I first met Ethel and her family when I was just five years old, not very long ago. Since then, this mom and I have been choirmates (oh yes, there was a time when this nanay sang in public, albeit with a group), schoolmates, school bus mates, and clubmates! (She and I used to be part of St. Scholastica’s Homemakers Club – not a very surprising fact, is it?)
Of course, at that time (despite the club membership), I never imagined she would grow up to become the babywearing, breastfeeding super mommy that she is right now!
Anyway, I’m sure you’re more interested in hearing how Ethel started and grew her business than in listening to the reminisces of this nanay, so let’s get on with the interview! I emailed the questions to Ethel and am posting the answers here:
Nanay Notebook: What made you decide to do hair accessories instead of, say, baby clothes or baby jewelry or mommy accessories?
Ethel Bernales: I went into baby hair accessories because it became a need for me at some point. You see, I am a choosy-but-practical mom. As long my kids’ outfits are well made, I don’t mind if they are not branded and expensive. Same goes for hair accessories. I really went around boutiques and department stores trying to find good quality, affordable hair accessories for my daughter, but I couldn't find what I was looking for – so I decided to make them myself!
NN: How did you find your source for materials?
EB: Most of my supplies come from the U.S. I purchase them online. Google is my number one source for suppliers! But I also go around local craft stores, fabric stores, and Divisoria for supplies. That's how I create unique pieces – by combining different materials from different sources.
NN: How did you learn to create these pieces? Do you still make them all by yourself?
EB: I actually didn't know I had the ability to make things like these until I had children. I used to make hair accessories for my daughter by taking apart the accessories I bought from the department stores and use the materials to make her something unique. The couture headbands are still handmade by me.
I learn by observation and practice and a few tips I pick up from YouTube. There are a lot of helpful fellow moms out there who are quite good with handicraft.
I also carry a line of accessories by other fellow moms who craft the pieces for me. I would love to expand in that direction and, hopefully, be able to train and hire fellow nanays in our hometown to help me create these unique pieces too. (Great idea, Ethel! Go for it!!! You truly are your parents’ daughter.)
NN: How long have you been doing this business? What preparations did you make before you started selling?
EB: I only started last February 2011. It took me around 2 to 3 months just to do my research, find suppliers, and have the Web site designed before I started officially accepting orders.
NN: How did you find your first buyers? How did you expand your market?
EB: It is true what they say, that when you are starting a small business, your first customers are really your relatives and friends.
Although I shopped online regularly, selling online was very new to me. I was also not very techie, so I had to learn little by little as I went along. When I felt confident enough that I could handle more orders, that’s when I began promoting my Web site and products by doing tie-ups and cross-promotion with other online businesses.
If you are selling online, you really need to take advantage of the Internet and the power of social networking to market your products.
NN: What are the biggest challenges you meet in your business? How do you overcome them?
EB: I believe that most of the challenges I encounter are blessings in disguise. For instance, there was this one time when I couldn't find the materials I needed locally, so I searched online and wrote to several potential suppliers. By doing that, I was able to find a reliable supplier, and today, we have established a good business relationship with them.
I really just try to persevere when faced with challenges or obstacles.
NN: What advice would you give other mothers who wish to start a business in baby accessories?
EB: Do your research. Be inspired by other people’s work, but don't copy them. Most handicraft-oriented moms are already inherently creative anyway, so you just need to find the style that you are comfortable with and which you want to be recognized for. Also remember that when you are making products for babies, comfort and wearability are very important.
You also need to decide early on if you would like this to be a hobby or a business. For me, this is a business that I love doing because I love the designing part. However, I believe that running a small business is the same as running a corporation – the same principles apply – but in a small business, you have to do everything yourself.
If you have no idea about running a business, then you need to research and learn more about it too.
NN: Your product pages say you accept Paypal, but your order form does not include it among the payment options. Just to confirm: do you accept Paypal payments?
EB: Yes, we do. Our Web site needs a bit of an update. I hope we’ll be able to have it updated before the holiday rush.
So there you have it, dear mommies. If there’s one thing I think we can all learn from Mommy Ethel’s story, it is this: don’t be afraid to start, even if you have to start small. The lack of expertise can be easily remedied for somebody who is willing to learn. A lot of us learn as we go, and once you begin, you will be surprised to discover that you actually know much more than you ever imagined you did.
To see Ethel Bernales’ adorable, well-made, comfortable, and affordable hair accessories, please log on to celestinaandco.multiply.com or Like them on Facebook, at facebook.com/celestinaandco.