Motherly @ Work features the stories and insights of modern women growing their careers—and their families.
Sarah Wells is one of those women.
She’s mother, wife, and Founder + CEO of Sarah Wells Bags—gorgeous, high quality, and functional breast pump bags for all your pumping wants and needs. From creating innovative products like the wet/dry Pumparoo bags for your breast pump parts to designing a uniform compliant bag for military mamas (with a special military mamas discount!)—Sarah and her team are on a mission to keep you looking fresh and fabulous.
So how does she create beautiful bag after bag while also devoting time to creating a family? We caught up with Sarah to find out her secrets to running a thriving business and a happy family.
Your bags are functional and fashionable—and so.much.better than the bags that come with breast pumps. Why did you want to create your line of bags?
Sarah Wells: When I went back to work as Executive Director of a national nonprofit organization after the birth of my first child, Maddy, I was frustrated carrying an unattractive bag that came with my pump, which also lacked the functionality a pumping mom needs (like insulated pockets and more space for all your stuff), and I hated carrying multiple bags—a purse, pump bag, and laptop bag. Many other baby products had a fashion makeover ages ago, like diaper bags, but pump bags were stuck in big rut!
What was the need in the market?
Sarah Wells: My timing could not have been better. Right around the time I began exploring my business idea, the Affordable Care Act (Health Reform) passed and many moms were given insurance coverage of their breast pumps. This is an amazing opportunity for new moms. However, because of caps on what insurance is willing to pay for, moms who used to get a bag with their pump (albeit the ugly bag), suddenly were getting a pump without a tote. I think moms always wanted a better alternative; and Health Reform created an even greater demand for the product.
Why is it important for you to work toward ensuring mothers feel good about their pumping experience?
Sarah Wells: Pumping is an incredible gift you give your (or another!) child. However, it comes at a crazy time for most moms. You are exhausted, physically recovering, overwhelmed, in a complete life-changing, Twilight Zone mental space.
Moms need every ounce of support they can get post-partum.
I consider it my honor to provide moms with a bit of fashion and function that makes them feel peppy and achieve their pumping goals.
What are your big hopes and dreams for Sarah Wells bags?
Sarah Wells: I’m living the dream! Truly, I mean that. I’ve built a company based on support, quality, and excellent customer service. I’m extremely proud of my accomplishments and humbled every day by the amazing testimonials moms send me about their bags. Where do I go next? There are women becoming pumping moms every day; I just want to keep reaching these women and improve on every aspect of my business.
What inspires you to do this work?
Sarah Wells: Absolutely the moms I interact with. I aim to support pumping moms in every way I can, but they give back to me too. I’m a pumping mom myself at the moment and I learn from my customers all the time. And they are always cheering me on with the business.
There is so much talk about judgmental parenting and catty moms—that exists—but honestly, the vast majority of moms I encounter are truly supportive and nothing short of amazing.
Tell us about your career to this point—how did you get here?
Sarah Wells: I’ve always had a passion for advocacy, especially for women and girls. My mom was mayor of our town growing up and head of a nonprofit organization (an incredible role model) and this set me on a path toward Washington, DC (I thought my destiny was politics—ha!). I majored in Women’s Studies and Public Policy in college and graduate school and I worked in two nonprofit organizations related to women and health care. When I became a mom myself, to two little girls, my passion for issues important to women and girls became almost overwhelming.
I had no idea in the early days that my journey would lead here, but it makes a lot of sense now.
I’ve always been entrepreneurial and have a passion for women’s issues. My business combines it all.
What are your secrets for integrating work and family?
Sarah Wells: Running a business is a 7-day-per-week job and 365-days-a-year (I have to work on Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc. like people in retail.) However, it’s not a traditional schedule. So the good news for work/life balance is that I can take off at 2pm to join my daughters at the park or start work later in the morning to do camp drop-off. It’s taken me a couple of years to adjust to this new routine, but I really like it.
Flexible does not equal less time on the job (realistically, I work more hours now than I ever have.) But flexibility does allow me to participate in more family activities. I know not everyone can or wants to have their own business. But I often encourage my friends or family to look for flexible employment (e.g., non-traditional hours, partial or full telecommuting) if they are struggling with the balance. I know I’m lucky.
You’re a busy woman—how do you recharge?
Sarah Wells: I wish I could say, “a great stimulating book” or “exercise” but honestly, it’s the couch, a glass of wine and Game of Thrones. That’s the real me!
(Sounds heavenly to us!?)
Do you have a mentor or someone you look up to that’s helped to shape you as a woman and a mother? Tell us how they inspire you.
Sarah Wells: I have both! I’ll start with my mom, who I mentioned earlier (mayor of our town.) I could fill a book with all the ways she is amazing. Incredible mother, master gardener, world class chef, community organizer, savvy professional, etc. Nature and nurture—she’s given me an incredible foundation to build my dreams.
I also have a professional mentor, Nancy Strojny, whom I have worked with for years now. This is one of my top recommendations for other people starting a business. Nancy works with SCORE.org, and they will match you to a free, confidential business expert who can help you immensely. Nancy is one of the sharpest business women I’ve met and is “all in” for my success.
Tell us about your children. How have they transformed your career?
Sarah Wells: Perhaps in my case, my firstborn transformed my professional path a bit more than average, as pumping for Maddy inspired the entire idea behind my breast pump bag business. Aside from that, my kids have helped me sharpen my professional goals because any time away from them has to be really worth it. They have made me a better person in every way.
What gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you inspired and excited about life?
Sarah Wells: First and foremost, my family, Greg, Maddy and Abby. They literally jump on me at 6:30 am! But also, I get up every day and do my best for them because I love them so deeply. I also have developed an intense drive for my work over the years. I wake up itching to get to my desk and compete with myself from the day prior. Can I top myself today? Be more creative, a better human, a savvier businesswoman?
Tell us about a typical day in your life.
At 6: 30 am. . . Abby (11 months) babbles on the video monitor wanting to nurse, Maddy (5 years old) jumps up and comes looking for me. The whole family is up and moving for the day. Most days I don’t get a shower in the morning, which bothers me, but I’m constantly making sacrifices to keep up with motherhood and professional demands. (And I work from home, most of the time virtually with my customers and vendors, so they don’t see me unshowered!)
At 7:45 am. . .Childcare handoff, I grab something fast to eat and my 100% required second cup of coffee.
At 10:00 am. . . I’ve gone through most of the customer service messages from the overnight (my customers send emails VERY late at night because they are often up in the wee hours breastfeeding!). My customers will tell you I’m normally VERY fast at responding. This is a top priority and something I want to be known for.
At 1:00 pm. . . Pumping on my Spectra S1 pump which is bedazzled with gems by the company and makes me smile literally every time I use it (see, just little things like that make a difference in a pumping moms day…) Shoveling some sort of food. Drinking lots of water.
At 3:00 pm. . . Working on marketing materials, talking to my manufacturer, mentoring meeting, scanning the internet for color or pattern ideas for the next bag, talking with moms on social media.
At 5:00 pm. . . Pumping again! And then knocking off for the “daytime” and hanging with my kiddos. We just moved and have the most amazing neighborhood to explore, so we have been going on a lot of evening walks. Then dinner, bath, books, bed for the kids. Then I come back down, clean up and start dinner for the adults. This is the hardest part of the day for me. Exhausted from a full day of work, plus pumping, evening is almost like another full day of child entertainment, the bedtime routine and making sure grownups have a healthy dinner. Whew.
At 9:00 pm. . . Check in on email. Instagram posts for business. Finally…a shower!
What’s one thing you do every day (or try to do every day!) to ensure that your work and home lives run more smoothly?
Sarah Wells: Make sure the downstairs (living room, kitchen, etc) of the house is fairly clean before bed. I do not mean vacuumed, scrubbed, etc. I mean, most of the big toys put away and dishes running. We are not perfect on this, but it’s more restful to go to bed with it done and to wake up to a fresh start.
We’d love to hear—what would you tell other mamas who have a great idea and want to start their own business?
Sarah Wells: Ask people what they think of your idea. But not just your family and friends, try to find a group of people that are not biased who will tell you if they would BUY your product or service (there is a difference between liking the idea and being willing to spend money on it.)
And get a professional mentor!
What do you hope your children learn from your career?
Sarah Wells: Be open to the idea that what you start out doing in your career is just part of the journey and you may end up elsewhere. Try a lot of different experiences so you can weed out what you like and don’t like (and start that early, like internships in high school). Once you figure out your strengths and your passions, you can craft a successful path of your choice.
What’s in your bag?
Sarah Wells: I’m actually a purse “stuff” minimalist (I like to keep things clean!). In the main compartment: wallet, keys, phone, basic extras like lip gloss, spare pare of contact lenses. In the side pocket, all my diaper bag items. I leave the other side pocket empty for when I need to carry my breast pump and accessories!
Right now I’m carrying a prototype of a new bag I’m launching this holiday season, I think it’s my best yet. Not quite ready to share a photo, but stay tuned…
You launched a limited edition military Kelly bag in July. Why was it important to you to recognize military mamas?
Sarah Wells: Women have played an important role in our military for a while now, and recently through changes in the law, they are realizing their full potential and opportunity there. I knew this as a women’s rights advocate. But I had NO idea prior to my business venture that these women often carry on their breastfeeding journey in some seriously tricky circumstances!
Not only do some moms nurse and pump around people who lack education (or respect) in breastfeeding, they are pumping while flying military aircraft, pumping in a Humvee with their rifle on their lap, in the desert, on base, on the floor of a bathroom, shipping their milk, dumping their milk and more.
I think these pumping moms epitomize what we think of when we think “soldier”—discipline and commitment. I’m humbled by it sitting here in my cushy home office when I pump and I’m so thankful for what they do. A uniform-compliant breast pump bag was the least I could do to say thanks.
What does ‘Motherly’ mean to you?
Sarah Wells: To act with kindness and love and commitment in all that you do.