Happy Friday, y’all! Excited to share with you today’s post! Rounding out the week with a blog post featuring another Houston-area woman you need to know about. Thrilled to share with you this amazing working woman – an entrepreneur and a mother of two, Esther Freedman.
The Working Women We Adore series has become near and dear to our hearts here at ABA. If you missed our first few installments of the series, read them here and here. We love providing an outlet for women to share their stories, advice and the hard work they’ve put in as females in business.
Today we introduce you to Esther Freedman, a Houston-area business owner and native-Texan who designs the most darling children’s clothes with an extremely loyal fanbase. Meet cuteheads. I’m fortunate to be able to call Esther a friend, whom I initially met shortly after I moved to Houston through a local group of small business owners and bloggers.
Back in 2012, Esther created a line of simple knit basics and has since grown cuteheads into a notable Houston-based brand of children’s clothing that embodies the youthfulness and fun that’s often lacking in what can be found today in box box stores. Not only are cuteheads pieces unique, but they’re also responsibly made by local seamstresses and factories where all sewers are paid a fair and living wage. I’m in awe of how Esther juggles designing, running a business and being a full-time mom to two absolutely darling little girls. Read on to learn more about why we adore Esther!
Your background was E-commerce and learning the ins and outs of the blinds business. Of all the products that could fall in line with E-commerce, why children’s clothing?
EF: I’ve always had a passion for design and fashion, and being newly married, it seemed like a natural fit for me, since I knew we’d be starting a family in the near future. Prior to starting my own company, I worked at Blinds.com handling PR and social media, which was an amazing place to work and the best learning experience for me. I loved it there, but it wasn’t the easiest product to sell from a PR standpoint. I wanted to be in a business where people could fall in love with not just the product, but the brand and the story.
E-commerce then and now. From 2012 to today, what has been the biggest change in the way E-commerce has evolved?
EF: Social media, no question. When I started at Blinds.com in 2005/2006, no one was talking about social media as an industry, and a real marketing channel. Blinds.com was actually a pioneer in that they invested in social and believed in it from the beginning, whereas I think many other companies thought it was a passing fad. Back then, we were mostly focused on Facebook and Twitter. How things have changed!
Aside from these clothes being absolutely adorable, my favorite thing about your business is that you employ local seamstresses and factories. Why is that so important to you and how has that decision shaped your business?
EF: As much as people talk about where their food comes from, you never hear people talking about where their clothing comes from. I spoke to my daughter’s class about what I do, and I’ll never forget that when I asked them where their clothes came from, the only answer they could think of was “Target”. We have to be more responsible with how we shop and who we shop from; I hate the idea that kids might have created my kids’ clothes.
I also value our community and respect the incredible talent we have here in Texas. I want to utilize it as much as possible. Hiring local allows us to make an investment in our community, and that’s good for all of us.
Satisfying customers is an ever changing task. You write, “surprising and delighting our customers with the best service possible”. What are three ways you make sure and provide your customers with these experiences?
EF: The first and most important way is through customer service. Sadly, you don’t even have to do much to surprise and delight people in that arena! Customers often find extras in their packages like accessories, coloring pages and stickers. We email our returning customers special coupons regularly. We even gift dresses to our best customers from time to time. We have been known to ship priority at our cost, if we’re worried it won’t make it in time for a customer’s special occasion. It’s things like that set us apart from the big box stores of the world; we do try to go above and beyond for our customers.
With that said, we do make mistakes. We’re not perfect, and sometimes we disappoint people. But when we do, we take responsibility, and we do everything we can to make it right for the customer. I think that goes a long way.
Aside from that, I’d say through design and construction. Everything we create is handmade, and it’s nothing like you’ll find at a department store. It’s going to last forever. You also know that when your child wears cuteheads, she won’t be dressed like anyone else because the dresses are so unique. We try to appeal to both parents and kids by being really, really cute, but also comfortable and machine washable.
What was the biggest or most surprising challenge you have come across with your business and how did you overcome it?
EF: The biggest challenge has always been production, and likely always will be. We try very hard to keep all production local, but finding incredible, reliable people can be tough. We’re always exploring new channels and avenues for being more efficient, cost-effective and responsible.
The fun part about what I do is that it’s extremely creative, and no two days are the same, but the hard part is that there really is no clothing manufacturing 101; no two businesses are going to do it the same way.
Where do you see Cuteheads in 5 years? What’s next for you and your company?
EF: That’s a really good question, and it’s always changing! I’ve pivoted several times on what I wanted cuteheads to be, and as much as I’d love global domination, I’ve also realized how much I value my time with my own children while they’re little. I’ve actually scaled back a little bit because I felt like I was missing everything, and when I was present with my family, I wasn’t always entirely emotionally there.
For the time being, I’m happy with the steady growth we’ve seen, and I’m grateful to have the flexibility to run this business and spend plenty of time with my kids. This has actually been our most profitable year ever already, which has been pretty incredible to see!
One husband, two sweet little girls and a dog child. Do they all get involved in cuteheads and how? How do you find balance with your career and your home life?
EF: Oh yeah, they LOVE to get involved. And as a mom of two spirited girls, I’m proud to be setting an example for them of what it looks like to be a working mom. They love to wear everything I make, and my five year old calls herself my intern; she comes with me to photoshoots, and she’s very helpful! She actually came with me to one back in December and was such a big help carrying things and setting up. Of course, she loves to model too, when I give her the opportunity.
As far as balance goes, after almost 9 years in business, I’m convinced that it’s not an actual thing. I’m finally okay with that fact, and I’m embracing the chaos as much as I can. It won’t last forever, and I’ll miss these crazy days. The greatest gift you can give yourself is the power to say “no,” and when I’m feeling like my plate it too full, I just scale back on social commitments and opportunities.
What is your source of inspiration? What inspires you?
EF: I find inspiration everywhere. I follow trends and try to incorporate what’s on trend for adults into my designs. I’m also inspired by vintage kidswear, and love the look of pinafore-style dresses for girls. I’m a big fan of kids dressing like kids, so we don’t make anything too outrageous or revealing. Of course my girls inspire me daily, and when I make something that they absolutely love, I know we have something that’s going to be a big seller.
When you have a free minute from it all, what do you do for “me time”?
EF: I love grabbing dinner with my girlfriends at fun, new restaurants and I love a good Netflix binge. Just hanging out on the couch with my husband is my happiest place. We also have a house in Galveston and love to spend weekends there when possible.
Next vacation or dream vacation?
EF: Our next vacation is taking the kids to Vancouver and Whistler, which is going to be a blast, but my dream vacation is Southern France and the Amalfi Coast! Our 10th wedding anniversary is not far off, and I’m hoping that’s where we end up.
Favorite, go to, can’t live without, career gal look/outfit/piece?
EF: My absolute favorite, go-to thing to make any outfit look more professional or put together is a good pair of mules or loafers. Shoes are definitely my weakness, especially good flats, because I wear them to every lunch and meeting I have. I almost never wear heels during the day. Throwing on a pair of gold or black leather mules instantly makes an outfit look more put together. That and a Veronica Beard blazer.
What is your advice to any young women, starting down the path of their own E-commerce?
EF: Know exactly what your business is, how you’re going to create it, and how you’re going to make money doing it. Have a solid business plan. Find someone who can help you with that, if necessary. Don’t spend a ton of money upfront; bootstrap as much as possible, and don’t get distracted by shiny things and salespeople who tell you they can grow your business quickly.
Learn to value profitability over popularity; plenty of popular businesses we all know of make no money at all. It’s a lot easier to look successful than it is to be successful.
Don’t waste time comparing yourself to other people’s success. The more you help and support others, the more they will help and support you.
And maybe most importantly, love your idea and your business so much that you can’t imagine doing anything else. There will be days that you’re miserable, and days you want to quit, but the love and passion you have for it will sustain you and keep you pushing forward even when it’s hard.