Babiators are easily one of our top “go-to” brands for our kids, so we’re excited to introduce you to their co-Founder, Molly Fienning. After graduating from Harvard in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Molly lept into a career at IBM. But as the legend goes, she was soon selling covetable kids eyewear from her kitchen table and gaining a cult following with one of the best customer service policies we’ve encountered (you lose ‘em, they’ll replace them!). Read on to hear what Molly has to say about making a dream into a reality.
Babiators hold a special place in our hearts. I mean, is there anything cuter than a baby in sunglasses? How did the idea for Babiators originate and did you really grow the brand to a multi-million dollar business in under 5 years from your kitchen table?
I might be biased, but I agree there are few things cuter than a baby in shades! The idea for Babiators originated from my time as a military spouse. My husband Ted was a fighter pilot for the Marine Corps, which issues aviator sunglasses to protect their pilots’ eyes from sun damage and glare. I thought, why not make aviators for babies – aka “Babiators” – to protect kids’ eyes too?
When we launched, my partner Carolyn and I cold-called hundreds of children’s boutiques from our dining tables. Within nine months, we were retailing our shades in 75 stores and had signed Nordstrom up to become our first major account! Today, six years later, we’re in 3000+ doors and Nordstrom is still a great partner of ours (we’ve also added major accounts Bloomingdales, Saks, Buy Buy Baby, Diapers.com and others). We’ve sold over 1 million pairs and generate ~ $6 million in revenue annually.
Wow! Your growth is amazing! You just launched a new frame style, The Navigator. We’re so excited to have a new style option for our little ones to get them to wear shades. Why is it so important that for kids to protect their eyes and how do Babiators accomplish this?
We believe that kids are born to explore, a truth we love and wouldn’t change for the world. Outdoors on awesome explorations, however, children receive three times the annual sun exposure as adults. In addition, kids’ eyes are even more susceptible to sun damage than adults’ eyes because of their larger pupils and clearer lenses.
At Babiators, we’re spreading the word that 100% UV sunglasses aren’t just a stylish fashion accessory, they’re a healthy necessity. No matter what the brand, we’d love for all parents to protect their kids’ eyes from harmful UV rays.
You co-Founded the company with your husband. Do you have any advice for mamas wanting to start businesses and successfully work with their spouse? Any tips you’ve learned along the way?
I love working with Ted. There is no one I trust more in the world, and our goals are completely aligned for the business. That said, there have definitely been moments that weren’t easy. We learned that it’s important to set boundaries so “talking shop” doesn’t take over the relationship (for us, the rule is no work conversations after 7pm). We also love using the MBTI personality type analysis. There’s a short online test you can take to learn your MBTI type and thus discover how you work/communicate/stress differently from your spouse to honor your own and his or her needs.
When we launched, my partner Carolyn and I cold-called hundreds of children’s boutiques from our dining tables. Within nine months, we were retailing our shades in 75 stores and had signed Nordstrom up to become our first major account!
You’ve created a cult following with your brand. What was the moment when you first realized your business was a success and what did that feel like?
I first realized we were onto something in a hospital at 3AM, the day after our first son was born! I was feeding him and couldn’t fall back asleep, so I picked up the latest issue of US Weekly (while my husband slept on the ground next to me). I opened the page to a photo of Mariah Carey’s baby nursery, where her son, Morocco, was propped up in his crib and stylin’ in our Black Ops Babiators!
I literally jumped for joy on the hospital bed after seeing Babiators in print for the first time. My husband woke up startled by my bizarre behavior and we broke into laughter. We have since seen some of the coolest Hollywood kiddos around sporting our Babiators from the children of Sarah Jessica Parker to Khloe Kardashian to Rachel Zoe. Ellen DeGeneres even featured us on her annual Mother’s Day Giveaway episode – a pinch-me moment, for sure.
Outdoors on awesome explorations, however, children receive three times the annual sun exposure as adults. In addition, kids’ eyes are even more susceptible to sun damage than adults’ eyes because of their larger pupils and clearer lenses.
You have a charitable component to Babiators as well, delivering sunglasses to hospital pediatric units. Tell us more about that.
For the past few years, we’ve donated hundreds of pairs of Babiators to hospitals around the country, and we’re now ramping up a larger effort this year – which we’re calling our Future’s So Bright campaign.
This campaign was inspired by a brave boy named Finn Blumenthal, who was born with Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) disease and whose mother was looking for a fun and heartfelt token to lift spirits after her three-day old son’s open heart surgery. The nurses brought him back to his mama in our Rockstar Red shades and his newborn hair styled in a mini-mohawk! It had a profound impact on us that Finn’s family’s “bright spot” during those difficult days at the hospital was Finn styling in his new Babiators. He is an inspirational 2.5-year-old and a VIP member of the Babiators family!
This month, we launched limited edition “Shark Finn” Babiators (in shark gray, as sharks are Finn’s fave animal). We’re donating 10% of proceeds to the American Heart Association for CHD research. Please check them out for Finn!
Through this Future’s So Bright campaign, our dream is to offer more moments of fun and play to other children facing difficult times in hospitals. If a pair of Babiators can make one sick child happy during his or her hospital stay, that’s enough for us.
Quote you love:
“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Life is short, do what you love.
3 pearls of wisdom
Love What You Do. Building a business is a long road, so it is important to truly love what you’re doing. You might not love every aspect of your job, but a general feeling of excitement to show up most days and produce work is crucial. Otherwise, it is easy to burn out.
Be flexible. If something isn’t working, it is ok to adjust your path. We all learn through experience and need to be adept at changing course (instead of holding steadfast on a failing decision and going down with the ship).
Persevere. As mothers, we all know that there is no quick fix to success. We’ve learned resilience as we love, care and fight for our children. It is not dissimilar for your business. A million small decisions contribute to whether or not your business thrives. Take that next baby step directly ahead of you, and keep on trucking.