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Interview with a Work At Home Mama: One mama's perspective on the creative process, finding your muse, and starting your own business
Colette Palamar is an artist, businesswoman, and, most importantly, a Work At Home Mama. She fell in love with creating beautiful, unique baby bonnets after the first one she ever made – in all-neutral colors for her DD, Sabine – became an instant hit around town as it stayed adorably snug on Sabine’s head through trips around the neighborhood, lots of playtime, and breastfeeding. We asked Colette to tell us about art, her inspiration, and her life as WAHM creating handmade baby bonnets for her business, Urban Baby Bonnets. UB2 is offering Mothering readers a very special offer, too! Just enter in HIPMAMA at checkout and you'll receive free shipping on your order!
Q: What inspired you to create baby bonnets?
A: One week, my grandmother-in-law, Ada, brought a little baby bonnet with her that she’d sewn for Sabine. I was fanatical about NOT putting my little girl in pink and searched all over for simple black and brown clothing… and Ada knew this… and brought me a bonnet made from a vintage black floral fabric. Unfortunately (or fortunately) the bonnet didn’t fit Sabine… and my obsession began!
The very first hat I ever sewed was the Vines and Goldenrod bonnet that Sabine is wearing in the trademark UB2 picture. I fell in love with the hat right away, but had no plans to sell them. Over the next couple of weeks, every single time I took Sabine out in the bonnet (and I mean every single time—it started to get funny!) people were stopping me and asking where I got such an adorable hat. And I thought: if this many people are stopping me and loving this hat… well, maybe I should make some more! And that’s how Urban Baby Bonnets was born.
Q: Your bonnets have lots of special features; did you design all of the features into the bonnet at the outset?
A: Yes and no. The size of the brim and the shape of the side of the bonnet were both very deliberate. But, I did not know how amazingly useful the bonnet would be. The more I used that first Vines & Goldenrod bonnet, the more I realized what amazing features it had. For example, we chose to breast feed. In Ohio, like many places, nursing in public is frowned upon. I was prepared for this, but it’s still kind of weird to have people think that breastfeeding is “icky” or “inappropriate.”
I never wanted to hide myself under one of those nursing tents—I felt like that was admitting that what I was doing was inappropriate. Once we started using the bonnet, I’d fold the brim out while nursing. And small as it is, that little brim provides a whole lot of coverage! It was perfect for me—it gave me enough coverage to feel a bit modest, but it wasn’t so overwhelmingly large that I felt like I was “hiding my shame.”
We practice attachment parenting, so Sabine was in a sling or other baby carrier all the time. When we were outside, I wanted to make sure her face was protected from the sun, but there was something really rather off-putting about slathering chemical sunscreen on my infant’s face. We tried some of the big brimmed sun hats, but the brims would flop down into her eyes and make her cry. She wouldn’t keep any of the hats on. I knew that I needed to put snaps on the bonnet when I made it— both to make sure it would stay on, and because I did not want long ties.
So, when I made the pattern, I designed little straps that would snap under her neck. This tiny little strap meant that the bonnet did not slide around and block her eyes (no more crying baby!) and it stayed on (and in place!)—no matter what baby carrier we used. I found myself wondering why people had basically written off the bonnet as something kind of boring and old fashioned, as we struggle with “modern” hats that are cute but almost useless.
Q: What’s it like being a work-at-home mom?
A. Working from home allows me so much time with my daughter—it’s amazing and it’s made us very close. We wake up together (we have a family bed), and spend the whole day together, most days. We have lots of time for learning, reading, making art and even working together. I work in the evenings and Ada, my daughter’s great grandmother, comes over for a few hours twice a week so I can have some mommy time—usually so I can work.
One of the coolest things about being a work-at-home mom is that UB2 has allowed me to help other mothers make that same decision. We have contracts with 6 women who do all of our sewing. They are all local—and come to my studio to drop off finished bonnets and to pick up materials. One of our sewists has a young son who is autistic. She can’t work a traditional job because his school often needs her to come and help him when things get a little rough.
Two other sewists are a very close mother-daughter team. They run their own small business—and sewing for UB2 lets them continue their business and we provide income during their leaner times. I love that UB2 money is helping these families do what is best for them. I am proud of this, and of my dedication to making sure my products are handmade right here in the US.
My daughter is my source of inspiration. I do this work for her, to make her life better (financially and emotionally), and staying at home to work is central. We live outside of a very hip and very small town in Ohio. We have 5 acres, lots of gardens, chickens, two dogs, and a cat. There’s a little stream running through our property and we’re adjacent to a nature preserve, a state park, and protected farmland. Being present on this land and with my daughter is essential to the kind of person and mother I want to be. I am so thankful that my work with UB2 makes these joys possible.
Q: What’s coming up for UB2?
A: We’re really excited to announce that we are developing a budget-conscious bonnet. It’s a gorgeous, seamless design that really shows off the beauty of the amazing fabrics we use—and we’ll be able to bring the same heirloom, made-in-the-USA quality to our customers for about 25% less than the modBonnet retails for. This is a really tall order, considering that we want our moms to be fairly paid—and labor in the US is much higher than what we could source overseas. We’re not really interested in what we can sew our hats for overseas, though! So, the changes we’re making streamline the design and the manufacture of the bonnets, and we’re choosing more budget conscious fabrics—but they are still adorable and they’re still 100% cotton.
Right now, we’re in the product testing phase. We are hoping that the new bonnet will be available for 2013.
To see more of Colette's practical, gender-neutral, made-in-America bonnets, visit urbanbabybonnets.com. Mothering members can enter HIPMAMA at checkout for free shipping!