She’s Mom, Incorporated: Sonal Gerten, Tumblewalla

Minneapolis mom, Sonal Gerten, founded Tumblewalla, an Indian-inspired line of brightly colored organic cotton play wear for babies and toddlers, which she runs out of her home while caring for her now three-year-old son. Serious about play, she also created the Tumble & Tickle Movement, a philanthropical arm of the company that donates 5% from every item purchased to global nonprofit partners that make play happen for children around the world. 

MomIncorporated: What inspired you to start Tumblewalla?
Sonal: When I was pregnant with my son, I, like most moms, wanted to find distinctive, colorful and cozy clothes for my baby but everything for boys was in brown and blacks or had skulls and cross-bones on it – not what I was looking for!

At the time, I was intrigued by this nugget of a business idea but it didn’t feel right in my gut yet.  It wasn’t until after I gave birth when I found it incredibly difficult to just enjoy the moment, laugh and be playful with my son, that I realized I could stand for something bigger than just the clothes – I wanted to help families be more in the moment and celebrate the whimsy and joys of being a child. This led to the beginnings of Tumblewalla and our Tumble and Tickle Movement.   I strongly believe every child has a RIGHT to play and enjoy their childhood no matter where they live or their economic situation and this belief is the vision that fuels my work each day.

MomIncorporated: What is the Tumble and Tickle movement?
Play can and should happen EVERYDAY! Kids need play to develop confidence, to feel a sense of belonging, and most importantly – to have fun, but “play” is not easy for many kids across the globe because of lack of resources and opportunities. Our Tumble and Tickle Movement supports non-profits that are having an amazing effect with kids in their communities, and helping to give these kids back their childhoods. The two organizations that we support are the Priyanka Foundation – an organization that keeps the spark and hope alive for chronically and terminally ill children in India, and Many Hopes – an organization committed to building communities and schools for orphaned girls and boys in Kenya so that they can realize their full potential.

MomIncorporated: Did you have a background in clothing design or production?
Sonal: No, I wish I did! When I first started on this journey I tried making a pair of infant pants and they turned out three sizes too big.  However, I was lucky to find some great pattern makers and designers early on and read tons of business books. In addition, I met with many entrepreneurs so I was well prepped on the ins and outs of the industry.

MomIncorporated: How long did it take you to go from conception to up-and-running?
Sonal: I held my first trunk show for my capsule collection a year after I decided to take the plunge and at the time it seemed painstakingly slow, but in retrospect, a year goes by so fast!  Also, “up and running” is a relative term as I didn’t have all my pieces in-house at the time, due to production delays.  However, having that firm deadline of my trunk show was incredibly motivating. I sent postcards, advertised, etc. so I had to make it happen even if I didn’t feel fully ready.

MomIncorporated: What were your first steps and how did you know what to do?
Sonal: I had many starts and stops and some wrong turns for sure, but my first steps were writing and journaling everyday: What’s my vision, brand personality, who are my customers, where do I want to be five years from now, etc?  This helped me stay grounded and also overcome any self-doubt.  It is a document I still reference today and reminds me of my original inspiration.

MomIncorporated: Where is your home office? Describe your setup, favorite equipment, and if you run your business online, any favorite software or apps.
Sonal: My home office is at my kitchen table (it’s the room that gets the most sunlight)! Favorite office supplies/equipment include cork-boards (for mapping out new collections), a shredder and my portable postage scale.  Since I’m not technologically inclined (I still use a paper organizer), I like apps/software that are simple and user-friendly, such as Mail Chimp (for newsletters), Square credit card reader, and the iphone Mile Tracker app (saves so  much hassle of trying to remember miles and distances.).

MomIncorporated: What are some ongoing challenges of running your business from home? How are you working to overcome them?
Sonal: Shutting off work has been the most difficult challenge. I have gotten to a place where I’m comfortable with not having complete work-life separation, and I’ve tried to incorporate many of the lessons that I’ve learned while researching  for Tumblewalla on the importance of unstructured play for both kids and adults, into my personal life which has been  a wonderful process and journey.  In addition, I prefer to be off emails between 5-8 PM on weekdays and just go with the flow as much as possible which means being OK with mess and saying YES to spontaneous activities!

MomIncorporated: How do you juggle motherhood and being a small business owner? What kind of support do you have?
Sonal: I have a wonderful support network of family and friends – who have helped me with everything from trade-shows to trunk shows to packing items for shipment to letting their kids be “fit” models for the latest Tumblewalla designs.  Their generosity and willingness to pitch in has been tremendous.   I also have been very selective as to which initiatives to take-on vs. which ones to pass on – some of which may have not been the best business decisions at the time, but they were all the right decisions for my family and I trust that new opportunities will always come my way!

MomIncorporated: What business tips or advice would you give other women about starting a business like yours?
Sonal: Seek out the support and and camaraderie of other women entrepreneurs who are experiencing similar challenges and fears – you are not alone!  I signed-up for a few coaching courses early-on including Erika Lyremark’s “Morning Whip” which I highly recommend.  I meet regularly with all kinds of entrepreneurs to swap stories, problem solve and celebrate wins.  It’s easy to get so focused on the day to day that sometimes we forget the power of personal connections and relationships.

I also suggest always going back to your original mission and vision statement whenever you have a tough decision or are feeling frustrated. Returning to your original passion and purpose helps propel your movement forward!

 

Tumblewalla’s Facebook page aims to celebrate what Sonal calls “the intrinsic playful spirit of kids” through their blog posts and photos.

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