“Don’t be intimidated or dismayed when faced with what seems like an insurmountable task. Prove them wrong and keep going.”
Nancy Sunderland, Founder and Creative Director of Poe Wovens—an American-made, Vermont curated woven baby wraps store—knows a thing or two about sticking to your guns as an entrepreneur. As a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran, mother of five and wife of a dairy farmer, Nancy has been through the highs and lows of entrepreneurship. Here are five lessons she shared with us at StreetShares about what she’s learned along the journey:
Lesson 1: Persevere, adapt and overcome
Nancy went into the Marines a month after her 18th birthday. Her first unit in the fleet was in Okinawa, Japan. She discovered upon arrival that not only was she the only woman in her platoon, but that all the former female Marines assigned to the platoon had been reassigned off the motor pool floor to administrative desk jobs. Within the first week they wanted to do the same to her.
“I told my squad leader, ‘No. I went to Motor T school to drive trucks and that’s what I’m here to do.’ I became the first female Marine to stay on the floor for the whole year. I developed a thick skin that has helped me in my business.”
Lesson 2: If you can’t find the thing you want, make it yourself
Nancy adopted the practice of baby wearing with her first child. It made her feel empowered and liberated because she was able to have a close, intimate bond with her child, but also have her hands free to do other things. Nancy tried many wraps with her four other children, until she discovered the perfect one for her: woven wraps. It was breathable so she wouldn’t get sweaty, and it supported the weight of her young children even as they grew heavier.
Unfortunately, Nancy found that woven wraps were only manufactured in Europe, India and China. Nancy saw an opportunity to bring the industry to the U.S. Due to the high cost and low margins associated with importing the raw materials, Nancy knew she would have to manufacture her product locally in order to be profitable. So that’s what she did.
Lesson 3: Find inspiration everywhere
Nancy looks for inspiration for her baby wrap designs everywhere—in furniture upholstery, fashion magazines, and her beautiful farm in Addison County, Vermont. Most of Nancy’s designs areinspired by classic menswear textiles, such as herring bone, gabardine and chevron.
Nancy works collaboratively with a textile designer—she sends along her vision, and the designer brings the file to life. Working with a textile designer enables them both to not only design patterns, but create new and innovative weave structures that lend themselves perfectly to baby wearing.
Lesson 4: Set boundaries and prove the nay-sayers wrong
“Here is my advice for female entrepreneurs and momtrepreneurs: Mothers need support and healthy boundaries with work, whether that’s shutting the laptop down at the end of the day or hiring a nanny. Make family time sacred. If I didn’t have my family supporting me, I wouldn’t be able to carry on—I need them in my corner cheering me on. And don’t be intimidated or dismayed when faced with what seems like an insurmountable task. Prove the nay-sayers wrong and keep going.”
Lesson 5: Remember why you do what you do
Nancy recalled one design called “Spangled” that was inspired by the American Flag. She sent the wrap to a few women to test it out. One woman chose to wear the sling with her baby when she saw her husband for the first time returning home from his overseas deployment.
“I felt so honored to be included in that moment, even if in just a little way. The photos she sent of the two of them embracing was so inspiring.”
About Poe Wovens
Poe Wovens’ wraps are manufactured and “lovingly packaged” in Vermont. As a female, Veteran-owned small business, Poe’s mission is to produce artisan quality products while supporting the local economy.
Poe Wovens used its StreetShares loan to jumpstart its move from online to national retail by building inventory, increasing personnel, and stepping up its marketing and PR game.
Nancy's portrait was taken by Mae Memories