If you’re a mom, chances are you have a bin of your kid’s old clothes stored somewhere in your house that you just can’t get rid of. It’s filled with that pair of cozy jammies your newborn slept in almost every night or that cute patterned T-shirt your toddler loved and wore until the second he or she grew out of it. Though these items are no longer in your child’s rotation of wearable clothes, there are too many memories and adorable moments attached to them to just toss them aside. We get it.
But what if you could take one of those clothing items and turn it into a piece of personalized artwork to proudly hang in your little one’s room instead of it continuing to collect dust in the attic? That’s exactly the inspiration behind artist and mom-of-two Louma El-Khoury‘s successful business, Pokidots!
Keep reading to find out how Louma launched her company, learn how her beautiful art pieces have helped parents who experienced infertility or the loss of a child, and take a peek inside the daily routine of this working mom and business owner.
Name: Louma El-Khoury, Artist and Business Owner
Current Location: Seattle, Washington
Education: Fashion design degree from Montreal, Canada
Children: Laurie, 6, and Leina, 4.5
What was your first job and how did you land it?
My first title was designer at a private label company in Montreal. I landed it by following the application process through college—the conventional way. It was a dream first job for fashion design graduates: design a collection and draw it and then see it come to life and get into stores. We mainly designed knit collections, and I got so deep into it that I could tell you how much a random sweater weighs just by looking at it (correctly guessing its measurements and the fiber blend and density!). I gradually moved to doing more marketing and graphic design at that company, which eventually led me to seek a career in design and illustration rather than fashion.
You’re a fashion illustrator turned owner of a creative keepsake business, Pokidots!—how exciting! Tell us a bit about your current role and how your career has developed since you first started.
I have worked alone since I’ve started Pokidots!. My main role is technically illustrating and creating unique keepsakes, but there is a lot of time also spent on marketing and visibility: the website content, blog, social media, email engagement, and updates. I also listen to podcasts and read books and articles about business and how to plan new launches.
When I first started, the idea for my business was to make keepsakes out of baby clothes to avoid having clutter in drawers and to enjoy the sentimental pieces most moms tend to keep. Little did I know that families would start using these keepsakes to tell their unique, personal stories. Since then, I’ve created keepsakes as gratitude pieces for infertility journeys, used baby clothes from the 1940s (imagine all the history in those!), and created others that honor great-grandparents in the most wonderful ways. Now the keepsakes are more focused on the unique stories they tell—from big events to everyday memories. That’s where the value of each keepsake lies, and I am glad to be the one creating them.
What was your biggest challenge in launching Pokidots!? What has been the greatest reward of owning your own business?
I started preparing Pokidots! while I was still employed, but coming from Canada, I was bound with a work visa and couldn’t start a business. My daughters were about 4 months old and 2 years old; I had little time to work on bringing my ideas to life, but I still started with the basics (website, pricing, and marketing strategies). In my case, my challenge was mainly not having a clue when I would get my U.S. residency to be able to legally register Pokidots! and start selling keepsakes. At times, I felt like I was working aimlessly, without a deadline or any hint of a date. I did give up a few times. Then, my residency letter arrived, and I was finally free.
It took a couple of years for Pokidots! to officially be a business bringing in income. More than two years of hard work and growth, practicing my art, and fine-tuning my methods are worth it for the peace of mind it gives me: not worrying if my daughter is sick and has to be home; not worrying if I am sick and can’t work for a couple of days; being able to run the washer and dryer while I’m working (folding is another story!); and being able to take a walk, go on a bike ride, or even leave town when I want are the precious rewards I deserve for working hard.
What advice would you give to other moms interested in starting their own business?
Start before you’re ready. Then, work hard and love the process.
What has been the most memorable project that you’ve created through your work?
The project that moved me the most by far is a keepsake I created to honor a little girl named Callie who unexpectedly passed away at 18 months. Her mother received a voucher from Pokidots! from a friend to have a keepsake made with a piece of Callie’s clothing. She chose the fashion keepsake, and she chose to have me draw her daughter the way I imagined her as a grown-up because she said she will always wonder what she would have looked like. She gave me the dress Callie wore in her last day of life to make the keepsake with. This little dress sat on my table for at least two weeks before I started working with it. Callie’s mom loved her keepsake, saying it was like “making beauty from ashes.” Since I’ve done Callie’s keepsake, I decided to donate angel baby keepsakes to parents who would like them, to honor the short lives of their children. I can’t think of anything more painful than losing a child, and this is my way to help these parents have a special piece of art to comfort them and perhaps help in their healing.
As a mom of two daughters, you must be so busy! How has motherhood impacted you personally and professionally?
Becoming a mom came with all its struggles—from childbirth and healing to the breastfeeding distress, lack of sleep, and the lack of time. I have always known I wanted to be a mom, though, so I was ready to accept all the challenges. I expected to give up everything, at least the first few years, so when I was able to have something for me, it was always a bonus that was taken with gratitude. I would say the main way motherhood has impacted me personally is by making me a much more grateful person. I am indeed grateful every day to have healthy children, and I focus on gratitude throughout all the hardships. I’m also more grateful for my own parents now, and all that they’ve done for us. Gratitude makes me a happier mom and a happier woman in general, and I have to thank motherhood for this practice.
As for the professional side, I can say that motherhood made me look for purpose in my work. When a child is born, especially your first child, everything is centered on them. You see them as a little miracle, and you can’t help but think that all the worries that you had a day before are so pathetic and petty. I felt this way when Laurie was born, and one of the insignificant things I found at the time was my work. I liked my job, but it wasn’t meaningful to me at all. As I was bound by the work visa, I had no choice but to stay, and once I received my residency, I left my job to do the work that I was meant to do. I am thankful that this was an option I had, and I don’t regret a thing.
How do your daughters inspire your work?
Without Laurie and Leina, Pokidots! wouldn’t exist. My daughters were the initial inspiration behind my work. I made their keepsakes for me, not intending to make them for other people. Little by little, more friends were asking for them, and the idea grew on me. My daughters were the initial spark, and they inspire me to continue because I love to be a role model for them. I want them to know that they can do what they love, and they can start something from scratch, work hard, and make it a successful career. They also motivate me to work because I wouldn’t be the same kind of mom if I didn’t have my creative business. Just like they need play to thrive, I need to create to feel whole and to be a better human and a better mom.
Were you able to take traditional maternity leaves when you had your children ? Tell us about that experience.
When I had Laurie, I was working at a small corporate company as a creative project manager. The only option they had for me was 12 weeks of maternity leave, then I had to be back full-time. I couldn’t take time off and risk losing my position—because, again, Canadian with a work visa—so I had to get back after 12 weeks. Childbirth with Laurie was a very difficult experience, and at 12 weeks, I was not ready to return to work. My parents were thankfully here to help take care of Laurie. After the first week, I managed to have the company put me on a trial period to work from home. They agreed to let me work three days from home and two days from the office for a three-month trial. I worked so hard in those three months, they let me keep the arrangement. When my parents left, Laurie had to be signed up at a daycare when she was 4 months old. It was hard, but we all adapted as we must.
When Leina was born 18 months later, I was still working from home three days per week. This time around, we hired a full-time nanny for Leina so I could be with her when I worked from home and I started going to the office only one day per week. Although I would have loved more time to heal, especially after my first childbirth experience, I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to at least work from home. I was able to keep my baby with me on lighter workdays and not stress that much if she was sick and had to be home.
As a working mom, how did you decide what childcare situation was best for your family?
My husband, Gus, and I were on the same page when it came to childcare: we both wanted to eventually sign up our kids at a daycare center so they would be away from us for a while and among other children, and we both agreed that we wanted a place that focused on our child’s social emotional development as opposed to academics. Ideally, we wanted to sign them up when they turned 1 year old. With our work situation and my visa limitation, we did not have a choice for Laurie; she was at a childcare center at 4 months—so young!
When Leina was born, we chose to have a full-time nanny while I worked for the same company. When she turned 16 months old, she and Laurie started going part-time to the daycare in our neighborhood which follows the educational philosophy that we were looking for. I was already self-employed by then, and I had them at home two days a week for a year before eventually signing them up full time. This arrangement worked wonderfully. Now, Leina is 4.5, and she still goes to the pre-K class of that daycare center we love, and Laurie is 6 and started kindergarten at a school nearby which stands for all the values that are important to us.
Can you walk us through your daily routine?
I typically wake up at 6am, make coffee, and sip it quietly. I have no agenda for the morning. My goal is to be up before the kids and have my coffee quietly. My husband, Gus, joins me shortly after and we chat, or not, until around 6:20am. We wake the girls up at 7am and have snuggle time. Then, I help them get dressed, and I get dressed while they brush their teeth. Breakfast is served at 7:30am, and we all eat together at the table. We have five breakfasts that rotate from Monday through Friday. On Monday, we make yogurt with homemade granola and berries. On Tuesday, we usually have oatmeal and flax with berries. On Wednesday, we make scrambled eggs with veggie sausages. On Thursday, it’s homemade waffles with maple syrup and berries, and on Friday, we eat pita wraps with zaatar and cottage cheese.
While the girls finish breakfast, I pack lunches and snacks. At 8:20am, my husband takes the girls to school and preschool on our super cargo bike while I clean up the breakfast table. At 8:50am, I typically practice yoga for 30 minutes to an hour depending on what my day looks like followed by a quick shower. I start working for the day between 9:30 and 10am and usually tackle emails and work through my daily to-do list. At 1pm, I break from work to eat lunch away from my desk. I also savor another cup of precious coffee after lunch.
I’m back to work at 1:40pm. When I have to draw or do artistic work that doesn’t require writing, I like to listen to podcasts at the same time. Usually business-themed but sometimes they’re about parenting or wellness. When it’s not podcasts, it’s Frasier playing on my tablet in the background. At 3:05pm, I pick up Laurie from school on our super cargo bike. Back home, I talk with Laurie about her day. She usually finishes her lunch at home because “she gets too distracted during lunch at school.” She watches me prepare dinner, and she sometimes helps but mostly makes art on the art table which is in the kitchen.
At 4:30pm, I take Laurie to pick up Leina from preschool. On non-activity days, we come back home, and I quickly finish dinner if I didn’t do that earlier. Laurie and Leina catch up; they love each other, and they miss each other during the day, and it’s the best thing ever! Arguing and yelling is also considered catching up. My time is spent talking to them, reading, playing board games, and doing house stuff in between. The girls take baths at 6pm. After they get into their pajamas, I pop into the studio—which is conveniently next to their bedroom–and I check in quickly to jot down the next day’s list of tasks.
My husband, Gus, usually arrives home at 6pm, and we eat dinner as a family at 6:30pm. During that time, we talk about our day and ask Laurie and Leina 18 times to keep their hands to themselves and stop bickering. They’re starting to get tired. While the girls finish dinner, we clean up the kitchen. From 7:30-8pm, the girls play quiet board games and read their books before brushing their teeth.
The girls get in bed around 8:30pm. Gus and I take turns singing to them. Queen, Fairuz, and Disney songs are our nightly tunes. Laurie sleeps right away, and Leina has her own schedule which we gave up fighting. She sleeps when she sleeps, and we can enjoy the rest of the night then. By 9:30pm, my husband and I spend time together by chatting, having a second dinner, or watching something on TV. We get into bed around 10:30pm. That’s when I read. I’m forever loyal to Kindle, or I wouldn’t be reading half as much.
When it comes to being a mom, what are you most insecure about and what are you most confident about?
That’s a tough one! I am usually quite calm; not the anxious type who worries (though with motherhood came a load of worries I didn’t think would even cross my mind!). I do my best, and often a lot of research, and I choose to have faith that it will be alright. What I am most insecure about—and I hope I am doing the right thing—is raising my girls to trust us as parents and know that we understand them and are always on their side. I’m thinking of the teenage years—I am expecting my girls to rebel all they want if they have to and hide things from us and do the things that teenagers do, but I want them to know that when the going gets tough or if they are in trouble, that they can turn to us, no matter what. I am trying to instill this trust by being respectful and patient with them now, training myself to be calm, always telling them that we will always be there for them even if we don’t agree on everything, and just hoping for the best!
I am confident about the kindness and the education of my girls. Books are a big part of our daily life, and we choose them to include everything, from science to history. Travel will also be a bigger part of our life with the kids, now that Leina is a little older. We are also part of a wonderful community in our neighborhood and in my daughter’s school where kindness and acts of generosity and compassion are the focus, just as they are at home.
What advice would you give to your 22-year-old self?
Don’t let anyone or anything let you doubt yourself and your worth. You are enough. Also, start yoga 🙂
Can you share with us three mom hacks you rely on to make things work in your day-to-day life?
1. Use a kid-friendly timer to get small tasks done. The girls decide how much time the timer should be set for, and they set it themselves. It gives them a power boost, and they usually follow it to get things done.
2. Give your kids a “password.” My little one still has trouble expressing her frustration. When she gets upset, she curls up in a ball and won’t answer to anyone. So, we decided to come up with a word that would be like a password to let her get up and come to me (or my husband, Gus) to talk to us about what’s troubling her. She chose “unicorn.” Now when she’s upset and puts her head down and pouts, we say “unicorn” gently, and she comes to us already calmer and shares her feelings.
3. Use the Pepperplate app. It’s a recipe app where you enter your own recipes. I get to have all my favorite recipes in it, with my own modifications and additions. It has a meal planner (pick which meals to make for the week), and after you pick your meals, you can generate a grocery list so you could buy your ingredients. My favorite part is a “description” field under the recipe name because I found a way to make it work for me. Instead of describing the recipe, I write the things I can do ahead of time for that meal, like “cook the rice and freeze it, chop the veggies and freeze them.” I can see these at a glance, instead of looking through the recipe to see what I can prepare ahead of time, and I do just that. One day before, I would move the rice and veggies to the fridge, and our healthy dinner the next day would take 20 minutes. Win!
Louma El-Khoury is The Everymom…
Easy go-to family meal to prepare? Pasta with olive oil, salt, and zaatar
Your dream vacation? Hawaii!
Last home item you splurged on? A Molekule air purifier for our bedroom
Guilty pleasure? Nutter Puffs!
Most embarrassing mom moment? Laurie telling her teacher that I threw out our living room rug because Leina threw up on it and I didn’t want to clean it. When, in fact, we were looking for a new rug anyway, and when Leina threw up, I decided I wasn’t going to scrub it anymore after years of cleaning. Apparently, Laurie got part of the story and was happy spreading it around. I ended up cleaning it anyway and sending it to Goodwill.
Proudest career achievement? In my current work, crossing 100 keepsakes created.
Best mom advice you’ve ever been given? Every day, wake up and do your best.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why? Ellen DeGeneres. Meeting the woman who has awards for being funny and being kind? Yes, please!