Thursday, March 22, 2018

5 Questions with Emilee Palomino of Smarty Girl: Crushing Gender Stereotypes

As a mother to a daughter, I believe it is important to help her grow into a woman of confidence, strength, and purpose.  This, to me, is one of the hardest things to do in a balanced way, considering the stereotypes that exist all around us and the pressures women experience throughout their entire life.  My husband and I already do our best to do our part switching up gender roles - we both work full-time jobs and regularly demonstrate to our kids that what they see on the television or in the movies is not necessarily true for everyone. 

Raising a girl is so tricky.  You want her to be able to embrace her femininity without punishment, but also feel comfortable to be smart, strong, and love some of the same things boys love too.  It seems from a very young age, Emma has always been drawn to the color pink, pretty sparkly things and fairytale stories.  I recall when I was still pregnant with her, trying to buy non-pink girl clothes and failing miserably.  I inevitably succumbed to the typical girly signature pink color and gave up on my anti-pink endeavors.

But as she got older, she started showing interest in so much more than unicorns and rainbows and fairies.  While still obsessed with the Disney princesses, she sought out dinosaurs like her brother and talked about them with as much passion.  She was curious about how things worked and fascinated with our homemade volcano and how the lava spilled out.  We called her our little problem solver because even when told no, she would brainstorm her way to an eventual solution and feel proud of the results.  In the same way Cooper figures out how to turn his transformer into a vehicle, I want Emma to know she can play with the very same things and learn too without any limits just because of what society expects of her gender.  Boys' toys allow them to build, create, learn a lot more than girls' toys.  So while we do give in to her obsession with LOL dolls (thankfully we love that this brand too celebrates all kinds of different girls), we also buy her lots of Legos so she has room for imagination and coming up with her own creative ideas.

Emilee with daughter Sofie!
With Emma's growing interest in science and dinosaurs, it was as if it was meant to be that I should stumble upon Eva Chen's instagram story post showing her daughter Ren's dinosaur leggings by Smarty Girl.  I was immediately interested in where she got those leggings, mostly because it is so hard to find that kind of subject matter on little girls' apparel.  After checking out Smarty Girl online, it was hard not to be impressed by Emilee Palomino and how she came up with her brand.  Her story was and is continually inspiring to me, so I asked if she would be willing to answer some questions on my mind and she so kindly agreed and took the time to answer them:

How long has Smarty Girl been in business? 

When I couldn’t find pink airplanes for my daughter in December 2016, I had the idea of clothing with “boyish designs for girly girls.” I saw a gap in the market – designs that are typically marketed to boys…but with a girly twist. So I decided to dip my toe in and see if consumers would respond to toddler girl dinosaur leggings. I worked my booty off during my daughter’s naptime and found a perfect illustrator to draw the dinos and an overseas factory to manufacture them. In June 2017, 500 pairs of dinosaur leggings landed on my doorstep and it’s been a nonstop hustle to get the word out. I was blown away by the response and launched 4 more prints in December 2017: chemistry, sharks, insects and (of course) airplanes. Smarty Girl leggings have been worn by the daughters of mega fashion influencers, an Olympic athlete and were seen on the BBC and in the Daily Mail. Here we are in March 2018 and I’m working on my next collection: cars, robots, sloths + more! I’m planning to do a Kickstarter for these new prints.

Where did you originally come up with the idea for Smarty Girl leggings? 

I’m from Wichita, Kansas, which is known as the Air Capital of the World because of our deep aviation roots. My dad and grandpa are pilots and I grew up around planes. Amelia Earhart is from Kansas and I’ve always idolized her and other female pilots. Then I became a mother and my one-year-old daughter developed a fascination with airplanes. I searched for a shirt with pink or purple planes but couldn’t find a single piece of girls’ airplane clothing. Sure, I could dress my daughter in blue and green. But I wondered: What bigger message is sent when young girls believe that aviation is not for them? Girls can’t be what they don’t see. My daughter can be a pilot or scientist or whatever she wants. But without exposure to those things, how will the seed be planted? And that idea is fuel to the fire in my heart. I can hardly think of anything more important than raising my daughter to be curious with a thirst for knowledge. Female empowerment, motherhood, STEM education, art, fashion – all of these are passions of mine. And they’ve collided into a little naptime project that has resonated with so many other moms of girls. It’s eternally rewarding that I empower girls to believe that nothing is off-limits when it comes to their fascination of the world. It makes my job not feel like work. I simply sell leggings but those leggings are accomplishing a greater mission that feels so vital and needed.

What sets your brand apart from others? 

Most importantly, that I offer girly versions of topics that other brands had assumed only interested boys. When my dinos launched last summer, I couldn’t find dinosaurs for girls anywhere. Now just about every children’s brand offers them. I’ll forever be trying to stay ahead of the curve with trends. And I’ll always be the underdog but that’s a perfectly comfortable place to be. There’s nowhere to go but up. Smarty Girl leggings are also organic and made ethically, which is increasingly important to shoppers. (Rightfully so!) Ethical manufacturing was an absolute must when I decided to make clothing overseas. I was not willing to further my dream if it meant that others would suffer. I also share lots of behind-the-scenes glimpses on Instagram. I’m open about the ups and downs of running a business and chasing a two-year-old. Consumers don’t typically see that level of transparency and candor from other brands. And many of the moms in my online tribe have become genuine friends. 

Emilee makes every effort to ensure her leggings are ethically manufactured.
What challenges did you face when first starting out with Smarty Girl, and how did you overcome them? 

It’s not what you know and it’s not who you know. It’s who you know that’s willing to help you. I had zero knowledge of apparel manufacturing. No education, no experience, no insider connections. The little that I did know, I learned from Google, YouTube, podcasts and blogs. I have a marketing background but you can’t market a product that you don’t know how to acquire. There was a steep learning curve that I’m still slipping my way up. It’s been helpful to attend networking events and make connections with those who have answers to my questions. Never underestimate how much a person is willing to help an energized entrepreneur. I’m doing something innovative and the hustle and hunger is there. That’s exciting for a lot of business people. Good ol’ plain hustle is the hardest, slowest, most soul-crushing way to overcome difficulties. But struggling and failing is the only way I’ve accomplished anything.

What advice do you have for other moms out there looking to start a business of their own? 

If not now, when? If not you, who? Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.

And this question is from my daughter Emma: "Can you make one with ninjas on them?" 

A ninja print would be great! I’ll add it to my ever-growing list of ideas. xoxo

I'm so thankful to Emilee for sharing her story and I hope you get to read this and be inspired yourself!  I know both Emma and I are anxiously waiting for the debut of her sloth leggings and hopefully some ninja print ones!  Reading Emilee's answers have genuinely been inspirational to me and I am thankful for moms like her who make it a priority to do best for our girls and for the world.  If you are interested in purchasing Smarty Girl leggings, make sure to check them out here and if you want to know more, follow her instagram @smartygirlbrand where you can view her stories about her work and all that is involved!

Post a Comment