We are all works in progress; even the successful women you see owning it on Instagram faced stumbling blocks along the way and continue to work hard to stay at the top of their game. In this series, we're sitting down with the people that inspire us to find: How'd they do it? And what is success really like? This is "Getting There."
Shopping for maternity clothes can kind of be the worst, but two women are on a mission to change that. Courtney Klein and Grace Kapin founded Storq in 2014 with an eye towards helping women maintain their sense of style during nine months of transformation — both mental and physical.
Their commitment to making women feel good has paid off. Their bicoastal team achieved profitability within their second year and the feedback from customers continues to push the brand forward.
Here's how they got there.
TMRW: Where did this idea come from?
Klein: A lot of friends and family were getting pregnant and it seemed like every woman who I knew and admired who was going through this bemoaned the lack of stylish maternity options.
At the time, I didn’t have kids and didn’t really know a lot about the market, so I decided to spend some time doing a deep dive. I learned more about how motherhood is shifting and changing in the U.S. — babies are being born to mothers over 30 at increasingly higher rates. This doesn’t surprise you if you live in an urban area, but a lot of women in this age group are in the workforce. A lot of them have an established style identity. They have more money to spend and they are looking for more options than what we were seeing in the maternity space at the time — which was a lot of really disposable stuff.
So we came to market with this idea to create things that not only look good but really feel good and solve that problem.
TMRW: Was there anything that intimidated you in the beginning?
Kapin: We had no experience in e-commerce. No experience in garment production. So those were both a big learning curve and I would say that garment manufacturing is a pretty intimidating business. It’s very male-dominated. It’s very old-fashioned and very patriarchal. It was challenging to learn how to advocate for yourself in that world.
Unfortunately, I think I let myself be intimidated about it in the beginning, but as I’ve learned over the years, that does you no good and the best you can do is kind of push the boundaries of what they’re working with.
TMRW: Did it make you nervous to enter this space without having been pregnant yourselves?
Kapin: We heavily, heavily researched, texted, talked to people. I was very knee-deep in lots of local mom groups and surprisingly women are very willing to open up their homes to you with a bag full of samples for maternity clothes — because, they’re so desperate for something to wear that feels like their normal clothes.
Klein: There have been times in the past where people have tried to fit us into this narrative of "lady gets pregnant and she can’t find anything to wear so she has an epiphany and starts a maternity company" and I think that's something Grace and I have pushed back on. We saw a hole in the market. At its face, it was a smart business decision to go into this market. We saw the writing on the wall that this category had room to grow amongst this audience that wasn’t currently being addressed.
The business piece was always there, but as we've become parents ourselves, I think we have a whole new level of empathy around parenthood and motherhood now that we're knee-deep in it.
TMRW: Are there any challenges or hurdles that you still encounter in your career?
Klein: Daily. Every year we feel like we get better and smarter at running the business, but sometimes I think back to us during month one of running this company and how much knowledge we’ve accumulated. And in a way that makes me really excited for how much knowledge we’ll have accumulated in five years from this moment.
We’ve made huge strides in our understanding, but anytime you’re manufacturing something physical there will continue to be challenges you could have never anticipated. That’s something that we’re always undergoing.
TMRW: When it comes to anxiety or self-doubt, is there anything you lean on to manage that?
Klein: I’m always very thankful that Grace and I were very close friends before we started this business. Grace is the godmother of my child, I am the godmother of her child. Grace and her husband married me at my wedding. My husband and I married them. It was a very tight relationship before we started this business and I think I have a lot of anxiety about what’s going to happen as we’re together in this really intense endeavor.
But one thing I am really thankful for is that we have each other to lean on, and at this point, we have established a language that — even when things are hard and terrible — there’s always some inside joke about what’s going on that makes us laugh and gets us through.
Kapin: As women entrepreneurs, you are supposed to project the image of strength and be impenetrable and neither of us really feels an obligation to present ourselves that way and present our business that way. It does help to have each other when we need to work through something.
Klein: When you ask someone, “Oh, how’s your business going?” Everyone’s always like, “Oh amazing, crushing it. Great.” Sometimes it feels hard to be vulnerable both publicly and with your peers in the space, so having someone you can be vulnerable and totally dressed-down with is really helpful.
There are ups and downs to any business. There are times when we can’t believe how amazing we feel and how amazing the business is doing — and then there are times when we feel really low because we launched a product that didn't hit or we had a sales goal that we didn’t meet. You can get really bent out of shape if you don’t learn to ride the waves of that.
TMRW: What motivates you today?
Kapin: We are very much motivated to make a business that is run differently than how traditional retail is run or how traditional e-commerce is run. We really would like to be something useful, functional and helpful, and I think we’re very much driven by creating that type of space for women and differentiating ourselves in the marketplace in that way.
Klein: Instead of churning out new, trendy styles, our business is really focused on making the best of something and really solving a problem.
Kapin: Nobody wants to go maternity shopping. Nobody wants to spend money on maternity clothes. There has to be something different about this process to make this brand stand out and I think we’re very much driven by becoming something that just completely changes the narrative around what it means to shop for maternity clothes.