Home Work: Lessons from Work at Home Parents. This series of Kidoinfo Interviews with parents is about how they manage to squeeze in work time at home (whether working for someone else or running their own business) along with juggling kids, homelife, and childcare (or lack of it).
Today Ilira, co-owner of Rag & Bone Bindery shares with Anisa Raoof of Kidoinfo how she artfully does her Home Work.
Ilira Steinman runs Rag & Bone Bindery with her husband, Jason Thompson, in their renovated mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. Rag & Bone is not just about selling books but about honoring the traditional craft of bookbinding to create a successful business that allows time for her family. The couple lives upstairs from the business with their two children (under seven) in their recently renovated loft.
Rag & Bone Bindery employs eight people to create a beautiful line of handmade photo albums, journals, guest books, baby books, and other fine bindings distinguished by their craftsmanship and enduring beauty. Their books, albums, and journals can be found in fine gift shops, stationery stores, photo studios, and galleries across America and beyond.
Kidoinfo: What inspired you to start your business?
Ilira: I come from a family of small business owners, so it always seemed like a possibility within reach to have my own business some day. I also found bookbinding to be an extremely meditative and satisfying craft.
How did you start your business?
Ilira: Shortly after meeting Jason (now my husband), I had to come up with a birthday present for him. After analyzing the implication of every possible gift, I decided that having recently returned from a bookbinding apprenticeship in Italy, a handmade journal was the best bet — I also liked the idea of the book as an empty vessel and it represented limitless possibilities (oh to be young and romantic again!). He was so taken by the book and the process that he started making books a few months later on his own. For five years, Jason steadfastly made all sorts of albums and journals while I labored away designing and sewing women’s hats. As Rag & Bone Bindery blossomed, we decided to join forces and make it the family business.
How do you balance work and family?
Ilira: When I am in the studio, I try to be very focused and driven so that I can play equally hard when I am with the kids. It isn’t quite so cut and dry since we live in the same building that we work in. I don’t mind that our family conversations often include talk of the business. It’s part of who we are and I think it is beneficial for the kids to know how hard we work and how rewarding it can be.
Please describe a typical day.
Ilira: Breakfast with the kids while I drink as much coffee as I can and prepare lunch for school. My husband does the morning drop-off with the kids so I can get a head-start in the studio. The next seven hours are a whirlwind of emails, production, sales meetings, financial reports, preparing orders, and design decisions. At 3:10 I run out the door to get my daughter and then we head to day care to pick up the boy. Then it’s off to the market, the park, the library, gymnastics, ballet, or all of the above. When we get home, we all crowd around the island in the kitchen and chat and nibble and play with the boy so I can prepare dinner. Baths, storytime, pillow fights, and then a last run downstairs to the office to prepare for the next day. If I’m lucky I can read a chapter of a book or watch five minutes of the latest DVD from Netflix until I pass out.
Do you have any time-saving tricks that you could share?
Ilira: It’s not necessarily a time-saving trick, but I always begin my day with a prioritized task list and then I make sure I do the one thing that absolutely has to get done FIRST.
If you could give your past self (pre-kids or pre-business) any advice, what would it be?
Ilira: Don’t worry about things you have no direct control over!
Where do you find inspiration?
Ilira: I look at a lot of design blogs and I’m amazed every day by the abundance of beautiful things there are in the world. I also get a lot of inspiration from my husband who has a tremendous thirst for new ideas and knowledge. He’ll send interesting things my way via email, knowing that it’s a welcome respite from my typically overloaded plate.
What is the one kid or parent product that you could not live without?
Ilira: That’s a tough one. I’d have to say for right now that we are all pretty tied in to the computer in one way or another.
What is your favorite children’s book or music CD?
Ilira: We never tire of the book Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven.
What do you do with your kids on a rainy day?
Ilira: Make forts out of big cardboard boxes and ride our scooters around the loft.
What is the last great non-kid book or film that you loved? What made it so great?
Ilira: Loving Frank by Nancy Horan. I adore the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright and it was so interesting to read about Mamah Cheney and her radical views on love, family, and marriage.
Do you have a guilty pleasure?
Ilira: Netflixing entire seasons of missed TV shows and watching them into the wee hours of the morning!
If you had an extra hour each day, what would you do with it?
Can you share a story or anecdote that is symbolic of your dual life as a business owner and a mother?
Ilira: Recently my son was sick and home from day care, but I had already rescheduled an important meeting with our bankers twice and couldn’t cancel. After settling him in for his nap, the entourage arrived and we had our meeting (which went on longer than expected). As they walked out the door, I heard the peeps of him beginning to wake up. Both kids have been blessed with that natural ability to nap well during meetings and important conference calls — thank goodness!
How has the experience and on-the-job training of being a mother prepared or changed you in business?
Ilira: It has made me see that the dynamics of my family and my staff are very similar and both groups need to be nurtured in similar ways.
What is next for you and your business?
Ilira: We plan on growing our ecommerce site, doing more custom and private-label work, and expanding our international clientele by attending our first European trade show. I also hope to begin an MBA program in the Fall of 2009.