A Discussion on Following Your Passions in Life, The Undulations of Entrepreneurship, and The Beauty of Motherhood.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to host a special event in San Antonio with a few of my blogger friends. We were celebrating the launch of Julie Knisley’s nursery furniture line, Milk Street Baby, at its flagship location Crib & Kids in San Antonio. I supported the event because I have a passion for business development in San Antonio, and female entrepreneurs have both a special place in my heart and in the mission of my content. No, I’m not planning to have children any time soon, but I enjoyed my long talk with Julie so much, and was so inspired by the mission behind her designs and her line that I had to profile her for this series.
Julie’s uniqueness and her authentic presence is felt immediately upon meeting her. She is a person I would describe as passionately magnetic: she could spend hours waxing poetic (pun intended) on wood finishes in such a dynamic way that you’d be hooked on her processes versus other leading furniture makers. However, she also has an enchanting, Earth Mother-y quality that had me bearing my soul to her within minutes of engaging in our refreshingly real conversation. Whirling from one furniture tableau to the next to hospitably deliver a personal welcome to expectant mothers attending the launch of her line, it is no secret that she overflows with passion for her craft, and for creating the best, safest product available to babies and their families through a special marriage of love, talent and craftsmanship.
You grew up in Texas. What was the path you took that landed you in Boston?
The path from Texas was a short and sweet one with many longstanding and vital ties still there there today. After meeting my husband who was raised by the ocean, I realized he would never be happy in Texas. He is a New Englander through and through. I knew, on the other hand, that I could be happy anywhere. I also yearned for a great, intellectual art program which I knew I could find in Boston or Providence.
What was the dream career you envisioned for yourself when you were in art school at RISD?
I am a 3-D artist. While doing much drawing and painting, I gravitated toward ceramics and wood sculpture which translated into a career in furniture. This along with an eye for graphic print and color made children’s furniture a perfect career for me.
Was there a particular design position you held in the past that inspired you to become the founder of your own furniture line, or was entrepreneurship always your end goal?
I spent 4 years creating a baby division for an existing furniture company. After seeing countless corners being cut, I knew that there was a real need for integrity in the juvenile furniture business. I love good design, but the best designs are ones that function without flaw. With baby furniture, compliance drives everything as it should. The most wonderful of things happen when you can make something beautiful under constraints. It is hard to do!
How did you come up with the concept that became Milk Street Baby?
Milk Street Baby is the perfect storm. It is a coming together of the best minds in this business to create a product that not only is better built, testing, and finished better than anything out there for baby, but Milk Street wants to help new families feel support. When a person(s) sets up a nursery, think about all of the changes that are going on within. We want to serve as a stimulant for helping people be their best, get more out of life, find their passion, and get back to the basics of ….what makes them happy?
We have put together the best design/ engineer team and married this team with a factory that has finishing capabilities and construction innovation found nowhere else. This is the magic of our product…but Milk Street is so much more than product, it is a way of life. At Milk Street, we want to support people. We have created a line that will bring moms and grandmoms back into their local stores to learn, support and buy locally. We have partnered with 75+ stores across the USA and Puerto Rico. These stores have been exclusively selected as partners because they are experts in baby. They have the knowledge and staff to teach a new mom about setting up her nursery. Again, Milk Street strives to support that family. A crib is one of the most important purchases a person makes. A nursery must be a place of love. A safe haven.
What was the largest lesson in self-discovery that you learned throughout the process of launching your own design company?
As we launched Milk Street, I think what surprised me most was that while people want efficiency when they shop, there is a yearning for a more human touch. People want to talk. People want to feel connected to others. At Milk Street, we want to know about each baby that is sleeping in our cribs. We also want to know the individual story about each family and where their passion lies.
What has been a challenge you have faced as an entrepreneur, and how have you worked to overcome it?
My greatest challenge as an entrepreneur has been in trying to produce in the USA. Manufacturing is so difficult here. I am saddened to think that with all of our accomplishments as a country, we cannot produce an affordable, safe, responsibly sourced wooden crib for our babies. There is something wrong with that picture. This has been and continues to be a personal goal for me.
What is one piece of advice you can offer young women aspiring toward a creative career?
Try to figure out what you love, what you get lost in, and what you are innately good at. Focus and refine your skill and make sure passion is complete. IF you are 100% loyal to this, doors will open that will allow you to fill your days doing what you love.
What is your main source of inner strength?
What was behind your decision to launch Milk Street Baby at Crib & Kids in San Antonio?
I met Courtney at the ABC Home & Carpet show and loved everything about her. Her taste and her heart. Being a native Texan, I knew Crib & Kids was the ideal flagship store!
What excites you most about Milk Street Baby’s growth as you plan for the next five years?
There are so many exciting pieces of Milk Street. Watching people fall in love with quality products for their baby is very rewarding. Knowing that we are helping the local movement is also exciting. But I think the greatest piece of what we are building is the support we can put into place for each other. The Milk Street Life is one that you do not live alone. You share your thoughts, your dreams, your personal stories. It is ALL about the story. People need people….now more than ever!
If you could have lunch with any woman in the world, (living or deceased) who would it be and why?
I would love to have lunch with Maya Lin.
While most people might choose someone that is no longer living, I believe that we learn from the present. I would like to meet Maya because she knows the state of our world. She is currently experiencing success as a woman. She is an artist who created the Vietnam Memorial in DC among others. What is amazing about her work is that she focuses on the environment and how to create using sustainable, site-sensitive materials. She is working under constraints to make something beautiful. Something that not only functions in today’s world, but a structure that stands in harmony with the natural world…amazing.