Many new mothers feel like they have only two options when their maternity leave runs out. They can stay at home with the baby or find a good daycare.
Turns out, there’s another alternative.
Several mothers in Bismarck and Mandan ditched their nine-to-five jobs and started businesses out of their homes. These women take advantage of their children’s nap and play times to create and market products that benefit mothers everywhere.
Erica Hager of rural Mandan worked in the public affairs department at the University of Mary until her daughter, Kya, was born a couple years ago. Now she relies upon more than 10 years of sewing experience to make baby booties that are comfortable, machine washable and stay on children’s feet.
“When she was born, it was my husband’s and my priority to have me stay home with her,” Hager said.
Hager originally planned to do graphic design work out of their home north of Mandan, until she took a closer look at the handcrafted items she’d made during her pregnancy. Among the burp clothes and receiving blankets, she found a winner.
“Kya was wearing the booties, and I realized that this was the greatest thing I’d ever made,” Hager said. “They stayed on her feet and she liked them.”
The first pair was made with the help of an online video tutorial. It took countless tweaks and alterations, but eventually the first “Bison Bootie” was born.
“I made them the way I wanted them,” she said. “It’s my pattern. You won’t find these anywhere else.”
Hager named her new business “Bison Girl,” and it took off from there. She started a shop on Etsy – an online store that showcases handmade or vintage items – and immediately received requests to sell wholesale in several stores.
After a little more than a year, she has sold hundreds of booties across the globe and recently began setting up shop at local art and craft fairs including the Pride of Dakota Holiday Showcase.
“People in North Dakota like Pride of Dakota and they like to buy North Dakota products. It’s just a home run.” she said. “It makes people feel like they’re buying from family members even though they’ve never met them before.”
Hager has set aside a spot in the basement to mass-produce the little, cotton booties. She doesn’t make them one at a time, but in batches of 50. “It’d be like making just one chocolate chip cookie” she said.
Iddy and Bidy Baby
Marian Sorum of Bismarck also stumbled on her home-based business idea by accident. Many of her friends were having babies, so she started making them blankets.
Around the time her own son, Keaton, was born she remembered all the positive feedback and demand for her home crafts. She quit her job in the pharmaceutical industry and started Iddy & Bidy Baby.
“To be a full-time mother with a full-time job, something had to give,” Sorum said.
The business doesn’t “pay the mortgage” but it gives the marketing professional a chance to stay involved with the business world. She promotes an ever-evolving product line that has expanded from blankets to include burp clothes, changing pads, bibs and high-chair mats.
“My ultimate dream is to have something part time, something in marketing,” she said. “I do this for a hobby and because I love it.”
Hide-N-Eat Nursing Covers
Hannah Rooney of Bismarck already had a home-based business when her boy, Sullivan, was born more than three years ago. So she decided to start another one.
The photography major established Visual Eyes Photography after graduation but didn’t come up with the idea for her newest business, Hide-N-Eat Nursing Covers, until her son was born.
Rooney made the first nursing cover for herself, but she soon began receiving requests for the clever privacy aprons. After making a few changes and alterations, she started marketing them. The covers now sell on Etsy and in stores in North Dakota and Minnesota.
“I think it allows for flexibility of schedule,” Rooney said. “I’m a creative person … It’s almost like Vitamin D. I get it through sewing and photography. When you feel down and do something creative, you feel better.”
Baby Button Tops
Unlike the other mothers, Melissa Ahonen of Lincoln didn’t give up a job when her son was born. She added to it.
The full-time St. Alexius employee had her son, Easton, two years ago. He was born six weeks early, and like other preemies he came with a long list of care tips. One of the doctor’s orders was to keep the newborn’s head covered at all times. It was easy at first. But as Easton grew, it became harder and harder for Ahonen to find affordable and attractive head covers.
With two grandmas who passed on a love of sewing and quilting, Ahonen didn’t have to look far for an alternative to buying hats. As requests for her homemade hats grew, Baby Button Tops was created.
“I work full time at St. Alexius. That’s my mortgage job,” she said. “Baby Button Tops is my fun job. I love doing it.”
Ahonen’s hats and headbands appear on Etsy, Zulily and most recently on the head of the daughter of movie star Jessica Alba. A photo of “The Fantastic Four” and “Good Luck Chuck” actress and her daughter appeared on the online social networking service, Twitter.
“I didn’t think it was really mine at first,” Ahonen said after seeing the headband on Alba’s daughter. “I was very excited and humbled too. They have access to anything they want, so for her to wear something I made was very exciting.”
Ahonen is a member of The Artisan Group, a community of artisans who provide gift bags full of handcrafted products to celebrities. The gift bags are handed out before The Academy Awards, The Golden Globes and The Primetime Emmys.
Whether it’s building booties or sewing sashes, these mothers share a sentiment that was probably best expressed by Hager: “I’m a mom. That’s what I am. I make booties on the side.”
To find out more about these North Dakota businesses or to purchase their products visit Etsy, Facebook or the next local art and craft fair.
-Mike Albrecht is a freelance writer for the Great Plains Examiner.