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Today’s Home Work: Alizah Holstein

Alizah Holstein is the owner and founder of Kowalli, a new company based in Providence that makes fleece baby-carrier covers. Kowalli Baby Carrier Covers keep parents and their babies close and warm when on the go and allow them to get out of the house quickly without worrying about bulky layers or unruly blankets. Alizah also happens to be a professional medieval historian.AlizaandSon

Kidoinfo: What inspired you to start your business?

Alizah: Last fall, when my baby was about 4 months old, I searched and searched to find a good solution to carrying him in cold weather. I tried blankets (they always fell off); I thought about a big coat (they’re unwieldy, and I didn’t want to spend the money to buy an ugly coat that I didn’t like); I tried a vest designed for carrying babies, but my son hated it. So I made my own fleece cover — it was a simple design and I didn’t think much about it. Until mom after mom (and grandparents too) stopped me on the street to ask where I had gotten it. After a few months of this, I thought, hey! I have no background in business or manufacturing, but I do have a little extra time and the desire to do something creative. And soon after, Kowalli LLC was born. So that’s where my inspiration came from — necessity and public appreciation.

I had never aspired to be in business. Part of this was because I had always found my inspiration in writers and teachers- thus my career as a historian. But in recent years I started to notice that some great things can be achieved through business. For instance, I read about the founding of Patagonia and how that company was a pioneer in offering maternity leave. I have come to realize that some companies, through the vision of their owners and management, contribute in tangible ways to their employees and the communities around them. This is my long-term objective with Kowalli — to grow into a company that can offer progressive policies and a job that enhances, rather than detracts from, quality of life.

Kidoinfo: How did you start your business?

Alizah: I basically asked as many people as many questions as I could. I talked to retailers, business owners, designers, manufacturers, teachers, family members…anyone. I continue to read blogs every day — one that I would highly recommend to any mom (or dad) starting out in business is The Mogul Mom, written by local “mompreneur” Heather Allard. She’s an amazing resource and really willing to share her knowledge and insights. I also went to trade shows to see how things worked. I mulled for months over the right name. And I hired a lawyer. Oh, and an accountant. I never thought I’d say those words! So many people were so kind, candid, and supportive — Line and Pernilla at Kreatelier on Hope Street, for example, were exceedingly generous in sharing their own hard-earned experience — that it was difficult not to start a company!

The only other thing I would say is that in addition to the excitement of it all, starting a business can be a nail-biting experience. It’s expensive, and you can never fully predict what the outcome is going to be. I would recommend to anyone starting out to try to project the first year’s expenses at the outset, before you even take the first step, so you have some idea of what you’re getting into. I say this because it’s something I didn’t do.

Kidoinfo: How do you balance work and family?

Alizah: For me, there is a sustaining triangle in work, family, and friends. Any two without the third means a life lacking. My whole family (my husband, my parents and their partners, my two brothers, and my in-laws in Spain) contributes enormously to helping me work through challenges with my business. And my friends help me work through challenges in my family. It’s like an emotional recycling program. I try to let my energies flow around that circle and find their balance.

Kidoinfo: Please describe a typical day.

Alizah: I generally try to be pretty disciplined with my time, but my son is at an age where it’s very difficult to work with him around. So when he’s awake, we concentrate on play, family and friends. We’ll Skype with his grandparents in Spain and his grandmother in Israel. We’ll take a walk and I’ll use that opportunity to call a few retailers and suppliers, then we’ll meet some friends at the park and it’s all play. When he takes a nap, I take the opportunity to catch up on emails, eat lunch, read, and enjoy my 75 minutes of freedom. Then he wakes up and we’re on the go again, maybe to the grocery store, maybe to the elastic factory! My husband helps out enormously, often taking our son for several hours so that I can concentrate on work. It’s a constant juggling act.

Kidoinfo: Do you have any time-saving tricks that you could share?

Alizah: I keep my to-do list as short as possible. It saves me the time of having to remember to do things later. My husband taught me the “three-minute rule,” which I try to implement. It’s essentially this: If it takes three minutes or less to complete a task, do it right away. If longer, then it goes on the to-do list. It’s a great little rule because it helps keep those minute tasks from accumulating on your desk.

Kidoinfo: If you could give your past self (pre-kids or pre-business) any advice, what would it be?

Alizah: Don’t hesitate to ask the hard questions of yourself or of anyone else. It often happens to me that I think back to conversations in the past and wonder, why didn’t I ask this or that?

Kidoinfo: Where do you find inspiration?

Alizah: Next to to the Spanish Academy in Rome. Somehow, it’s true. I adore it there.

Kidoinfo: What is your favorite children’s book or music CD?

Alizah: Here I kind of go with the classics. I love Where the Wild Things Are and Goodnight Moon. Oh, and books by Tove Jansson. Her books about the Moomins are completely enchanting.

Kidoinfo: What do you do with your kids on a rainy day?

Alizah: My boy is just getting old enough to notice things like rain. So I suppose we’ll be spending a fair amount of time standing in it, collecting it, jumping in puddles of it, etc.

Kidoinfo: What is the last great non-kid book or film that you loved? What made it so great?

Alizah: I recently saw La Vie en Rose about the life of Edith Piaf. I thought it was incredible. There’s a scene when she’s hiding in a dressing room before her first major concert, and the image comes (it seemed to me) straight from the artist Caravaggio. He painted, among other subjects, beggars and prostitutes and hucksters, so it was an amazing way to reveal Piaf’s moment of transformation from the dark to the light of the stage. It was totally striking to me.

Kidoinfo: Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Alizah: Medieval popes.

Kidoinfo: If you had an extra hour each day, what would you do with it?

I would spend it with abandon.

Kidinfo: Can you share a story or anecdote that is symbolic of your dual life as a business owner and a mother/father?

Alizah: Without my son, I would have no company. I made the first Kowalli to keep him warm and close to me. Now that I have a company, I take my son with me wherever I can. He goes with me to the fabric store, to the elastic factory, to the bank. He’s in the photos on the product packaging, he’s on the website…It’s impossible for me to separate my business from my experience being a mom.

Kidoinfo: How has the experience and on-the-job training of being a mom/dad prepared or changed you in business?

Alizah: My son has taught me to understand “persistence” in a new way. He’s learning to walk now, and every day he falls over and over and over again. It strikes me that he rarely, if ever, gets angry or frustrated on account of this. He just gets up and tries again. I think it’s an amazing lesson for most of us for whom failure is such a terrible word. The most important thing is to keep trying, to keep learning from our mistakes, and keep our balance between work, family, and community.

Kidoinfo: Where can one buy the Kowalli?

Alizah: Locally they’re available at Kreatelier on Hope Street and ModMama in Wayland Square–in the stores and  online through their websites. I don’t sell directly through my website, but I do have a page called “Where to Buy,” where I list the retailers that carry the Kowalli: http://kowalli.com/buy. They’re also available online at http://www.theslingstation.com and http://www.peppermint.com.

Kidoinfo: What is next for you and your business?

Alizah: More falling, for sure. But hopefully, some big steps too!

Home Work: Lessons from Work-at-Home Parents. This series of interviews looks at how parents manage to squeeze in work time at home (whether working for someone else or running their own business) along with juggling kids, home life, and childcare (or lack of it).

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  • Loved this interview (seeing myself in there with children doing “work” next to me in the office) and love the product idea. Going to share this right away with all the babywearers I know!

    My only question, will there be an adult-sized version? The fleece looks lux and thick and I love the colors–Katy’s question makes me wonder if an adult-snuggie-type product could be up next–just saying!