Tara Elwell Henning & Miriam Williams
These seasoned retail vets set out to shake up the maternity and postpartum apparel experience, to allow women to feel like themselves in a time when everything around them is changing. Enter, Bloomwell, an apparel brand for expecting and new moms. Launched in 2018, Bloomwell brings a fresh perspective to maternity style and modern motherhood. Retail executives (Louis Vuitton, Walmart, JCrew) and longtime friends, Tara and Miriam designed an assortment that dresses her -- not the bump -- designed to fit, flatter and celebrate modern women. We love how these clothes can move between pregnancy and postpartum, helping to dress you for the office or for fun!
The Returnity Project: Tell us a bit about yourselves, your families and your careers
I’ve loved retail since I was folding the denim wall at the Gap in my undergrad days. There’s an energy and creativity in retail that really inspires and motivates me. I've held operations and strategy roles at Coach, Louis Vuitton, J.Crew, and L’Occitane and, most recently, I ran Logistics Partnerships at Narvar. I love to visit wine country and run the occasional 5K. I live in Berkeley, CA with my husband Jake and our 3-year-old son. We bought a hundred-year-old house and are recently experiencing the joys of a bathroom remodel!! Ask me anything about undermount sinks and grout colors.
Tara Elwell Henning:
I’ve lived in so many different places and that has had a tremendous impact on my life. I studied in Paris (double majored in French), which led me to my first job at Louis Vuitton in NYC. I caught the retail bug and continued with roles in buying and planning at Walmart.com, Gymboree and the retail-tech startup, Narvar. Launching a company was never something I thought I’d do. After a deep dive into solving my own pain point combined with my passion for the retail industry, the opportunity to redefine the way a generation views maternity and modern parenting, I simply couldn’t let it go. My husband, Louis, and I live in Sausalito, CA with our two daughters (4 ½ and 2 ½) and our black lab. We enjoy exploring Northern CA and are often in Tahoe (winter AND summer), wine country or exploring on a hike.
TRP: At The Returnity Project, we focus on supporting women who are returning to work from maternity leave. What was your Returnity experience like?
Absolutely crazy. My son was born in New York City and when he was three months old, I accepted a job in California, while I was still on maternity leave. My first day back at work as a new mom was also my first Monday as a California resident and my first day at a brand new job. I was navigating so much change that I honestly didn’t know which end was up. Although my entire world got shaken up, I was showing up at work and in social situations as if things were normal. It took a year to realize that we needed to slow down for my own health and for my family’s happiness. These days we like to keep it simple - having a constantly changing kiddo is more than enough complexity!
The only thing I remember, despite feeling ready, was that I had a good, cathartic sob session while holding my daughter the night before my first day back. Before having a kid, the thought of being out of the office for three or four months seemed like an eternity. In those four months, my world had been totally rocked and when I got back, it didn’t seem much had actually changed -- they were still talking about the same stuff! I feel fortunate to have an incredible caretaker who’s been with us since our first daughter was born. I know that I am a better person when I have both a career and motherhood. Pro Tip: Don’t go back to work on a Monday! Try going back on a Wednesday or Thursday to lessen the blow.
TRP: We're huge fans of Bloomwell and your focus on making moms feel beautiful, confident (and fashionable!) in pregnancy and postpartum. Tell us more about what led you to create Bloomwell.
MW & TEH:
We first met and became friends while working together in NYC at Louis Vuitton. In the 10 years since, we’ve both gotten married, moved across the country to the West Coast, had kids, and worked at three companies together! Aside from the late nights and brunches in NYC, weddings and life, we always found a way to geek out on retail. In 2017, our pregnancies overlapped and we were lamenting that everything about maternity clothes, including the shopping experience, felt like a total afterthought. From our experience seeing the fast-paced change of the retail landscape, we knew something was missing from maternity clothing. After a survey, which we like to joke went “viral” (with nearly 700 responses in 36 hours!), and many conversations with anyone who had designed or sold maternity clothes in the last decade, we agreed we could do something better and never looked back. But it’s not just about the clothes for us.
We’re interested in telling stories about today’s moms - from incredible achievements at work, to her service in the community, to struggles in fertility, to the complexity of dual earner households - our generation is writing our own rules and pushing for business, government and media to catch up. We don’t think motherhood is all sunshine and rainbows. And we want to empower our customers to feel like THEMSELVES in a time when everything around them is changing. So, we try to keep it real and acknowledge the amazing people that are raising tiny humans.
TRP: What differences have you noticed about working mom life, going from corporate careers to an entrepreneurial venture?
I believe in authenticity and have always used my social skills and life experiences to build relationships at work. Once I became a mom, I felt it was important to talk about my son and portray motherhood in a positive light. I do remember on more than one occasion, walking into the elevator in the morning after having woken up at dawn, changed a blowout diaper, nursed, showered and commuted, and looking at a 20-something co-worker without a care in the world next to me, and thinking “I’ve lived five days already and you’re barely awake.” A good reminder that you NEVER know what’s going on in someone’s life outside of work.
I was at a start-up as employee #4 when I became a mom and that had its own challenges. I was the first person at the company to have a baby. I was lucky that our CEO, a father of three, wanted to set a high standard for women and parental leave. Since we didn’t have HR, I did the research and proposed a maternity leave that’s still in place today. It was stressful to think that the company size doubled in those four months I was out, but I came back to continue to ride the rocket ship.
As co-founders of Bloomwell, we certainly have a lot of fun and love that each day is different. However, there is a lot of pressure. We each love the flexibility of being able to take our children to school in the morning (if our schedules allow!) and have had plenty of late night sessions after bedtime. It’s often stressful, but we absolutely love what we do and believe we can change the way moms shop. We do try to find time to disconnect from work. Secretly, we just try to get our husbands and kids together so we can at least grab a glass of champagne and talk. Our favorite line is, “Talk to you in five minutes” no matter what day or time it is.
TRP: What's one of your most memorable experiences as a working mom - good or challenging!
I went to a retail conference when I was still on maternity leave and my son was about 10 weeks old. It was a unique opportunity that I didn’t want to miss, and we got a babysitter for the day. I brought my breast pump and had arranged for the space to pump, but when I got to the room and pulled out all my “gear,” I realized I’d forgotten one of the teensy flanges that make the pump function properly. I panicked, and ultimately decided to order via Amazon Prime Now. Within the hour, all new Medela breast pump attachments arrived to the conference location before my boobs LITERALLY exploded. I was sweating (milk) bullets. I swear, if I could have hugged the delivery person without making a mess, I would have.
For far too long, my husband and I were passing ships in the night during the first year after our first daughter, Alexandra, was born. If he wasn’t on a work trip, I was. It came to a head when, on a Sunday, I realized I couldn’t get to the airport in time for my flight based on when he would be home to pass off the parenting torch. It was an awakening moment when I thought it would be totally normal to bring the kids to the airport and do the handoff there. (Shoutout to UrbanSitter for saving the day!) That mindset was neither sustainable nor healthy. We recognized that we can’t burn the candle at both ends. These early years are HARD! It seems so basic, but make sure to set some sort of frequent date nights with your husband or partner. You’d be surprised how hard it can be to connect when two careers and life take over!
TRP: What are you most proud of?
I feel I’m still constantly learning in my relationships. I’m proud of the foundation that I’ve built in my personal and professional life and the way that foundation allows me to grow, expand and change.
My family and friends. It’s pretty simple. Especially since becoming a mom, I often try to take a moment to recognize how fortunate we are, and despite the excitement of launching a company, these relationships are invaluable.
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