The Confab: Put a Label On It

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

I first read about Julie Cole,  co-founder of the successful company Mabel’s Labels, while flipping through a Canadian magazine some time ago. Of course I did a mental earmark because not only is Julie a smart, successful woman from my homeland, but she is also the mother of — ready? — six children under the age of 11. Wanting to find out much more about this Canuck Wonder Woman, I reached out to Julie through that helpful little blue bird, and she happily agreed to spend some time in The Confab.

And we’re glad that we quickly got in line to chat with her because People magazine just featured her in its celebrity baby blog this week! In that post, Julie offers 5 Tips to Help Keep School Mornings Sane.

Here,  we talk to the working mama about making the impressive leap from lawyer to entrepreneur and how she keeps her busy bee life buzzing.  Plus! You know how we do …  there is, of course, a giveaway. Details at the end of the post.

Photos by Julie Cole

Q: How did the idea for Mabel’s Labels come to mind and then to its fruition?

Julie Cole: My business partners and I noticed a product missing from the market. People were labeling their children’s belongings with masking tape and permanent marker. We knew that we could do better than that. We went to work in hopes of creating a durable and incredibly cute line of labels. Our labels are dishwasher, microwave and laundry safe.

Q: What led you to actually start a business? Was there a moment in your life as a lawyer that made you look towards the entrepreneurial path?

JC: We had the product idea, but the catalyst was when my eldest child was diagnosed with autism. I knew that in order to set up his ABA program and advocate for him, I would need a more flexible work life. The traditional workforce was left behind, and started my way down that entrepreneurial path!

Q: You’re a mom of — let me catch my breath before I say this — SIX children. Was there a point where you thought you couldn’t pull this off — this being a business woman, an entrepreneur and an involved mother?

JC: Strangely, not really. I’ve always been the kind of person who functions best with a whole lot on my plate. I’m the perfect example of “if you want to get something done, ask a busy person to do it.” I work hard to strike some balance in life, and when things seem a bit off, I make some adjustments. I try not to complain about things, but rather fix them.

Q: For so many of us, attempting to take on something as big as launching our own business leaves us feeling intimidated, petrified and like we’re putting our families in second place. What words of wisdom would you offer to other mothers who are considering a big life/career shift, but cannot move past the “it’ll never work” voice in their heads to take the first step?

JC: That first step is a biggie — no question. Entrepreneurs have to be risk-takers, so if you are risk-averse, this might not be the path for you. But we all get scared and worry about balancing our work and family lives. What has worked for me is the flexibility that comes with owning my own business. However, flexibility doesn’t get my work done for me. I may be able to go on an afternoon playdate or attend a school play, but I will be on my laptop at midnight — and that is exactly how I want it. I chose this path because I’ll happily be on my laptop at midnight if it means I greet my kids as they get off the school bus.

Q: We’ve spoken here before about what Tina Fey called the rudest question to ask a working mother: “How do you juggle it all?” But  I find the question more insightful than insolent. It helps others to hear what you’re doing — how you’re doing it — as you walk that tightrope between work and life. So … how do you do it? And what are some of your tips for keeping things moving forward at home and with the business?

JC: In the early days, I was slow to get extra help. It seemed counter-intuitive that I should have someone help me with the kids, since I started this business to be with the kids. I finally got a full-time nanny when my fifth child was a baby. I always say that I was about three kids too late making that decision!

Getting help is a sanity saver, and it means that when you’re with your kids, you can really be with them. I am now more productive at work and at home. The lesson there is: Don’t be afraid to get help.

My other tip  is having great perspective. If my kids don’t have veggies at dinner, I don’t beat myself up over it or feel guilty. No one has had scurvy yet! My legacy will not be that my house is the tidiest, and I’m good with that. So, actually,  my advice to other mothers is to lower your standards.

Q: How has motherhood influenced or changed the way you approach challenges in your business, relationships and life overall?

JC: Being a parent is the very reason my business got started. I’m not entirely sure how it has changed my daily interactions and my approach, except for the fact that all day long I’m smiling inside because of my six awesome little people!

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve developed for finding balance and getting closer to living your best life?

JC: Know your own needs. If you need “me time,” take it. You also have to know what amount of time at home versus work makes you  happiest. Some women are better moms when they are away from their kids during the day, and some moms shine when they are home with their kids all the time. Know yourself and how you function best,  and that will make you a better mom and a happier person.

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For more on Julie Cole, check out her blogs at The Mabelhood and The Baby Machine. You may also follow her on twitter @juliecole.

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Giveaway time! Most of you have been deep in Back-to-School shopping for a good few weeks now.  So, thanks to Julie and Mabel’s Labels, we’re helping things along. One lucky MMM reader will receive this –> Ultimate Back-to-School Combo! The combo is valued at $42. This giveaway is open to residents of Canada and the US. And to be entered to win, all you have to do is leave a comment below. Tell us the story about the one thing you most regret losing . (See? Now, if you had a Mabel’s Label on that thing … )

Leave your comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. We will announce the winner (and post their story) in two weeks — September 20.

27 Comments
  • 1

    I adore this post and thank you, thank you, thank you for advocating that moms get help. I know delegation and asking for help when I need it have been my two biggest challenges in terms fo motherhood. There’s this feeling that moms should be able to do it all on their own. What’s weird is that people rarely ask men how they do it all, b/c it’s assumed they have a lot of help, especially from their wives. I’ve gotten this question a lot, too, and my answer is, “fairly good organization, discipline, and childcare.”

    • 1.1
      Julie Cole says:

      Thanks for your comment….I never want to give the impression that I’m this superwoman who single-handedly raises six kids and runs a business. There is a big team involved in running this machine! :)

      • 1.1.1
        Ms. Mary Mack says:

        Thanks for doing the interview, Julie! Great intel for busy mamas out there. You may not be a superhero, but you’re a super woman. (teehee.. Wordplay!) And having a team behind the scene makes all the difference.

    • 1.2
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      I would pay money (OK, just a few quarters) to see the reaction on some male mogul’s face when asked: So, sir, how do you do it all? You have four kids, you’re running this company, and you’re a husband– how are you juggling all of that? Don’t hold my breath on that one, right? Thanks for the comment, Ernessa. You’re spot on about the importance of asking + getting the help we need.

  • 2
    Kristin says:

    I regret losing my Duran Duran tour t-shirt. It was for Seven and the Ragged Tiger, and it was from my first concert. At the time (and frankly, now as well), the $15 for the shirt was a huge splurge for me, and I loved that t-shirt well into my college years. I have no idea where it is now, but I want it baaaaaack!

    • 2.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Your college roomie swiped that thing, man. (Like how I’m throwing out accusations so boldly, Kristin?) I never was into buying Ts from concerts, but the jumbo, glossy program? That was my jam. Mind you, I cannot tell you where my Jackson 5 “Triumph” or “Victory” tour shiny books are now. Sadly, I can’t even blame a roommate. Sigh. Thanks for the comment!

  • 3
    Ashley says:

    Love her perspective. Would love to try out her products, too!

    • 3.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Got a back-to-school pack for The Youngster, and the labels are grand! Highly recommend Mabel’s Labels. Cute, smart and practical. <—Words that should describe a fly pair of shoes, I say. Thanks for the comment, Ashley. And I'm with you about JC's perspective on all that's on her plate. I'm even trying to complain less and ask for help more.

  • 4
    Ashley says:

    Lost a cool, vintage camera many years ago. Left it–along with all the memories on that roll of film!–on a train in NYC. Yikes. It was a big whoops and left me with a heavy heart. While life goes on without the material STUFF, it never feels good to lose something special.

  • 5
    Donna says:

    The thing I most regret losing is my patience! I am *crazy* for my kids, but find that from time to time I’m a little cranky. Mabels — is there a label for that?! Having read Julie’s interview, I love the bit where she encourages us all to know how we work best to be a better Mom and happier person (they go hand in hand). We are at “our” best when I work part-time – financial sacrifice, but time with my kids that I won’t look back on and regret not having! Thanks for a great article!

    • 5.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Exactly! Know thyself, woman. It’s the right way to a happier life. I agree; a gem piece of advice. Thanks for the comment, Donna. As for the patience… there’s no label large enough to help us hold on to that thing ALL the time. Those little wonders of light will test even the saints among us, right? Part of being a loving, caring human. :)

  • 6
    Meghan says:

    I lost a ring that was given to me by someone dear to me. It was packed up with some other belongings when I moved across country and, when my friend who was storing everything for me until I had a shipping address, packed stuff in her car, it was broken into. The thieves took everything from the car, including her own CDs. Grrr.

    • 6.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Awful! Your poor friend must have felt horrible as well. Those crooks … sending evil eye their way, we are. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, Meghan.

  • 7
    Valerya Baker says:

    I’ve been lucky and haven’t lost too many important things as an adult. But one thing I lost, that I can never replace is a cd signed by Brandi Carlile. She is an amazing singer/songwriter and my best friend and I were so lucky to get to see her in concert so many times before she made it big. We saw her at an intimiate little concert in Eugene, OR where she signed our cds after the show. I treasured that cd both because of the impact her music had on me and for the memories I had of my best friend. Unfortunately, it was stolen out of my husband’s truck a few years ago.

    • 7.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Again with these thieves! Horrible. Well, at least you have the memory of the concert and meeting Brandi Carlile, right? That’s not going anywhere. Thanks for stopping by, Valerya.

  • 8
    Jill Cott says:

    I love Julie and her company. I have had the pleasure of attending some of her seminars- on how to deal with large families. I have also had the pleasure to work part time for Mabel’s Labels and they are an awesome company that produces a fantastic product!

  • 9
    Robin Schisler says:

    I somehow lost the play kitchen my dad made for me when I was a kid – probably about 6 years old. It seemed HUGE to me and I spent hours playing with it. My brother even installed our old bathroom faucet above the tupperware “sink” to make it more realistic. Now, with 2 girls of my own, I really wish I knew where it was, so I could pass it along.

    • 9.1
      Julie Cole says:

      it’s at darren’s house. I’d bet on it!

    • 9.2
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Awww, man. On the bright side (as you already know, I’m quite certain), you had a wonderful father who made you this fantastic thing. Plus, your brother helped make it even more fantastic. What a shining example of love. Thanks for reading, Robin.

  • 10
    Julie Cole says:

    ok, so I don’t wanna win labels since I’ll just make myself some, BUT – I had my 1987 Joshua Tree U2 concert shirt STOLEN off a clothing line in 1989. Yes, I still carry the bitterness of that….imagine what I could get for it off ebay right now????

    • 10.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      What’s with these crooks?! Off the clothing line now? Come. ON!

  • 11
    Sadie says:

    I lost a pair of earring that my Grandmother gave me. They weren’t very valuable, just one of my favorite things to wear.

  • 12
    mama bok says:

    love the article – as an owner by association to the spouse’s business and only one kid – I already have a hard time keep everything organized. Last year – my daughter chloe’s hat was stolen in school – it was a one of a kind hat from etsy – my daughter was devastated for she loved her hat very much – we never even marked the hat with her name – because we never thought it would get stolen. So we did buy some mabel’s label and now everything of hers is labeled.

  • 13
    LauraVS says:

    I had a beautiful leather jacket in high school, with this great lining that looked like a weathered old map, and I adored it. It was swiped one day when I was at lunch. I even think I know who do it, but I never confronted her. If only I’d had a Mabel’s Label on it!

  • 14
    Ginette says:

    When I was 9 my grandparents took me to Florida. We drove down from Pittsburgh. Along the way we stopped to grab a bite to eat. I ended up leaving my purse inside and didn’t realize it till we stopped for dinner. A week later on the way back we stopped at the same place and they had my purse