Handmade in Virginia
Beautiful mama, creator and maker of Handmade Happiness by Ruth. When you're done getting your daily dose of inspiring women, take a peak at all the amazing stuff if her shop!
Tell us a Little about yourself, your family and your business.
I design and make heirloom quality toys for children from my home studio in Virginia.
What did you do before starting Handmade Happiness by Ruth?
Believe it or not, I was (and still am) a licensed architect. I worked for a local firm but we parted ways after I had my first baby. These days I keep my license current because I worked so hard to earn it, but I'm not sure I'll ever go back to designing buildings full time... toys are simply too much fun!
How did you come up with your company name and why?
I wanted a name that makes people smile the minute they hear it. I have a dream of one day teaching and employing other women to make the toys, and how fun would it be to receive a card with a picture of your maker that says "Handmade Happiness by Mary" or "Handmade Happiness by Tamar" Everything will always be Handmade and (I hope) will always bring Happiness.
What inspired you to start your own business and how did you start it?
I started making toys for my children from the time my oldest was 6 months old. I designed a few that were flops. And then I designed a few that were favorites, that sparked imagination and open ended play. When friends started asking if I would make and sell some of them, I knew I was onto something. So I said yes and sort of dove in. I was in way over my head until I hired a coach and found a group of other makers to help me along.
Is there a specific tool you use that makes managing a business easier?
Dropbox for sure! I love that I can access photos and files from any device anywhere. And my paper calendar, I keep track of everything for our family on one big calendar... and even though I know the digital version is more efficient, I just love to see the paper version up on the wall.
What were some of the learning curves of just starting out?
Toy safety compliance! It's so important and it's Federally regulated, but not many small toy makers know (or care). I spent a whole summer redesigning my toys to make them as safe and as fun as possible. The other big learning curve has been the bookkeeping and accounting side of things. I am fully capable of doing it, but my creative brain doesn't really enjoy all of the details and numbers
What's it like being a business owner and mom, how do you schedule both?
I don't sleep a lot, haha! Actually, we just recently made the decision to send my youngest son to part time daycare to give me some uninterrupted working hours every day. It helps that I make toys, so my boys can be my official toy testers and can help me with some of the initial design work. We also have a house rule that if you're gonna be in Mama's office while she's working, you have to be working too. There are so many little drawings and scissor practice projects around my studio from my little helpers.
What has been your greatest lesson in business and motherhood?
Done is better than perfect. I could agonize over a design, or I could make sure it's safe, make it and move on. I could guilt myself into thinking that all playdates and family meals need to be Pinterest worthy, or I can focus on time spent together and dinner together. A story can be read on the floor in the office, it doesn't always have to be in the special story chair. An email can be sent quickly, it doesn't have to be perfect. I'm definitely still learning this one.
Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs and mother?
Time off is necessary. I cannot work all the time (even though it's tempting) and I cannot play all the time (even though I want to).
What does a “normal” day in your home look like?
Normal looks like breakfast together, make a lunch, put the oldest on the bus, take the youngest to daycare, then back to my office for some concentrated work time, usually the computer side of work. Pick the youngest up from daycare, put him down for a nap, have a little quiet meditation/prayer time for myself, and then I sew all afternoon. Family dinner together, no work before bedtime. Bedtime for the kids, then a little more sewing. My husband (who also works from home) and I are both trying to be mindful of stopping work earlier in the evening so that we can have a little time together before bed.
Besides business and your family, do you have any hobbies you love to enjoy (when you have the time)?
I love to garden! We grow vegetables and herbs and flowers and my boys love to help plant and harvest. We grow everything organically because they both love to eat veggies straight from the garden (of course, those same vegetables washed and on their plates are no longer palatable, haha!)
I’m a huge coffee lover, and I'm always looking for new types, do you have a particular favorite? *
41 & Change Coffee - It's a fair trade coffee from Nicaragua that supports an amazing mission.
Who has been an inspiration to you in your life and why?
My mother and my grandmother. They taught me to sew, taught me to cook, taught me how to take care of my family and myself. If I can be half the woman that they are, I will have lived a full and worthy life.
If you could travel anywhere or do anything in the world what would that be?
I would LOVE to travel to New Zealand to swim with the dolphins with my family when the boys are older. The adventure of traveling all the way to the other side of the world with them would be amazing.
If your children learn one thing from you what would you wish that to be?*
I want them to learn that they have a beautiful, unique gift to give to the world. They were each made with a purpose in mind and there is good work waiting for them to do, if only they are faithful to seek it out.
Any other comments or advice you would like to share?
Best advice ever: don't compare your beginning to someone else's middle. It's really easy to look at other businesses and wonder how they got so successful, but instead, it's more beneficial to look where I started and see how far I've already come. Working for yourself is not a race or a competition, it is a life to be lived.
I love this last advice this mama has!