Most people who know me know I spend way too much time on Facebook. What started as a social “outlet” for me when I left the workforce and often felt stuck at home (take that, extrovert!) quickly became a window into other people’s lives. Unlike those “friends” who connect with you but who you never hear from again, I genuinely like to discover what people I haven’t seen for years have been up to (especially when I’m procrastinating!)
One of my high school classmates began posting about a business his wife started. It made me want to learn more about it and about her. Thankfully, Allison Schickel was up for my asking her a few questions about the product she created, The Brobe, how she juggles raising a toddler and a business and why she is glad she calls Austin home.
LiveMom: How many kids do you have, and what are their ages?
Allison: I have an 11-year-old daughter, Mackenzie, and a 20-month-old daughter, Monya.
LiveMom: What is your background, and how do you think that led you to start a business?
Allison: I grew up in the Fort Worth area and came to Austin in 1996. After spending one year here, I decided I was meant to be a BIG movie star. I packed up my car and headed towards California, picking up a map on the way out of Texas. Craziest thing I have ever done.
I spent nearly two years in California and decided that acting was not for me, so I came back to Austin to finish school. I worked as a bartender at Guero’s Taco Bar for years while in school. In 2001, I was offered a summer bartending job at a hotel in Grand Lake, Colorado.
Being tired of the summer heat and with nothing to lose, I packed my car again and headed to the Rockies. Little did I know, that summer would change my life forever. I met a man, fell in love, and decided to stay. Not long afterwards, I was surprised to learn that I was pregnant. I was 24, newly married and about to have a baby, so we moved from Colorado to Fort Worth to be closer to some of my family.
My first husband became chronically sick with kidney failure just a few months after our daughter Mackenzie was born. I was forced to stop the plan of being a stay-at-home mom and work odd jobs to make ends meet. For the five years prior to his death, I spent my twenties working and taking care of him and my daughter Mackenzie. He was sick all the time so taking him to and from dialysis treatments or visiting him at the hospital was nothing out of the ordinary.
I worked many odd jobs from admin assistant to office manager to waitress to makeup artist, just to name a few. For a long time, I worked sometimes three jobs at once to make ends meet. There were many times I had to make the decision of putting food on the table or paying the electric or gas bill. Back then, I didn’t realize how much I would learn during this period in my life. How could anyone know that all those odd end jobs would not only teach me, but help shape my work ethic and lead me to where I am today.
LiveMom: Tell us more about your business.
Allison: The idea for the Brobe came to me in 2004 while getting ready for work. Every day, I would get ready in my robe but would have to always put on a sports bra to avoid the infamous “boob sweat”. That is how the idea to build a bra into a robe began.
After 5 years of sitting on the idea, I decided to make a prototype to actually see if this idea would work. IT DID!! I wore my homemade prototype for two years before having the idea for the Recovery Brobe and bringing it to life. I was having lunch with a client/friend of mine who had a double mastectomy and three reconstructive surgeries a few years prior. She was explaining to me the difficulties of finding a post-op garment that was functional and comfortable. When she showed me what she wore after she got home from the hospital, I was appalled. My initial reaction was, “If my mother, sister, or friend just had her breast removed, I would want something that was comfortable, attractive, and functional for them.” I wanted to give women dignity in an otherwise hard and traumatic time.
The Recovery Brobe is made of a really soft fabric (think really nice yoga pants) and has built-in pockets for the post-op drains inside the robe. The bra is similar to a sports bra: it fastens in front with velcro, and also has pockets on the inside to hold a prosthetic breast(s) and/or ice packs.
I did a lot of research on what was available to women while in recovery and could not find anything like the Recovery Brobe. I decided to take the “leap” and I contacted a local seamstress who agreed to help me design a pattern and sew a few prototypes. I then contacted the staff at the Austin affiliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation to see what they thought of this Brobe. They loved it. They brought in a woman who had just had a single mastectomy to try on the prototypes. Once she tried them all on, she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “This makes me very sad for all the women who have not had this in the past. You HAVE to make these garments.” That was my confirmation, and I knew this was something I had to do. My hope is that the Recovery Brobe will bring blessings to women all across this country.
With the success of the Recovery Brobe, I had many women ask me to create a Brobe for nursing moms while in the hospital and after they returned home. I am happy to say I received my first shipment of Mommy Brobe for prenatal and nursing mothers in May 2013. This Brobe has a super supportive nursing bra, which makes for easy access during nursing. The bra detaches from the robe to take you through the day.
LiveMom: Right now I know you are in the middle of an Indiegogo campaign. What is the duration of the campaign? What made you decide to use crowdfunding to expand your business?
Allison: The campaign runs from August 23rd until September 22. I decided to do a crowdfunding campaign because it’s becoming a popular new way to raise funds for small businesses. It not only helps raise awareness about the Mommy Brobe, but it also allows people who contribute have a stake in the company by contributing towards a target.
With most campaigns, the “crowd” who contributes to the business has to wait months before actually getting the product. With the Brobe campaign, contributors will receive the Mommy Brobe within a week of contributing, at a 10% discount. I am trying to raise at least $10,000 so I can purchase more product through a new manufacturer at a lower price. In turn, I would be able to sell the Brobe at a lower price online, as well as lower its wholesale price.
LiveMom: What’s next for the business?
Allison: I believe in continuous development of the product. I have already been asked about more colors, styles, and fabrics for the Brobes. Eventually, I will start expanding into a global apparel line and move into other garments with built-in support capabilities. These items may include nightgowns, pajamas, lingerie, active apparel, swimwear and tank tops which have a supportive shelf bra.
LiveMom: How have you juggled being a mom and starting a business? Are there any tips you would give any aspiring mompreneurs out there on how to do this?
Allison: Like most working mothers, I believe that my kids come first, period. I won’t lie, it is very challenging at times, but I have a very supportive and hands-on husband who helps out tremendously. Matt is a paramedic and works 2 24-hour shifts a week (if he does not pick up overtime). On his days “off” he takes care of Monya and I can set up meetings. On the other days, I am literally juggling working from home with a toddler, and that is a challenge.
I try to set up any conference calls when she is napping, return emails while sitting next to her eating lunch and usually get up extra early and stay up extra late to finish work. I was pregnant with her the entire time I was starting this business and received my first shipment of Brobes two weeks after giving birth. There was no stopping. When Monya was a baby there were many times I would be on the phone, typing with one hand on the computer and nursing her all at the same time. You do WHATEVER you have to do.
In terms of advice, I would say: persistence and patience. These are two things I have to remind myself on a regular basis. Ask for help. Surround yourself with others who are smarter than you and more experienced than you and learn from them.
LiveMom: Have you found that Austin is a good place to be a small business owner? If so, why?
Allison: Yes. There are so many resources/mentoring programs for small businesses in Austin I am hoping to be part of Incubation Station in 2014 (fingers crossed). There is also similar mentoring programs such as Bootstrap Austin, RISE, Capital Factory, and Big Austin, just to name a few. There are also so many successful entrepreneurs in Austin willing to help you. I have found the more successful they are, the more willing they are to help. You just have to ask.
LiveMom: What do you like most about Austin? What’s your favorite family-friendly activity here in town?
Allison: I like that there is ALWAYS something to do in this city; however, my family and I don’t take advantage of it nearly as much as we should. I love that we can drive 30 minutes south of Austin and be camping by the river, and the next day we could be in the city watching a band in the park. There seems to always be some kind of festival going on, whether it’s ACL, SXSW, the Crawfish Festival, Pecan Street or even the Kite Festival. There is always something going on that is family-friendly.
I like to take my girls swimming at a local pool in the summer or to the trail (when it’s not too hot). My little one LOVES the Zilker train. You can also usually find us on a Sunday afternoon in the Gueros garden listening to the band and dancing.
LiveMom: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
Allison: In January, I started running on a regular basis. I have tried very hard at actually being able to say that I am a runner, although in this heat it is just brutal and hard for me to be motivated. My husband and I try to go on date nights as much as we can. We like to try new restaurants or go see a band. And, of course, I love sipping on some wine and spending time with my close girlfriends.
LiveMom: Is there anything else you think we should know about you and/or your business?
Allison: I have learned a lot in the past 11 years. As hard as my 20s were, for all the tears I cried, and for all the prayers I prayed, I wouldn’t change any of it. It brought me to where I am today personally and professionally. My outlook on life is much different than it was 10 years ago, and I am grateful for that. Among many things, I learned perseverance, humility, and selflessness. I am remarried now, to my best friend, my rock, and my biggest fan. I truly feel blessed every day for my family, the people in my life, and my health. Professionally, I learned not to spend another day doing something or working for someone I didn’t believe in. I have learned that life is short and to not waste energy and time on things and people that don’t matter.
This is what I was meant to do. Not only do I want to create a functional product that women — real women — can feel comfortable in, but I also believe in creating a company that gives back to the community, as well as to those less fortunate. My mother always says, “Leap and the net will appear.” I have lived my life with that in the back of my head for many years, and I truly do believe that if you trust and have faith in what you are doing, someway, somehow it will work out.
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://www.livemom.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Nicole-Basham-Sara-Marzani-Photography-livemom.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]A native Austinite and soccer-playing mom, Nicole uses her newly-minted-7-year-old son as an excuse to rediscover her hometown through his eyes. In Thoreau’s words, her mission is to “suck out all the marrow of life”, or in her son’s words, to cultivate in him a love of “advenchers”.[/author_info] [/author]