I remember my girlfriend tagging me in the @girlfriend Instagram during their free leggings campaign in 2016. She was in Melbourne, I was in NYC. This brand had seemingly appeared overnight and was reaching women around the world—and while the slick branding and promise of free leggings was appealing, it was the girlfriend.com URL that piqued my interest / inner branding nerd: they must be serious. I received my leggings a few months later and they are, to this day, the most flattering and comfortable leggings I own. Girlfriend was founded out by Seattle based Ellie & Quang Dinh (partners in life as well as leggings). About a year after receiving my Girlfriend gear Ellie and I connected over Instagram—a true millennial friendship—and discovered we were both pregnant with boys, due at a similar time. Ellie and I have stayed in touch since, talking about the challenges and rewards of raising a baby and a business at the same time. Read on for what is essentially a fly on the wall conversation from our DM’s.
The free Girlfriend leggings launch campaign
There were so many moving parts that went into the original Girlfriend campaign. We knew we had something we were proud of and that we could stand behind. After that, the question we had was, “How do we get people to experience it and try it out?” At the time, I knew for myself that I wouldn’t want to spend $100 or even $68 on leggings from a brand I’d never heard of before. Quang had the idea to put our marketing budget toward giving our leggings away for free, and after a lot of number crunching, we realized we could afford to do it. We didn’t think it would work at all, and I was certain that people would think we were scamming them.
We built the website and worked with a factory that made a custom fabric for us. They ended up having this huge shipping delay. We had to tell everyone who had pre-ordered our leggings that it was going to take two months longer than we had anticipated. It was one of the worst emails I’ve ever had to send. We offered refunds to whoever wanted to have their money back, but fortunately, a lot of people stuck through. It was a slow burn as people got their packages. It started to pick up when the people who loved the product started telling their friends about it.
I don’t really know why one brand sticks out from the rest. All I know is that for us, our product was legit, and we made sure people knew about it by getting it into their hands. We had this amazing fabric that we’d made ourselves, and it felt so special and unique. You can have the best branding and a great story, but if people don’t put on your product and feel good in it, then your brand won’t go anywhere. That was the winning factor for us.
You have to let go of things that you can’t control.
Turning an idea into a thing
Quang and I had always wanted to work on something together. He had done a denim line back in the early 2000s and was interested in getting back into fashion. Once we decided to work together, it took more than half a year to pull the trigger. We spent that time ideating and discussing our idea. Then, we spent another year lining up a factory to do samples and testing. It took another a year and a half before we launched the campaign.
It was great having Quang next to me because I was more shy to act on the idea. I had never started a venture and he had, so it was nice to have a partner who had that experience. He was ready and excited to start work, whereas I kept wanting to get all our ducks in a row. It’s an impossible way to work because you can never get everything perfect–you have to just jump in and learn as you go. You have to let go of things that you can’t control.
In business and in parenting, you need to learn to let go.
On becoming a mom
Becoming a mom has been the wildest, best experience. I thought starting a business was crazy (and it was), but becoming a mom is way more intense, emotionally and physically. Although Quang and I had been wanting kids for a long time, it felt nuts to be pregnant at the same time as starting a business. We had no idea how we were going to do it. It’s all consuming to work while raising a child, but there’s something rewarding about doing both. I feel really lucky that I get to be a mom and do something that I love for work.
My focus, in all honesty, is my son. When I was pregnant, I thought I could play the mom and work balance by ear. I had a feeling that I wanted to be involved in work on some level, but I wasn’t sure how much or how little. After he was born, I went into shock for the first two weeks in adjusting to the realization that I was really a mom now. There was now this person in my life that was attached to me. I remember three weeks after the birth I turned to Quang and said that I was ready to go back to work, which makes me laugh now. I didn’t know what was coming. As new parents, we could barely keep up with our sleep. It was a huge shock for both of us and we had to learn to cope with that whole season of not sleeping while still working. Then, we got into a rhythm and our son started sleeping a little more. With that, we started to get some of our sanity back.
In the beginning I was defiant and and thought that everything would go back to normal. It took some time to accept that it wasn’t the normal I knew anymore. It was a new normal that was so different, and it took a few months to get used to that shift. I think I had more emotional capacity before having a kid, and now everything goes to him. You need to be able to free up that emotion capacity from time to time. Now, when I finally have a minute to myself, sometimes I just want to be alone. That can mean being out of my house or just watching Netflix. You have to find and do the thing that recharges you. I’ve had to learn how to say no to things, and to be more protective of that ecosystem.
Business, babies, and balance
I experience mom guilt on a weekly basis, something I did not expect it at all. It can feel like every minute of your day needs to be invested in your child, even when you know it’s not humanly possible. You can only do the best that you can, and you can only do as much as you can. If you have to work, you’re doing it to support your kids and be a role model for them. So the guilt seems ridiculous, but I think it’s inevitable.
No matter what path you choose, as a woman you end up having to make sacrifices. You’re forced to make choices that men don’t have to make: “Can I have a family and can I have a business?” It sucks that we even have to choose. Of course, you can do it. But it’s something you have to come to terms with, while also acknowledging that you’re only one person. You need to go into it knowing that it’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be OK.
You need to learn how to forgive yourself, to have grace for yourself, to let yourself make mistakes. Don’t let things eat away at you. In the same way with work, it’s easy to get caught up in numbers and sales, but at the end of the day I’m thankful for the community, my friends, and my family.