Menu

Love manifested—how one mama is telling stories through jewelry and raising babies

Be true to you, be true to your brand, and success will follow. 

Love manifested—how one mama is telling stories through jewelry and raising babies
Photo Credit Tamara Clark Photography

Motherly @ Work features the stories and insights of modern women growing their careers—and their families.


Jessica Birak is one of those mamas.

With three beautiful children under the age of five, Jessica is no stranger to hard work and multi-tasking. A strong advocate for extended breastfeeding, birth empowerment and baby wearing, she cares deeply about other mothers, and shares their unique stories through the custom jewelry she makes by hand.

“I have the honour of hearing the stories behind the pieces I make. Stories of new life, milestones, celebrations, but also of grief and loss. I am so humbled to be making these special pieces. The most important thing that I have learned as the owner of Mint & Birch is not how to run a business or how to make pretty jewellery. But instead, it’s shown me the importance of the people and relationships in our lives. I am in awe of the love that there is in the world.” - Jessica Birak

FEATURED VIDEO

Set to double revenue in this, their third year of business, Mint & Birch was born out of Jessica’s generous spirit. What started as a way to hand-make gifts for her friends and family soon grew bigger. But even when the opportunity to outsource arose, she decided that this particular entrepreneurial endeavour deserved to be kept under her caring fingers, one necklace or bracelet at a time.

Now, making a six figure income for her family is a reality, but Jessica keeps her down-to-earth roots, hippie-esque outlook on life, and above all, a loving and kind spirit.

This is her story, in her words.

Photo Credit Tamara Clark Photography

How did you start Mint & Birch?

Jessica Birak: I actually started making just the nest necklaces, and honestly it was a bit of an accident. I was making Mother’s Day gifts, went to the craft store, and threw something together. Once I started giving them to friends and family, everyone wanted them. I loved making them and I loved the reaction that they got.

The eggs in the nest would often symbolize children - living or lost - and was a touching gift to give and receive.

I needed an excuse to make more, so I opened up a shop!

Once you launched, how was your first line of products received?

Jessica Birak: People loved how unique they were. They loved giving them away as gifts. They were sentimental and unique and my launch was timed well so that a lot of people ordered them for Christmas. I had a huge influx of orders as gifts for moms, aunts and grandmothers. The timing was really great because it catapulted me to success early.

How did you expand your product line?

Jessica Birak: Next I launched a line of brass bar necklaces. Stamping custom phrases into metal isn’t exactly easy - it’s definitely a technical skill—so I wanted a material that wasn’t expensive if I made lots of mistakes. We also weren’t in the financial place to invest in gold or the equipment needed to cut it. Brass was affordable, and a low risk investment.

Once I got good at stamping, I decided to add some more luxurious items to my shop, so my bar necklaces are now available in gold-fill, and I actually cut every single blank out of big sheets of gold by hand. The sheets are thicker than average to create a real luxury and quality feel and finish.

What is most important to you as a designer when you decide how to expand your product line?

Jessica Birak: Above all, the pieces need to be versatile. It takes an immense amount of time and energy to design a new product, so I always want to make something that appeals to all different types of people: those who like really simple products and also those who are looking for something more ornate. It’s tricky to come up with designs that everyone will like - sometimes people don’t like them!

But honestly, a lot of times I make what I personally would want to wear. People buy my jewelry because they like my brand and the general feel of our company. I feel that if I put myself into what I make, that I’ll naturally attract customers who are drawn to what I want to achieve. It’s authentic.

Are you led by what your customers are asking for, or by your own creativity?

Jessica Birak: A bit of both. I’m really drawn to trees and nature; I’m a bit of a crunchy mom. One of my dreams is to give birth outside, under the stars, so I like that aesthetic and I recently worked that into my pieces by offering custom stamped moon phases that match important dates.

Why is expanding your product line important to your business?

Jessica Birak: Jewelry is an intensely competitive arena. It’s everywhere and there are LOTS of designers. You need to keep things fresh and constantly evolve. Styles change and trends come and go and if you keep your momentum going with new offerings then it definitely gives you that edge.

Especially now with all the changes Facebook and Instagram have made, you are really looking for those comments and likes. I feel like the only way to do that organically is to keep expanding, keep people on their toes, and give them a reason to follow you.

Is there a difference between having a product and having a brand?

Jessica Birak: Definitely. I started out as a hobby-type shop on Facebook. I didn’t have a website, an email, or any branding at all. I think the worst part of that is that I wasn’t giving a consistent message to my customers and my followers. I feel like a brand is something that tells a story. It’s consistent, coherent, has a mission, is captivating, and it it draws customers in to wonder, “What’s behind the brand?”

Anybody can make anything and sell it at farmer’s markets right? Building a brand takes much more work.

Why do you still make everything by hand?

Jessica Birak: *Laughs* I get this question a lot. My annual revenue isn’t as high as other shops. Last year we grossed $65,000. And this year we will definitely double that number. but by making things myself I definitely limit the brand’s ability to grow indefinitely.

But part of why my brand is so unique, and why people buy from me, is that they know everything is made by hand. By my hands.

Making custom jewelry isn’t easy. It takes a lot of practice and precision to stamp everything perfectly. I’m in such a rhythm now; I can’t imagine anyone else doing it. I can honestly make them better with my eyes closed.

I guess the truth is that I’m kind of a control freak. But I really love doing it, and I don’t want to give it up. I’m actually trying to find a way to slow down our growth. Sometimes it’s about lifestyle and happiness above money. Quality over quantity.

Everything is made one by one. It’s easy for people to see my prices and think, “I can get a bar necklace cheaper elsewhere!” I can’t judge what other shops do, but I can say I stand behind our pieces 100%. I test out the materials rigorously - with my kids, out and about, I immerse them in water and all sorts of rough stuff - to make the highest quality jewelry. I’m really proud of every piece I send out.

How does being a mother affect the way you run your business?

Jessica Birak: I treat my business like a baby. I follow my gut instincts like I follow my mama bear instincts with my babies. I think I’ve learned that there isn’t always a one-size-fits-all solution.

And my kids will always come first. Because the needs of my children are always changing, my business will always be adapting. Being a mother has actually helped me in my business; I know how to multi-task, how to adapt, and how to be flexible.

Is there any advice you’d give to aspiring lady bosses?

Jessica Birak: Always remember what drove you to become so passionate about your businesses. For me, it was to tell special stories - and that’s something I strive to always keep in mind. It’s an honour to be trusted with the innermost feelings of my customers - with the things that are most important to them. That will help you not get caught up in the numbers or the drama.

Make success follow you - don’t chase it.

Be true to you, be true to your brand, and success will follow. 

What does “Motherly” mean to you?

Jessica Birak: It means to nourish and to give life to something. To be a mother means to accept and honour the uniqueness of each person and each child. I feel like this world can be exhausting.

We’re expected to behave a certain way, have certain things, look a certain way, accomplish certain things, and this pressure starts when you’re born. As women we’re expected to “bounce back” after having kids, and kids are expected to act as adults.

For me to be motherly is to be a safe place for your child to melt away; a place where they can be completely vulnerable and rest from the expectations of the world. 

Haley Campbell is the founder of Beluga Baby, and a regular contributor to Motherly. She is is an avid advocate for entrepreneurs, and for the new generation of mothers making the world their own.

14 outdoor toys your kids will want to play with beyond summer

They transition seamlessly for indoor play.

With Labor day weekend in the rearview and back-to-school in full swing, most parents are fresh out of boxes to check on their "Fun Concierge" hit list. It's also the point of diminishing returns on investing in summer-only toys. So with that in mind, we've rounded up some of our favorite toys that are not only built to last but will easily make the transition from outdoor to indoor play. Even better, they're Montessori-friendly and largely open-ended so your kids can get a ton of use out of them.

From sunny backyard afternoons to rainy mornings stuck inside, these toys are sure to keep little ones engaged and entertained.

Meadow ring toss game

Plan Toys meadow ring toss game

Besides offering a fantastic opportunity to hone focus, coordination, determination and taking turns, lawn games are just plain fun. Set them up close together for the littles and spread them out when Mom and Dad get in on the action. With their low profile and rope rings, they're great for indoors as well.

$30

Balance board

Plan Toys balance board

Balance boards are a fabulous way to get the wiggles out. This one comes with a rope attachment, making it suitable for even the youngest wigglers. From practicing their balance and building core strength to working on skills that translate to skateboarding and snowboarding, it's a year-round physical activity that's easy to bring inside and use between Zoom classes, too!

$75

Detective set

Plan Toys detective setDetective Set

This set has everything your little detective needs to solve whatever mystery they might encounter: an eye glasses, walkie-talkie, camera, a red lens, a periscope and a bag. Neighborhood watch? Watch out.

$40

Wooden doll stroller

Janod wooden doll strollerWooden Doll Stroller

Take their charges on a stroll around the block with this classic doll stroller. With the same versatility they're used to in their own ride, this heirloom quality carriage allows their doll or stuffy to face them or face the world.

$120

Sand play set

Plan Toys sand set

Whether you're hitting the beach or the backyard sandbox, this adorable wooden sand set is ready for action. Each scoop has an embossed pattern that's perfect for sand stamping. They're also totally suitable for water play in the wild or the bathtub.

$30

Water play set

Plan Toys water play set

Filled with sand or water, this tabletop sized activity set keeps little ones busy, quiet and happy. (A mama's ideal trifecta 😉). It's big enough to satisfy their play needs but not so big it's going to flood your floors if you bring the fun inside on a rainy day.

$100

Mini golf set

Plan Toys mini golf set

Fore! This mini golf set is lawn and living room ready. Set up a backyard competition or incorporate into homeschooling brain breaks that shift focus and build concentration.

$40

Vintage scooter balance bike

Janod retro scooter balance bike

Pedals are so 2010. Balance bikes are the way to go for learning to ride a bike while skipping the training wheels stage altogether. This impossibly cool retro scooter-style is built to cruise the neighborhood or open indoor space as they're learning.

$121

Wooden rocking pegasus

plan toys wooden rocking pegasus

Your little will be ready to take flight on this fun pegasus. It gently rocks back and forth, but doesn't skimp on safety—its winged saddle, footrests and backrest ensure kids won't fall off whether they're rocking inside or outside.

$100

Croquet set

Plan Toys croquet set

The cutest croquet set we've ever seen! With adorable animal face wooden balls and a canvas bag for easy clean up, it's also crafted to stick around awhile. Round after round, it's great for teaching kiddos math and problem-solving skills as well.

$45

Wooden digital camera

fathers factory wooden digital camera

Kids get the chance to assemble the camera on their own then can adventure anywhere to capture the best moments. With two detachable magnetic lenses, four built-in filters and video recorder, your little photographer can tap into their creativity from summertime to the holidays.

$179

Wooden bulldozer toy

plan toys wooden bulldozer toy

Whether they're digging up sand in the backyad or picking up toys inside, kids can get as creative as they want picking up and moving things around. Even better? Its wooden structure means it's not an eye sore to look at wherever your digger drops it.

$100

Pull-along hippo

janod toys pull along hippo toy

There's just something so fun about a classic pull-along toy and we love that they seamlessly transition between indoor and outdoor play. Crafted from solid cherry and beechwood, it's tough enough to endure outdoor spaces your toddler takes it on.

$33

Baby forest fox ride-on

janod toys baby fox ride on

Toddlers will love zooming around on this fox ride-on, and it's a great transition toy into traditional balance bikes. If you take it for a driveway adventure, simply use a damp cloth to wipe down the wheels before bringing back inside.

$88

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

Shop

Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

Our Partners

My 3-year-old is eating peanut butter toast with banana for breakfast (his request), and we are officially running late for preschool. We need to get in the car soon if we want to miss the morning traffic, but he has decided that he no longer wants the food that he begged for two minutes earlier. What started off as a relatively calm breakfast has turned into a battle of wills.

"You're going to be hungry," I say, realizing immediately that he could care less. I can feel my frustration rising, and even though I'm trying to stay calm, I'm getting snappy and irritable. In hindsight, I can see so many opportunities that fell through the cracks to salvage this morning, but at the moment… there was nothing.

Keep reading Show less
Life