Textiles Designer Rebecca Atwood Talks New Motherhood and Why Work-Life Balance Doesn’t Exist

Though Rebecca Atwood has been building her textiles business, Rebecca Atwood Designs, for years, everything changed when she and her husband welcomed their first child, daughter Zoe, last year. Since then, the working mom has been busy running a growing business, building her brand, and creating new designs — all while raising a little one. Her secret? Acknowledging that work-life balance ultimately doesn’t exist and we’re all just doing our best. So refreshing, right?!

Keep reading to find out why Rebecca has chosen not to include photos of Zoe on her social media, check out her best working mom hacks, and take a peek at her jam-packed daily schedule!

 

Name: Rebecca Atwood, Creative Director + Founder of Rebecca Atwood Designs
Age: 35
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Education: Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from Rhode Island School of Design
Children: Zoe, 1

 

What was your first job and how did you land it?

 

My very first job was scooping ice cream at the local ice cream shop on Cape Cod. But my first real job was a design assistant at Anthropologie after college. To land this position, I created a portfolio that took my artwork and showed in a sketch from how it would look in application on home products. I actually started as an intern but worked hard to prove myself so they would hire me full-time.

 

Have you always had a passion for art and design?

 

I have! For as long as I can remember I’ve been painting, coloring, and playing with the two-dimensional surface. I had books on Monet, Renoir, and Van Gogh. I always wanted to be an artist.

 

 

You now have your own company, Rebecca Atwood Designs! Tell us about starting your business.

 

I started my business in early 2013 after working in the home industry for about six years. I shared a lot about that process on The Everygirl. That story was about two years into my business, so it’s a great look at the early days (and so fun to look back!). I started very small, and the business certainly took on a life of its own! 

Now, as I approach year seven, I feel like the business has had a few major shifts that have felt like re-births. In 2016, I took a business class with Ask Holly How that really helped me understand the framework and foundation I needed to create for the business. That was the year I had a partnership with Method and my first book came out, which were two really exciting projects and milestones for my brand. I knew I had the potential to build something real, but I didn’t know where to start. Through her class, I clarified my vision and values for the business. I’ve learned that business growth isn’t possible without personal growth and that I can create a culture and environment unlike where I had worked before. Everything goes back to our values, and it’s how we make decisions. Prior to working with Holly, while I had some early success, I wasn’t dreaming big. She helped me create a framework to take risks and test ideas. This was in many ways the real start of my business.  

 

What challenges did you face with starting your own company?

 

We have had lots of challenges, but I think that’s part of it of starting a company. One of the things this journey has taught me is that growth can be uncomfortable. I’ve had to learn to distinguish when I feel resistance because something is uncomfortable because it’s hard, new, or different or when it’s truly not the right fit for me.

Challenges I’ve faced include learning how to manage the finances of a growing company. In the beginning, this meant taking a course on Quickbooks so I could do my own bookkeeping. Then, it meant anticipating cash flow and getting a line of credit to make production purchases. Now, it’s more complicated with inventory, higher overhead, and various budgets to analyze.

I’ve also tried things that haven’t worked out as I expected. While there are certain product categories and creative ideas that I’ve wanted to pursue, they aren’t always the ones that make the most sense for the business. Spreading myself, or the team, thin with too many ideas isn’t good for anyone. There are lots of things you could do, but it’s important to look at what is actually working and also give yourself the bandwidth to really do those things well. Ideas are never the problem.

There will always be challenges, but I try to look at these as opportunities. I like to keep learning, and running my own business makes this a necessity.

 

You also have a beautiful Rebecca Atwood Designs store! What was it like transition from online retail to adding brick-and-mortar?

 

In many ways, it was a natural evolution for us to open up our own ground-level showroom. I love to shop in-person, and our product is so tactile. Photos, even beautiful ones, can’t really do it justice. I also think it’s so much easier to pull together a color palette and pattern mix in person. You can see the exact color, the scale of the patterns next to one another, and really feel it. There is an emotional connection.

We had a lot to learn with figuring out how to make the space successful. In the beginning, I had so many ideas for what it could be, and we spread ourselves a little thin and needed to prioritize. We decided to change our hours to Monday to Friday from 9 to 5 to best serve our interior designer customer. Having a physical space is all about real personal connections, so we focus on making those interactions as memorable as possible.

 

 

How has your business grown since its start?

 

It’s changed so much! I laugh thinking back to when I started in my apartment — how we were storing 100 pillow inserts in our apartment, dyeing fabric in the kitchen sink, and packing orders in the living room.

As I mentioned, in 2016 there was a big shift in my thinking from the class that I took with Holly. Since then, we’ve grown from a two-person team to a team of six. We have expanded our product offering to include pillows, fabric, wallpaper, bedding, and small gifts like sachets, zip pouches, and eye masks. We went from online and a few partner showrooms to opening our own showroom. This growth has been significant but also measured and achievable. It’s important to me that we are intentional with our growth.

Now in 2019, I feel like I am in some ways re-starting the business. We learned so much this past year with the launch of bedding and our NYC showroom. It’s important to try new things and push yourself out of your comfort zone but also to take time to reflect and reconnect with a bigger vision. This year, while we haven’t been achieving the same growth rate as prior years, we are building a new foundation to achieve greater impact. We are prioritizing our business with interior designers and really developing personal relationships with our customers, sales partners, vendors, and of course our team. 

 

Tell us a bit more about your current job title and the ins and outs of your day-to-day work.

 

As most small business owners will tell you, I wear a lot of hats! I’m the founder and creative director, and on any given day, I’m working on so many different things, ranging from finance, operations, marketing, sales, and creative. I have a really wonderful team and a lot of my time is spent working with them on our goals. And I always try to carve out some time to paint each week. All of my designs begin as artwork in my sketchbook, so it’s really the heart of my business. It’s a balancing act between the different areas of the business and the creative. 

 

What aspects of your job do you love the most? What are your least favorite responsibilities?

 

I obviously love the creative — it’s why I started doing this. I love creating the vision for a collection, the artwork, the color palette, and making it come to life. I also love doing the same thing for the business. In many ways, the business itself is my biggest creative project. You’re creating an environment, culture, and feeling that impacts your team and your customers. It’s pretty exciting.

My least favorite responsibilities are dealing with the financial tracking of inventory. It’s a beast! I really do enjoy the different elements of the business, but as we grow, I need to make more changes so that I have time for what only I can do.

 

You’re also an author! Tell us about writing your two books and why you wanted to add those projects to your resume.

 

My first book, Living With Pattern, came out in 2016. A publisher got in touch with me about writing a book, and it sparked more conversations. I wasn’t the person to write the book they were looking for, but it did make me realize I had something to say about calm, livable pattern. 

Pattern is such an amazing way to visualize your personal story, but it can be intimidating. I wrote this book to help people understand how to do that.  My new book, Living with Color, came out of this same desire. Color is so personal. It brings so much joy. I want to help people find their colors and feel confident using them.

These are both personal projects that are really important to me. While the products I create in my line are expensive, I want to help people on a wider lever create a personal environment and understand what they connect with visually. While we can often dismiss aesthetics as not important, there’s a lot of research about how much joy they can actually bring. I highly recommend reading Ingrid Fetell Lee’s book, Joyful.

 

 

What’s next for Rebecca Atwood Designs?

 

Right now, we’re really focused on growing what we have already put in place. There is so much opportunity with our fabric and wallpaper business. We also have a really exciting collaboration coming in the spring that I can’t wait for people to see! And I’m also designing our first indoor/outdoor collection of fabrics.

 

In addition to being a business owner, you’re also a mom! Tell us about your one-year-old daughter Zoe.

 

Zoe is my love. She is sweet, funny, determined, and already quite independent. She tells you what she wants even though she can’t talk yet. 

 

Tell us about transitioning to being a working mom and what surprised you the most about it.

 

The first few months after Zoe was born were very challenging for me. Postpartum recovery and hormones were more than I had realized. I don’t really know how you prepare for that. I think the hardest part with transitioning back to work was dealing with my pre-baby expectations and reminding myself I needed to be more gentle with myself.

 

As a business owner, were you able to take maternity leave at all? What was that experience like for you and your family?

 

Owning my own business, I knew my maternity leave wouldn’t look like it would if I were an employee at a more corporate company. I needed to make sure salaries and bills were paid, orders were going out, and that our basic operations were running smoothly. I also had a very unique situation in that two employees on my small team were pregnant and due within five weeks of me. When everyone found out they were pregnant, we were a team of four and hiring our fifth employee. I had to really focus on the operations of the business, and we hired an operations manager to bring our team to six. We all worked hard to put a good plan in place to keep things together during this low staff time. It was stressful but actually ended up being a really good thing as it forced me to take inventory on what we needed and where our weaknesses were and then address that.

I think it’s really interesting what people think they’re going to do and what actually happens. I wanted to have a plan, and it just didn’t end up being realistic to stick to that.

I thought that I’d be mostly off of email the first few weeks, and I’d have our bookkeeper come every other week for bill payments.  Then around five weeks, when my husband went back to work, I planned to have a nanny start part-time and work from home a bit. I planned to start going back into the office three days a week around the eight-week mark, then transition to four.

What actually happened is now a blur. I was induced two weeks early and had thought I had a little more time. I think you forget a lot, or at least I did, because it is so hard and you aren’t getting a lot of sleep. I was at least checking in on email in those first few weeks and did have our bookkeeper come in for bill payments. When my husband went back to work, I did have a nanny start, but I wasn’t really ready to leave. I also found it painful to listen to her play with my baby. It was all very hormonal. I tried leaving for small bits of time, which worked, but I had a lot of anxiety. Then, at the end of that first week, Zoe ended up getting an infection and was in the hospital for three nights. It was scary and awful! After that, I realized I wasn’t ready to have someone else taking care of her yet. I probably hadn’t been ready at five weeks. I don’t really remember what I ended up doing (it’s truly all a blur!), but I didn’t have the woman we hired come in for a while, and then I slowly added in some time. Ultimately, she didn’t end up working out.

New motherhood is such a challenging time, and I needed someone that was going to be kind and support me as well as take care of our baby (which unfortunately wasn’t happening with her). I had hired her before having Zoe, and I think that was a mistake. We never really were the right fit, and I didn’t know what I actually needed until becoming a mother. 

There was a lot of driving back and forth from home to the studio in the beginning. I remember Zoe not taking a bottle. I remember bringing her in with me as well. Then, we found our amazing nanny, and things just started to slowly get easier. The crazy start made me realize I did want to be home with her on Fridays, and I changed things around to make that work. It all still feels pretty close, and while I can’t remember all of the details, I do remember the anxiety!

 

 

How has motherhood impacted you as a person and a professional? How do you find work-life balance?

 

Honestly, there are many days where I am still trying to wrap my head around my new life. Becoming a mother was a huge change for me. My adult life has been very focused on work, and when I had our baby, I was introduced to this other side of myself I didn’t really know. I’ve grown, and I know this is only the beginning.

I don’t really believe there is work-life balance. I think it’s OK to sometimes be “out of balance” as long as you’re always making time for your family. Only recently have I felt like I could start making more time for myself and finding a new routine. The beginning was survival! I don’t know that I have too much advice at this point other than to be kind to yourself.

 

How do you and your husband divide parenting roles at home?

 

It’s always evolving! My husband, Steve, took off five weeks of paternity leave when she was born, which I feel very fortunate about. I think a lot about how hard it must be for single mothers. Even though he took that time off, the first six to nine months were really heavily weighted towards me. I don’t know that we could have changed that as so much of it was just the physical nature of it since I was breastfeeding. Also, once he was back at work and she started going to bed at a more reasonable hour, he got home after she went to bed.

Recently, Steve took off an additional 10 weeks of parental leave which was frankly amazing. It was so wonderful for them to have that bonding time as her personality had developed more. It was also a big relief for me and helped distribute some of the parenting tasks more evenly.  I also went back to five days a week when he had time off so I could catch up on work. He’s back at work now, but it still feels like a better divide. I’m sure we’ll have our ups and downs as we go!

 

Do you think becoming parents has changed your marriage? Why or why not?

 

I do. Mostly it’s forced us to think about our future differently. I don’t think we know yet what that means or how it will look but it does change your perspective. I think it also challenges us to communicate better, which is a good thing. It’s been really fun too seeing this different side of my husband. 

 

Can you walk us through your daily routine?

We no longer set an alarm as Zoe’s up early, and we still share a room (Brooklyn living!). Depending on the day, she’s up between 6 and 7am. Steve gets Zoe out of bed, changes her diaper, and we give her a bottle in our bed and all stay cozy as long as she’ll let us. Next, I shower and get dressed and our nanny arrives at 8am. By 8:12am, I’m out the door to catch the bus and grab a coffee on the way into the office. Depending on traffic, I arrive at work around 8:45am and sit down at my desk to start answering important emails. 

My workday can vary a lot depending on the day of the week! Most days, I’m at the studio in Brooklyn, but sometimes I’m at our showroom in NolitaMornings are always dedicated to my most important work as I’m most productive then. I rotate between projects for operations, sales/marketing, business planning, and creative work. I find time blocking to be very helpful, and I keep a Google sheet for my work week and plan everything out the Friday before.

I usually have lunch around noon. Afternoons are for one-on-ones with my direct reports, calls, and more reactive work or tasks. At 5pm, I rush out the door to catch the bus and get home to Zoe. I arrive home around 5:30pm and Zoe eats dinner at 5:45pm. A little after 6pm, I give Zoe a bath, and she goes to bed between 6:30 and 7pm. My husband, Steve, arrives home at 7pm, we eat dinner together around 7:30pm, and then lounge on the couch, watch TV, and catch up. Then we usually go to bed between 9:30 and 10pm!

 

What are the greatest challenges and rewards of being a working mom?

 

One of the greatest challenges is the fatigue and mental space for all of the things you need to keep track of. Did I order diapers? Has she outgrown that size already? Keeping up with the ever-growing list of to-dos.

One of the biggest rewards of being a working mom is having time for myself and my work. Being at work allows me to connect with my passion and gives me so much fulfillment.

Another reward and challenge is flexibility. Since I own my own business, I have been able to make changes so I can be with Zoe more. The flip side is that I have a lot of responsibility.

 

When it comes to being a mom, what are you most insecure about and what are you most confident about?

 

Sometimes, I’ll feel insecure about knowing “all of the things” — what type of formula is best, what type of shoes you should get and when — the list is endless.  I don’t really feel like I have the time to research everything, and the Internet can be a crazy place where all of your worst fears can be confirmed. I am lucky to have an amazing younger sister who has been through this before, and I ask her. Usually, I just remind myself it’s OK. As cheesy as it sounds, all she really needs is love.

I feel most confident in that I know her and can usually tell what she needs or if something is off. This was alarming to me in the very beginning, but when she was sick and needed to go to the hospital, I did know something was wrong early on. 

 

 

You’ve chosen not to publicly share photos of your daughter on social media. Why was that decision important to you?

 

I remember when I was pregnant someone saying to me, “Oh, that’s going to be amazing for your Instagram!” It just made me cringe. While the work I do is incredibly personal, there are parts of my life I do not want to share with the world. I’m very open about my business and other areas of my life. I do wonder sometimes, why is it the expectation that I would share my child so publicly? 

I do want there to be more stories out there about motherhood and specifically entrepreneur mothers. This is one of the reasons I am excited to share my story here.

Now, I’ve digressed a bit! Zoe’s life is her own. She’s already quite independent, even at 1 year old. I wouldn’t want to put anything out there that she might not want to be shared when she’s older. We don’t know how she, or really this next generation, will feel about social media and privacy. It just feels so personal. When she’s older, maybe she will want to have things shared and then maybe I could see that happening.

All of this being said, I do enjoy that other people share about their children and personal lives — and I love seeing people make choices that are best for their own individual families. We learn so much from that. I particularly love the reader’s comments on Cup of Jo, for example. Parenting can sometimes feel isolating, and I think sharing more can change that.

 

If you could only pick one, what has been your favorite memory from motherhood so far?

 

I’m only a little over a year into motherhood, but probably just the simplest pleasure of cuddling with her for a nap.

 

Can you share with us a few mom hacks you rely on to make things work in your day-to-day life?

 

1. JetBlack! I actually don’t use it but wish I did (I need to live in a doorman building, and we don’t). I learned about it at the Future of Home Conference, and it sounds pretty amazing. You can text “paper towels,” and they’ll deliver. Or even send a photo of a birthday party invite, and they will make suggestions for what to bring — and gift wrap it! 

2. I’m not sure if this counts as a hack, but our nanny is the best, and she makes it so I’m able to be fully present at work.

3. Monday App. We use it for project management, and it’s made my work life easier and more productive.

4. Timer Cube for staying on task.

 

 

Rebecca Atwood is The Everymom…

Favorite family tradition? A summer trip to where I grew up, Cape Cod.

Your dream vacation spot? Next on my list, The Azores.

Last home item you splurged on? Reupholstering.

Favorite Rebecca Atwood Designs product or pattern? Ah! Too many to pick. But I love our bedding. One of my favorite things to do is sleep, so it was such a dream to create our bedding collection.

Guilty pleasure? Maman cookies. When they are warm they are the best — but so decadent. I usually end up covered in chocolate.

Most embarrassing mom moment? Yelling at my sister when my baby hormones were crazy.

Favorite date night activity? Dinner out, preferably for sushi.

Best mom advice you’ve ever been given? All they really need is love.