park Days {holla, if you attended one of these early gatherings!} and would have big play dates at local playgrounds in and around the city. We would talk about all things cloth diapering and babywearing and breastfeeding and it was wonderful. We were doing what we wanted to do. Creating a community for open sharing, for learning and yes, for growing our budding small business.

All seemed to be going so well...

And then in October of 2009, something changed. I think it was primarily for me that things changed. I started to feel like the division of labour between my partner and I was not equal. We had originally incorporated Natural Urban Mamas Inc. as 50/50 shareholders. And in hindsight, and after reading MUCH about being in business with partners, I now realize that this was our first and perhaps our fatal mistake. There may be exceptions out there, but in general, in business someone always has to be 'the boss'. The one with the final decision-making power. The chair{wo}man of the board so to speak.

I don't want to bore you with all the legal details of all of this, let's just say that I wanted a 51/49 split and she did not. Neither of us would budge and in the end I ended up buying her out of her shares in Natural Urban Mamas. We tried to salvage our friendship afterwards, but it was never the same. We both went our separate ways and continued on our paths and I have always wished her the best for herself and her family.

In February of 2010 it became official and I was now the sole owner and Chief Executive Mama of Natural Urban Mamas Inc. I had our logo redesigned to reflect the change and started the process of upgrading the website to Natural Urban Mamas Version 2.0. By this time it had become a full-blown specialty online babywearing boutique and I was continuing to find amazing North American small mama-run businesses and manufacturers to support and bring to market.

It was also around this time that I started to meet some other strong, amazing women and would like to give them a shout out for helping make me and Natural Urban Mamas the success that it is.

To Connie Peters, the founder of Modern Mama. Thank you for including me in your first Pregnancy Awareness Month event and opening doors for me to meet so many others! And a HUMONGOUS thank you for dragging me to my first Tweet-up, where I met the likes of Erica Ehm, Tanis Miller and Tamara Plant just to name a few!

It was because of that brunch with Erica that I got to go to Toronto in June of 2010 and film a babywearing segment for YummyMummyClub.ca. And it was because of Connie that I really took notice of my twitter account and the possibilities that this social media platform presented for me!

To Carol McBee, the president and founder of Mommy Connections and the Bossy Mama network. Thank you for having me as part of your initial Mommy Connections groups. Getting to meet so many new mamas and introduce them to the world of babywearing was and is the driving force behind all that I do. You gave me a willing and open audience to educate and engage and I can never thank you enough for that.

It was also at a Bossy Mama event, that I once again got to hang out with the infamous Redneck Mommy, the one and only Tanis Miller. And on the other side of her sat this smart, sassy, and fast as lightning tweeter, one Jennifer Banks. You might know her better as @jenbanksYEG. Jen took pity on me and my lack of SEO knowledge and decided to make my little website her pet project. I can not ever thank her enough for all that she has taught me about the interwebs and done for me and I am so incredibly glad to now call her a dear, dear friend.

To Tamara Plant, the woman behind MOM Magazine and the new You Are Fierce website. We may not always see eye to eye on a lot of things, but I give credit where credit is due and it was you who first referred to me as a Lipstick Crunchy Mama. Little did I know at the time how much I would end up identifying with these words and I now carry them with me as a badge of honour and I am proud to call myself thus. Thank you for that.

To Erin Heard, the creative genius and super mama behind the Cosy Baby Happy Mommy baby carrier brand. We first met at the 2010 Mom, Pop and Tots show in Edmonton, me doing my first BIG trade show as a solo-preneur and you with a 2 week old baby R snuggled in a CBHM stretchy wrap. Who would have thought that two 'competing' babywearing businesses could have forged such an amazing synergistic relationship over the last few years. I appreciate so much about you. Your giving spirit, your incredible creativity and talent and your amazing ability to pull it all off with your three beautiful girls in tow! I look forward to many more years of great collaborations and friendship!

Seriously people, this list could go on and on and on and on and... let's just say that I know some pretty darn amazing people. Most of whom I call friends.

Running Natural Urban Mamas and becoming THE Natural Urban Mama has been the best 'career change' I have had to date. Being an entrepreneur has taught me so much. About business, about life, and most importantly about myself. Without it I wouldn't have found my writing 'voice' and discovered this passion within myself. I wouldn't have gotten to meet so many of my customers over the years and snuggled all their beautiful babies and shared my love of babywearing with them. I wouldn't have travelled to my first big blogging conference and met even more amazing women and truly discovered what I want for my future and the future of Natural Urban Mamas.

So here is the deal Mamas.

THIS is what I want. I want to write. I want to share. I want to educate and inform and advocate for the things that I believe in. I want to make you laugh and cry and know that you are ALL wonderful and amazing women and mothers. I want what my partner and I had first dreamt of years ago. A hub, a gathering place, a wonderful site to go to for information, resources, advice, to commiserate and yes, even to laugh (even if it is at me!).

This is the NEW Natural Urban Mamas blog. It is still a bit of a work in progress as I get everything sorted out and added, but this is my new home on the interwebs! I hope you like it. I hope you will stay awhile, subscribe, visit me on Twitter and Facebook, PIN things you like and recommend the site to your friends. The information lists will be up soon for local doulas, midwives and lactation support, as well as my top recommended places to shop (online and IRL) for babywearing gear and cloth diapering supplies.

Have a peek around and let me know if you have any suggestions for improvement.

Welcome to my new virtual Natural Urban Home... (the real Natural Urban Home is still about 6 weeks away from being done!)

... make yourselves comfy!

Much Love,

Natasha~

P.S. Even though the store is now closed, I am still available for group and private babywearing consultations and will continue to work as a Professional Babywearing Consultant for groups and retailers. More details on this will be forthcoming, but in the meantime, if you need my services please feel free to contact me at natasha{at}naturalurbanmamas{dot}com.

 

 

Getting out of your own way!

Today was a really good day for me. I got to listen to someone whom I look up to and aspire to be like. A woman who is a mother, an entrepreneur, an amazing speaker and a true inspiration to so many. Today I had the immense privilege to hear Arlene Dickinson, from CBC's The Dragon's Den, speak at the most surprising of places-a hockey arena in small town Alberta.

As I sat in the arena with 300 business men and women from the local surrounding municipalities, I really did not know what to expect from Arlene's presentation. The title of her talk was called "Lessons from the Den: Succeeding at Business & Being an Entrepreneur".

What she presented and what we got from her was an incredibly personal account of where she came from and what made her the successful business woman that she is today. And you know what, her life, her story, it was not an easy one.  Her road was not without its share of BIG bumps. She immigrated from South Africa to Canada with her family with little more than the clothes on her back. She grew up poor but smart and graduated high school at 16. Was married at 19, had four kids and was divorced by 28.

With no formal education, and four small kids at home in Calgary, Alberta, she struggled to find work and through a friend eventually kind of stumbled upon marketing and found she had a knack for it. She joined Venture Communications in 1988 and 10 years later bought out her two partners.

Today I learned two really great things. 1. Arlene Dickinson is one hell of a story-teller, and 2. MARKETING is all about telling a story!!

Here are a few other great lessons from Arlene today about being an entrepreneur.

You need three things to be a successful. You need passion, you need commitment and you need leadership.

And Leadership is not just about being the boss. It is about putting yourself out there even though it is a bit uncomfortable. Even if the world will see your flaws. Leadership is about telling people that they matter, it is about being honest and vulnerable (admitting when you don't have all the answers) and it is about being focused on the task at hand.

Passion and commitment are about you and your company. Telling YOUR story. People need to understand the history of your business to really connect to it. Do you believe in what you are doing? Are you willing to put yourself out there and make a difference for others? Anything is possible if you allow yourself to do the things that scare you!!

Which brings me to Arlene's next point that really struck home with me. She said this today and it was like a light bulb exploded in my head!!

The thing in the way of most entrepreneurs is themselves.

And this reminded me of a post I wrote a few months ago about the Bitch in the Corner. You remember her right? The nasty one always telling you that you are a bad mother, bad wife, bad housekeeper, etc...... Well it seems that there is the equivalent in the business world and I would like to call her 'The Saboteur'.  Always there in her corner of your mind telling you that your ideas suck, no one is going to go for this, why bother, you don't have the resources anyway, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera....

Well, SHE needs to GO! Kick that sabotuer to the curb and get out of your own way!!

Maybe there is a reason Arlene's company is called VENTURE Communications.

As in nothing VENTURED, nothing GAINED!!

So to all my fellow entrepreneurs. Be passionate, be a leader, and go out there and do something that scares the shit out of you, cause you never know when a Dragon may come knocking on your door!!

And thank you so, so much Arlene, for renewing my spirit, for giving me the push I needed to do what I have been afraid to do and for telling your story.

Never let those who say it can't be done stand in the way of those who are doing it.

Awed and inspired,

Natasha~