What started out as a hobby for Little Hip Squeaks' CEO Amy Richardson-Golia back in 2011—sewing baby hats out of thrifted T-shirts from her kitchen table in Brooklyn—turned into a full blown business in just eight months. "I was pregnant with my son Eli and I had several friends who were due within four weeks of each other, so I was making hats as gifts," she says. "People really liked them and suggested I try selling them on Etsy." Amy began designing digitally printed fabrics for hats, headbands, and blankets, and within a year, she was able to quit her production job at Teen Vogue to focus on LHS full time, which grew to include baby and children's apparel. Within two years, she launched her own e-commerce site and switched from sewing in-house to manufacturing just up the street from her Industry City studio in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Now, with a baby girl on the way (due in January) and an Instagram following of over 64,000 and counting, Amy's life on both the home and work front is growing faster than ever. We sat down recently to discuss the benefits of manufacturing locally, outgrowing Etsy, taking risks and managing flops, and her plans to balance it all with two little kiddos. I hope you enjoy her refreshingly down-to-earth, wise-beyond-her-years take on life and entrepreneurship as much as I did!
What was the turning point that catapulted Little Hip Squeaks (LHS) from hobby to career?
I went to Etsy's Get Found Symposium, a conference about how to reach out to bloggers, generate press, and market yourself. Really basic stuff, but at that event, I met some influential people, including Grace Chang (of Pink Olive) who suggested I reach out to Cool Mom Picks. Within two weeks, we were featured on their site.
Did the Cool Mom Picks feature single-handedly put you on the map?
Yes. The month after that, I was making as much money as I was at my real job. Eli was 10-months-old at the time, and we said, "Great, we'll get rid of the nanny and I'll be able to stay home and run this business." And of course now she works more for us than she did when I was at Teen Vogue.
But it's a different feeling when you have a nanny and work for yourself, right? You call the shots and manage your schedule.
Exactly. Even now, as busy as we are, I never work a full eight hour day. My husband is a writer, so he works at home. I'll leave here a 3pm and he taps out at 4pm, and we'll go do an activity with Eli. Being able to set your own hours really helps when it comes to that balance thing. And I take every Friday off. That's my day with Eli. With the baby coming, we're going balls out and doing big stuff like going to the beach for the day and getting ice cream.
Are you nervous about juggling everything with the new baby?
I feel like I'm in a good place compared to when I was pregnant with Eli and working at the magazine. I had to worry about maternity leave and pumping and all that. Now I know I'll bring her to work sometimes. No big deal. It's way less stressful this time around. The business will take the back burner for a couple of months. I think once you've had a kid, you know that a newborn is way easier than a toddler. You're tired, but you can get stuff done. I'm just going to throw the baby in a wrap and come to work. And I can work from home sometimes, too. I'm so glad this baby comes right after Christmas so we have one more holiday where it's just us and Eli. We'll spoil him like crazy.
You seem to have an awesome handle on things. A lot of entrepreneurs feel like they're always working, like they can never really "shut down." Does that ever ring true for you?
Until last year, yes. We did all the sewing and shipping from our house. But the moment I switched to manufacturing, everything mellowed out. Now I can leave work at the office and I don't have to bring it home with me, so that's been a huge relief. I can disconnect when I want to. That being said, when you have a business that's so focused online with social media too, every day it's part of your life.
Do you manage social media by yourself?
My VP is based in Philly, so every morning we log onto iChat and talk about what needs to get done that day. She schedules all the content for our blog and Facebook, and I man Instagram and Twitter. Instagram is easiest for me because it's a platform I like.
It's fun, right?
It is. It's sort of my baby. A year-and-a-half ago, we had 400 followers and now we have 64,000. It snowballs quickly. I think when a CEO is running their own feed, people can tell, and they get to know you and your brand, which in turn helps you grow. I keep mine as brand-oriented as possible, but I also include stuff about what Eli and I are doing, or things related to my pregnancy. I love accounts where company owners infuse aspects of their personal life. It's interesting to watch their lives unfold and their brands grow.
I want to hear more about the evolution of LHS and your choice to manufacture. You were sewing everything yourself in the beginning, right?
Yes, for over a year. The more clothing you make, the more money you can make, so I knew that if I had someone helping me, we could grow faster. Once I brought on Mary, who still works for me, we started picking up steam and then we were able to add apparel to the collection. But we were wasting so much fabric and energy by only cutting one or two pieces at a time, so we started manufacturing a year ago, and it's been night and day.
Where do you source your fabric?
All of our fabric is printed in California and shipped to my manufacturer who is literally just up the road from here in Brooklyn.
You had a lot of success on Etsy. Do you think it's critical for emerging brands to start out there?
I think Etsy is a great place to start your business, but when I see someone still selling on there after a few years, it seems more like a hobby to me, even if I know they're doing well.
When did you decide to move on?
At the same time that we started manufacturing. We were doing really well on Etsy, but when you add up the fees, it's not cheap. We were spending several thousand dollars a month. We got a quote on a website which seemed high, but was only a few months worth of Etsy fees and I know that over time it would save me money.
How have you managed copycats?
You have to stay one step ahead. The first time it happened to me, I was devastated. It was a blatant ripoff of our product and prints. We filed a cease and desist, and Etsy took their shop down, so we ultimately won the case, but I can't chase everyone around who copies me and hold my breath. It's not worth my energy. If they're just following my footsteps, they're being known for what someone else does.
Can you share a bit about the challenges of entrepreneurship?
When we left Etsy and launched the website, we had only 8 or 9,000 followers and I thought, "This could go really well or it could totally flop." I wondered if I'd be able to really drive my own traffic. (Entrepreneurship) is a lot of taking risks and trying to figure out if something is going to work or not. Sometimes it doesn't. I'll make a new product and it flops and we just sit on hundreds of dollars worth of sleep sacks because nobody wanted a sleep sack.
You're taking risks all the time.
I am, and that's not in my nature outside of this business. I'm not a risk taker, my husband's not a risk taker, my kid's not a risk taker. But when you run your own business, you have to leap sometimes and hope it works out. Sometimes it doesn't—that's the way it goes. But then you have successes, too, like I never expected our dresses to do as well as they have. So it's been one step a time and trying new things, and if it works, great. I never in my wildest dreams thought this brand would be where it is now.
Thank you so much, Amy. Stay tuned for her favorite things tomorrow morning on 50 States of Style. x