Jessica Calef is a co-founder of Milx, a lifestyle brand aiming to modernize motherhood with their launch product, a nursing and pumping bra you can workout in and wear all day.
If you can start by sharing your story, how did you go from first time mom to first time business owner in 2 years?
Before I had my first baby, I (like most first time moms) knew nothing about breastfeeding and even less about pumping (expressing milk with an electronic or manual pump to store for later). Day one of motherhood, I quickly found this to be one of the most challenging and time consuming parts of having a newborn. Frustratingly, there were no products on the market to help make it easier - specifically in regards to bras. When you’re breastfeeding, you also have to pump, and you’ll do one or the other every few hours for months. I bought nursing bras, and separate pumping bras, and found it extremely annoying changing bras nonstop all day, especially as someone who is constantly on the go.
So, in a moment of frustration (read: rage), I created a bra I could nurse in and hands-free pump in out of my favorite sports bra by cutting holes in the bra Regina George-style. I was obsessed with it and so proud of myself that I invented something! It made my life infinitely easier since the bra was super supportive while pumping, and there was nothing on the market like it- I just had to figure out how to make it wearable all day.
I felt paralyzed by having no manufacturer or design experience, and I played around with sewing prototypes for a month, which got me nowhere. Then I partnered with two of my friends and we asked around to see if other moms had this same frustration, which 100% of them did. So, in order to help us get started, we applied to be a part of an accelerator program in NYC called Tacklebox. In this accelerator program we learned how to go from an idea to figuring out our audience, to ensuring sufficient demand, to creating a splash page site. We also had to pitch to multiple investors and we received positive feedback, which was was encouraging. From there, we decided to work with a product designer with technical expertise to bring our prototype to life.
Two years later we launched and sold out in a few short months!
When you cut holes in your sports bra and created your early prototype, what surprised you about the options that were available?The other nursing/pumping bra options were ugly, antiquated, inconvenient and unsupportive - and for today's modern mom who’s constantly on the go, no bra hit all the marks. That was shocking to us!! Especially when we talked to other moms and every single one complained about the situation but settled for the existing products. We decided to make the mission of Milx to modernize motherhood.
How do you and your co-founders find time to run Milx in addition to your day jobs and raising kids?
The three of us are all marketers and brand builders in our day jobs, but none of us had manufacturing or design experience. It took awhile to figure out how to even get started, but we ultimately relied on design experts to help bring our idea to life.
We have to cut out special time to work on Milx individually, and it’s even harder to find time to work together. Usually, after we get home from our day job and after our kids are in bed we’ll all three jump on a Milx call. Starting a company is very time consuming and stressful at times, but we feel so strongly about our mission and product, that it’s worth the sacrifice. Plus, there’s no better feeling than seeing a stranger wearing a Milx bra!
You launched Milx for sale in the spring, and sold out a few months later. What was some of the feedback both good and bad that was surprising or motivating?
It seems obvious (being women) but we learned a lot about women’s bodies as we worked with focus groups and had moms test our prototypes. We heard from our mom testers that due to standard sizing and poor quality products, most women end up settling for products that do not fit well. That inspired us to work with premium fabrics and sell extended sizes to fit more body types. We also heard a lot of feedback about moms caring about wellness and wanting to get back in shape postpartum (which we definitely felt ourselves as new moms), so that helped validate our sports bra-design. Moms have very little time to squeeze in a workout, so it makes sense to have a nursing/pumping bra you can wear all day and also workout in, saving moms time to change bras.
What was the hardest thing about launching your business?
The hardest part by far was fine-tuning our product and getting it to a point where it was ready to sell. It took a year and a half of designing and testing before we launched.
And what has been most rewarding?
We keep taking small steps ahead and are really proud as we look back on the progress we’ve made so far. Last year, we applied for a small business pitch content with The Skimm, flew to LA for 24 hours, won and flew back. It’s been nice to reflect on these cool moments that at the time we felt like we had no idea what we were doing. The fact that we were able to create this product that strangers now buy is really amazing and motivating, by far and away, hearing positive feedback from moms who say Milx Bras make their lives easier is the most rewarding.
I know you host events, often with a lactation consultation, or with other local mom companies, what do you hope people get out of attending?
We realized that there’s not much education around pumping or nursing, and first time moms don’t really know what to expect or how to prepare. We want to empower moms, help them understand what to expect after their babies are born and how they can best prep to nurse or pump. We also want to bring moms together- new motherhood can be isolating, so having a supportive mom community around you is extremely important.
Now that you’ve recently had your second daughter, what are things you wish you had know as a first-time mom? What is some advice for those about to have a second child?
I wish I’d known to contact my lactation consultant to help me immediately- literally the day the baby is born. Getting help with breastfeeding early on can help with latching and prevent the pain associated with breastfeeding (spoiler alert the first week or so can be extremely painful if your baby isn’t latching correctly!) I didn’t realize I would need to pump right away with my first baby (sometimes it’s necessary), so I wasn’t equipped with a pump or any products/accessories I’d need, like a hands free pumping bra. Definitely order your pump and bra before your baby comes- you don’t want to be scrambling when you get back from the hospital.
What parts of motherhood, nursing and pumping aside, do you see needs to change?
We talk about setting expectations as you enter new motherhood- both with yourself, and with your employer if you are heading back to work. Moms are very hard on themselves, so it takes time and patience to jump back into “normal life” as a mother. Postpartum life is called the fourth trimester for a reason: your body is still adjusting to mental and physical changes.
Let’s talk about fathers and partners, those who aren’t doing the feeding and pumping, how do you think those partners can feel like they’re supporting a new mom? And on the other hand, nursing mothers often have a closer bond than the other partner (at least in the beginning) how can a couple really feel like a partnership with a newborn?
The best thing for partners to do is to take on other responsibilities and help care for the mother, so she can focus entirely on caring for the baby. My awesome husband would cook every meal for me while he was on his paternity leave, which was amazing because I didn’t have time to cook or feed myself. For the partner to feel connected to the baby, skin-to-skin contact is extremely important. Moms can give their partner a special job like rocking the baby to sleep, or bottle feeding the baby.
What are some products you can’t live without, Milx Bra aside, as a parent, or for your kids?
The right swaddle blankets can make a huge difference in your newborn’s sleep! Get a variety to test out as you won’t know which one your baby will prefer.
What are some other women founded, mom oriented companies you think are doing awesome work?
FPC - pre and post natal workouts run by 2 working moms
Loyal Hana - a postpartum clothing brand for nursing moms
Holi Chic - Indian contemporary bridal line that mixes modern and traditional fashion
What’s next in 2019, what do you hope to achieve with Milx, in motherhood, and as a badass woman? To scale our reach nationwide! We’re launching Milx Bras in additional colors, and are expanding into other products that help modern moms.