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Nha Khanh’s designer on creating a fashion line—and a family

#MotherlyMakers features the entrepreneurial women remaking our world. We chatted with Khanh Nguyen, the Creative Director and Designer of the Nha Khanh label, about her incredible collection—sold at stores like Saks, Rent the Runway and Anthropologie—how she decided to go into the fashion industry despite uncertainty, and how her daughter inspires her at work.



Your designs are all over the world from Neiman Marcus to Kim Kardashian's closet to Vogue. We'd love to hear—how did you get started in the fashion industry?

I grew up in an artistic family as my father was an art teacher and my mother was a great dress designer.

I remember falling deeply in love with designing and making dresses for my dolls at the tender age of 5 while watching my mother designing and running her own bridal salon in Vietnam.

My family immigrated to the states in 1993 and it was my parents dream for me to become a doctor.

To appease my parents wishes I studied biology and got accepted into The University of Texas's School of Pharmacy.

Almost four years into my major I knew this wasn't for me and I made the gut decision to switch to become a Fashion Design major.

I won several awards and scholarships to help pay for my last year of college.

One of the prestigious scholarships I won was the Fashion Group International of Dallas for Top Achievement Award, which afforded me a life-changing experience to further my fashion study in Paris under the teaching of world leading experts from Chanel, Christian Dior, Ann Valerie Hash, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Elie Saab.

While I was in Paris the summer of 2008, my husband,then boyfriend decided to join me.

We visited several cities in Europe, then he surprised me with a engagement proposal in Venice, Italy.

Excited and already inspired by my experience in Europe, I couldn't wait to come back to start designing all my wedding attires.

Not only did I design my own wedding gown, I made all four dresses for myself, 5 bridesmaid dresses and 2 flowergirl dresses.

The last dress I wore at my wedding was a short ivory lace dress with adorable nude tulle petticoat really stole the show.

Every girl at my wedding fell in love with it.

A year later, I made the dress in a black version to attend an event.

People were stopping me left and right to ask about the dress.

I decided to name the dress, Milace (short for Mi(ni) Lace).

Special custom requests for the Milace dress started to roll in.

Then my husband and I decided that it was time to take the business to the next level.

Soon after, we met many of my staff, most who are still with us today.

What was it like when you first decided to start Nha Khanh?

“Uncertain, uplifted, inspired and going above" and beyond are some of the things and feelings I had to dealt with when started out.

Uncertain of what the future would hold, uplifted because I finally had the strength to follow my dreams, inspired by those I surrounded myself with, going above and beyond in everything I do and I still and continue to do that.

Was there a moment that you knew this was what you needed to do?

When I had a gut instinct and changed my major in school. I knew fashion design was something in me and I couldn't let that go to waste.

Can you give us a little glimpse into a day-in-the-life of a renowned designer, owner, and creative director, not to mention 3 yr old mama like yourself?

At 6: 30 am. . .

Wake up. Prepare breakfast for both my daughter and me.

My husband usually leaves for work before 7am, so he'd just grab something quick to munch on on his way out.

But I like to make sure my daughter is fed before I drop her off at school.

Then wake my daughter up.

Get her ready.

At 7:45 am. . .

I'd go get ready while my daughter is having her breakfast. After I'm done getting ready, I take my daughter to school on my way to the studio.

At 10:00 am. . .

every morning, I either have meetings with my staff as a team, individually or I have custom fittings with my clients.

At 1:00 pm. . .

I have lunch with my husband while discussing new plans and upcoming tasks (we work together).

After lunch, I check and answer emails.

I walk around the studio, checking up on everyone.

At this time, questions from my staff are being thrown at me.

If it's something urgent (which always seems to be the case) I'd deal with them right then and there.

At 3:00 pm. . .

troubleshooting and decision making. Finalizing patterns, sewing techniques, and design details.

At 5:00 pm. . .

While everyone is getting ready to go home, I usually stay back to finish as much work as I can until 6:30pm.

At 9:00 pm. . .

This is usually my daughter's bedtime.

I read to her and cuddle her to sleep.

After she falls asleep, I check and answer my emails again.

Do research on new projects.

Then fall asleep around 11pm to midnight.

What's the best piece of advice you've been given?

My mother always tells me, “ Your health is your wealth. Take care of yourself."

Do you have a mentor or someone you look up to that's helped to shape you as a woman and a mother?

Yes, my own mother.

Tell us about Nhavy. How has she changed your career?

My life took a sharp turn since the day I found out I was pregnant.

I've decided, my health, my marriage, and my pregnancy come above all else.

Everything else would fall into place as it should and it did.

I know when I'm healthy, my pregnancy would be easy.

When pregnancy is easy, my daughter would turn out to be healthy, which in turn would make my life easier to juggle between family and work life.

Luckily, my daughter was very healthy and was such a good girl when she was born.

She even slept through the night after 5 weeks.

I was able to breastfeed her for almost a year.

I made sure this was one of my priorities.

My husband was very hands-on with my daughter and that allowed me to get back to work early and smoothly.

Positive attitudes also really help me get through many tough times and attract many great things as well. I've never had the patience that I have now, children really teach you how to be patient and the way you look at life.

Your style?

Polished with aromatic edge.

Being a mother and a successful entrepreneur is no easy feat, and you do it with such grace and style. We love that you bring your daughter to work with you, and create an environment that welcomes other mothers on your team to do the same. What are your secrets for integrating work and family?

Ever since my daughter was born, I was able to have her around at the studio until she turned 18-months.

She got to interact with everyone, familiar faces to strangers.

She grew to love my staff and loves being at the studio any chance she gets. I work in an opened-yet-intimate environment.

I love getting to know each and everyone on my team and having their kids in the office as well.

I want to take care of them like they've been taking care of my business and myself.

Most of my staff are woman with family and kids.

I can definitely relate to their roles as working mothers.

I want my staff to be happy when they come to work, so I often openly share my ups and downs with them as well as lending them an words of advice.

I want to be their leader, not their boss.

I don't mind getting down and dirty when crisis falls upon us.

I also try to keep an open-mind to let them explore their creativities and learn from them as we grow our company.

We love seeing Nhavy pop up in our Instagram feed—she is the most adorable, and best dressed, little girl! What are your tips for styling her and choosing her wardrobe?

On weekdays , I set aside two outfits I want her to wear to school each morning.

She only has 2 options. She can pick whichever outfit she wants.

On weekends, I let her choose whatever her heart desires.

This means she would pull everything and I mean everything that is pink to put on her body from head to toe.

What gets you out of bed in the morning and keeps you inspired and excited about life?

My husband, my daughter and my job.

We'd love to hear—what would you tell other mamas who want to turn their passions into their professions?

Do it wholeheartedly and have a clear plan.

What are your big dreams for Nha Khanh?

To continue to expand my business as a whole start a children's line.

What about for Nhavy?

I hope to raise her in a loving and creative environment, to fully use her God given talents, to know herself and follow her heart.

What do you hope she learns from your career?

Talents are nothing if you don't know how to use them right.

Have patience, a lot of patience.

Nothing good comes easily.

Stop and smell the roses.

Do not take shortcuts, you'll never know what you're missing out. Last but not least, take care of your staff, they are your business...without them, there is no business.

What does it mean to you to be “Motherly"?

Motherly is to be a woman with compassion and passion to take care of others, to nurture young minds while nurturing the inner child in you.


Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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Just because new moms aren't hitting the gym doesn't mean they aren't doing one of the most demanding workouts of all: It takes about 20 calories to produce one ounce of milk. So, with babies who down ounces upon ounces each day, that means breastfeeding mothers can easily burn hundreds of calories almost literally in their sleep.

All that hard work can result in quite an appetite, which can have new moms reaching for whatever is most convenient. But convenience doesn't have to come at the cost of good nutrition, taste and lactation-boosting powers—as proven by the delicious Booby Boons Lactation Cookies from Stork and Dove.

"Nourishing your body is just as important now as it was when you were pregnant. Not only are you recovering from pregnancy and birth, you are making milk to sustain your baby—and all the thousands of other things you do for them every single day," says Diana Spalding, Motherly's Birth Expert, midwife and pediatric nurse. "You are working so hard, mama. You deserve to fuel your body with the best—and it doesn't hurt when the best also happens to be delicious."

Here's why these little cookies are such lactation powerhouses:

Oats

The natural goodness of oats does so much more than make for tasty cookies. Considered to be a top galactagogue—or a substance that helps boost milk supply—oats are rich in iron, fiber and protein. Because low iron can reduce milk supply, mixing a scoop of oats into lactation cookies is a tasty way to give your body the boost it may need.

Nutritional yeast

For generations, nutritional yeast has been a remedy suggests to mamas looking to boost their milk supply. And for good reason: With protein, phytoestrogen and B12 found in fortified versions, nutritional yeast can provide nutrients to stimulate milk supply—while also offering a boost of energy.

Flax meal

Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, flaxseed is good for the brain health of mothers and babies. Not to mention that with a nice nutty taste and great protein profile, they make nice additions to lactation cookies by helping you stay full longer.

Chia seeds

When it comes to lactation cookies and promoting brain development, varied sources of Omega-3 fatty acids are so helpful—and chia seeds deliver there. Found in some of the Booby Boons Lactation Cookies, chia seeds also deliver protein, calcium and magnesium.

Probiotics

Few things can take a toll on milk supply like when you're under the weather. Booby Boons+ Lactation Cookies provide a probiotic boost, keeping your immune system up and digestive health in check for better production—and a healthier-feeling mama.

Bonus: A sense of relaxation and ease is clinically proven to aid in milk production.

Even better, the cookies are wheat-, soy- and preservative-free! So grab a cookie, take a moment for yourself and boost that supply. Grab your cookies HERE or at Target and other fine retailers.

This article was sponsored by Stork and Dove. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

[Editor's note: This story is a letter from a woman to her husband. While this is one example of one type of relationship, we understand, appreciate and celebrate that relationships come in all forms and configurations.]

To my husband,

We met when I was 22. We started building a life together. We became each other's best friend, cheerleader, guidance counselor, and shelter from the storm. We laughed together, cried together, and stood up in front of all the people who matter to us and vowed to stay together until one of us dies.

We said the words without irony or hesitation, knowing that while we weren't perfect, the problems we could face in life would never be enough to break us.

And babe, I had no clue what our future held. But I knew I wanted to experience it only with you.

Then we got pregnant! And when our son was born, I marveled at the fact that we made a person. You and me. It honestly still blows my mind even five years later.

I'd heard women say things like, I fell in love with my husband all over again once I saw him as a daddy. I love watching you be a daddy, too—but just like becoming a mother has been transformative for me, becoming a father has been transformative for you, too. And it has taken us some time to get to know the new versions of ourselves.

We worked together—mostly on the same team—and have shared so many beautiful lessons and experiences together. Everything is new when you're a first-time parent! And this new dynamic of three definitely threw us for a loop—I wasn't used to sharing your attention with someone else, and I wasn't used to sharing my attention with someone other than you.

It took a few years to hit our stride. I think maybe we never had big things to disagree on before we became parents. It threw me off to be anything but harmonious with you. But just like we said we would on that gorgeous September wedding day, we found our way back. We stayed on each other's team.

And then I got pregnant again.

We were planning a huge life change already— moving across the country to start anew, restart your business and make a new future. I didn't have an easy pregnancy this time. And generally, for many reasons, life seemed harder than ever.

Our daughter was born and it didn't take long for postpartum depression to steal me away, for far longer than I should have allowed it to. I was scared to get the help I needed and I let it get the best of me. I'm truly sorry for that. I'm mostly sorry that I sometimes let it get the best of us.

It's easy to love a partner when it's just the two of you. Our priorities were never tested then—you were at the top of my to-do list, and I was at the top of yours. But—funny thing—this whole parenting thing seemed to make life a little more complex. And when your kids are little, and completely dependent upon you, there are many days when there just isn't much left over for anything or anyone else.

Babe, we're in it right now. Really in it. These are the parenting trenches. The baby years. These years can make or break us. And can I be so bold as to say: I think they're making us.

They're making us learn how to communicate better. How to find common ground when we disagree about real stuff, like the ways we want to raise our children. We're invested in not only the outcome but the short term effect. We're a team.

They're making us think about the future. Not just the fun stuff, but the difficult stuff like estate planning, life insurance, and college funds for the kids. They're making us challenge ourselves to provide our children with comfort and opportunities. We've always worked hard but the stakes have never been this high.

You know I'm the optimist, the dreamer, while you consider yourself the realist—but I think we can agree on this: going through some of the tough stuff with you by my side has shown me that we are stronger than the tough stuff. We can get through it. We can get through anything. As long as we hold on to each other.

Motherhood transformed me. Fatherhood transformed you. And having kids completely transformed our marriage. We'll never be who we were on our wedding day again.

Time marches forward—only forward. I miss the carefree version of "us", but I love this version even more. Because we know what we're made of now, and in so many ways we didn't before.

I'm sure that in our lifetime, many more obstacles will arise that will transform our marriage. But I've never been more confident that whatever may be, we'll find a way through it—together.

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Baking Christmas cookies together is a family tradition for many, but the Centers for Disease Control is warning parents that if your recipe contains raw flour or raw eggs, you really shouldn't sneak a bite before it is cooked, and neither should your kids.

The CDC is warning people not to eat raw cookie dough, cake mix or bread as we head into prime baking season.

The agency acknowledges the appeal of a spoonful of chocolate chip goodness but asks that we "steer clear of this temptation—eating or tasting unbaked products that are intended to be cooked, such as dough or batter, can make you sick."

Salmonella from raw eggs is, of course, a concern, and so is the raw flour. According to the CDC, flour needs to be cooked in order to kill germs like E.Coli. That's why the CDC is asking parents to "say no to raw dough," not just for eating but even for playing with.

"Children can get sick from handling or eating raw dough used for crafts or play clay, too," the CDC posted on its website.

On the Food and Drug Administration's website, that agency advises that "even though there are websites devoted to 'flour crafts,' don't give your kids raw dough or baking mixes that contain flour to play with." Health Canada also states that raw flour should not be used in children's play-dough.

The warnings follow a 2016 E.coli outbreak linked to contaminated raw flour. Dozens of people got sick that year, and a post-outbreak report notes that "state investigators identified three ill children who had been exposed to raw flour at restaurants in Maryland, Virginia, and Texas. Restaurant staff had given them raw dough to play with while they waited for their food to be served."

The CDC worries that with flour's long shelf life, products recalled during the 2016 outbreak may still be in people's pantries (although the CDC notes that any raw flour—recalled or otherwise—should not be consumed).

If your kids do have flour-based play dough, don't worry.

Some parents are still choosing to use flour-based craft dough to make Christmas ornaments or other crafts this holiday season and are reducing the risks by A) making sure the kids aren't eating their art, and B) thoroughly washing little hands, work surfaces, and utensils when the dough play is over.

Other parents are choosing other types of craft clay over flour-based dough.


During the 2016 outbreak, the FDA called for Americans to abstain from raw cookie dough, an approach Slate called "unrealistic and alarmist," noting that "the vast, vast majority of people who consume or touch uncooked flour do not contract E. coli or any other infection."

Two years ago, 63 Americans were made sick by E. coli infections linked to raw flour, according to the CDC. We don't know exactly how many Americans ate a spoonful of cookie dough or played with homemade play dough that year, but we do know that more than 319 million Americans did not get sick because of raw flour.

Are there risks associated with handling and consuming raw flour? Yes, absolutely, but it's not something to panic over.

Bottom line: Don't let your kids eat raw dough when they're helping you bake cookies for Santa, and be mindful of raw flour when choosing crafts for kids.

(And if you have just got to get your raw cookie dough fix, the CDC notes that cookie dough flavored ice cream is totally safe as it "contains dough that has been treated to kill harmful bacteria." Sounds like mama's getting Ben & Jerry's tonight.)

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Twinkling lights are everywhere I look, and the magic of the holiday season is filling our house. The kids are growing more excited each day anticipating Santa's arrival and gifts are accumulating, ready to be wrapped in beautiful paper and bows.

Elf and The Grinch have been playing on repeat and the nativity scene has found a safe spot among our decorations. It's one of the busiest times of the year and it can be hard to catch your breath in the hustle and bustle of it all.

But then something stops you.

Maybe it's a pang in your heart or a memory of someone dearly missed. Maybe it's a familiar feeling of emptiness—of wanting this person to be a part of this magical, joy-filled time of year.

It's so easy to forget that many people are struck with sadness around the holidays and are longing for someone who's missing from their lives. We give and give to our families and friends and communities this time of year—food for dinners, and toys for less-fortunate children—but people don't always realize that another type of giving is needed.

The gift of comfort.

Because someone who is missing their mother, father, brother, sister, child, friend or spouse needs your connection and warmth. They need a reminder of their loved one is not forgotten, and maybe above all—just needs a hug.

Family traditions are wonderful and cherished, but they can also feel incomplete when someone is missing.

For me, I love the holidays, and watching my kids experience all the joys this season has to offer truly fills my heart. Yet, not a Christmas goes by that I don't think about what Kendrick (my first child lost at 2 months old) would have thought of this time of year.

Would he have loved hot cocoa like his sister and brothers? Would he have gotten into all the ornaments on the tree as a toddler? What toys would he have asked Santa for? What Christmas wishes would he have made for others?

I am left to wonder these things without answer. And even though I fully embrace this time of year and relish the holidays, I can't help but miss him.

I wanted to share my story as a reminder that even though your holiday cup may be filled with joy, someone you know may be wrestling with sadness. With all the merry and bright and cups of cheer, it's important to be mindful of this and to treat people with extra care. Reach out to someone you know who has lost someone, and let them know you're thinking of them. It won't go unnoticed.

Many of us have dealt with loss at some point in our lives, and we've learned to carry these special people in our hearts so that they are always with us. But missing someone never goes away. There are so many experiences in our lives we wish we could just snap our fingers and have them right by our sides—the holidays being one of those.

So as you check off your shopping lists, make your donations, trim your tree, or light your menorah—please don't forget to show care to those who may be hurting a little this holiday season.


They're certainly in a position where they could buy every item on their kids' Christmas lists, but Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher aren't planning on piling up the presents under the Christmas tree this year.

"So far, our tradition is no presents for the kids," Kunis said in an interview with Entertainment Tonight. Mom to 4-year-old daughter, Wyatt, and 2-year-old son Dmitri, Kunis says she and Kutcher are determined to not raise entitled kids—and are learning from the mistakes of Christmases past.

“We've told our parents, 'We're begging you: If you have to give her something, pick one gift,'" Kunis said. “'Otherwise, we'd like to take a charitable donation, to the Children's Hospital or a pet... Whatever you want.' That's our new tradition."

The minimalist Christmas that Kunis and Kutcher embrace makes sense on a lot of levels: It teaches kids how to be more mindful consumers, removes the emphasis on material goods... And saves you from those chaotic trips to the mall.

Going without presents doesn't mean going without

Putting a halt on presents these upcoming holidays is one way to reinforce what the season is really about: Spending quality time together as families and cherishing what we already have. But "no presents" doesn't mean "no fun," either.

Some of our favorite non-material gift suggestions include:

  • Experiences
  • Lessons
  • College contributions
  • Coupon booklets
  • Piggy bank donations
  • Gifts for others

Or you could take a cue from Kunis and Kutcher without going all the way: Maybe you only focus on one or two quality gifts. Or pass on anything that will likely get discarded to the bottom of the toy box before next year's holidays.

Think of Christmas gifts for kids kind of like eggnog: A little goes a long way.

[Originally published October 11, 2017]

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