Rockin’ Baby CEO on business, charity and adoption

For every baby sling or item of clothing they sell, American brand Rockin’ Baby donate one to a mother-in-need. We speak to CEO and mother-of-six Kathryn Johnson Wiley about work life, home life and choosing to adopt two of her children…

Kathryn – the CEO of kids’ clothes and accessories company Rockin’ Baby – lives in Richmond, Virginia, with her partner and their six children: Abel, 11, Cyrus, 10, Sabina, 8, Liesl, 6, Aspen, 3.5, Judah, 2 – two adopted, four biological

You bought out Rockin’ Baby in 2011, how many children did you have at that point?
I had four kids. Liesl was 15 months old when I heard about the company being for sale.

Why did you choose to take over Rockin’ Baby, rather than starting your own company?
I was looking for a business opportunity for about a year prior to it going for sale. I was a huge advocate for Rockin’ Baby slings, even though I didn’t have any relationship with the company, other than as a user!

I sold so many for the company, because I was such a huge believer in keeping your baby close, and feeling beautiful. It was such a natural fit that when I saw it was for sale, I immediately responded with interest.

What experience did you have in retail/online business, prior to the purchase?
I was in manufacturing and real estate development with my husband. My mother is a successful businesswoman, and I had been around entrepreneurs my whole life.

What makes the Rockin’ Baby slings and pouches better than other brands?
The mother-to-mother mission [one item being donated for each one sold]
Reversible slings and pouches
Beautifully appointed fashionable textiles
More like the mother’s womb

You recently won ‘best new brand’ at the Little London Awards, what makes your company special?
I was very inspired by TOMS one-for-one mission. We are developing our own handwriting with the styles and designs, but we are also offering the mother-to-mother and child-to-child mission, which sets our company apart on so many levels.

For every sling/pouch sold, we donate one to a mother-in-need and educate her on its importance. We started this mission in Haiti because they have the highest infant mortality rate in the western hemisphere

What’s the office set up: where do you work from, who do you work with?
We are currently working all over the place, as we wait for construction to be completed at our new office. We are in a small shop now, but all of our office staff cannot share the three offices we have. We meet at cafes, work from home, and pile up in the shop while we anticipate having a three-level, high street location in Richmond, Virginia.

You chose to adopt before giving birth to your own baby, what made you so keen to adopt?
It was always in my heart. From the time I was little, I knew that it was going to be part of my future. When I met my husband, it was one of the first things I shared with him to ensure we were on the same page.

Can you tell us about the social aspect of Rockin’ Baby – giving an item to a mother-in-need for every one that you sell?
Yes, for every sling/pouch sold, we donate one to a mother-in-need and educate her on its importance. We started this mission in Haiti because they have the highest infant mortality rate in the western hemisphere. Though they have African roots, they do not carry their babies, so they leave their babies home with younger siblings, neighbours or alone because the mothers are providing for the rest of the family.

We are super excited that we are going to have a full-time Rockin’ Baby representative on the ground in Haiti ensuring that the mother-to-mother mission is connected and growing within the communities.

Kathryn - kids in sling -

The child-to-child mission includes our childrenswear and we will be donating through ChildFund International. The first season will be going to the orphans left by Ebola in West Africa. I will be going in November to East Africa to donate several thousand units.

Is the company fair trade, and where are the items made?
The slings/pouches are made right here in the USA. We are pleased to have amazing sewers among us for our carriers. Our childrenswear is made primarily in China and Vietnam. We only work with factories that are vetted and made certain that there is fair trade.

You’ve been helping mothers in Haiti by supplying them with pouches and clothes, are you involved now with Syrian refugees?
We have been asked to donate slings to the Syrian refugees and I have been asked to be part of a leadership team to provide slings to them. We are awaiting the final information from the people in Greece that the group is sending them to before they are posted.

What does an average day look like for you and your family?
Structure, predictability and full of energy! We are up at 6:15am and baths all round. The kids are amazing at getting dressed, packing their lunches and eating breakfast all before our 7:40am departure. Four of the kids are dropped off at a Waldorf school, and my littles are in preschool…

I feel very balanced now; I have struck the balance of help inside the home

The moment they are dropped off with a hug/kiss, I am on my way to accomplish as much as possible. When I am with the kids, I try to be engaged and focused on them. As soon as they’re in school, I’m laser focused on Rockin’ Baby. Every minute is productive, and multi-tasking is clearly critical.

After school, the kids are picked up and have time to relax and play outside before sports practices.

After football, baseball and cheering practice, we race home for the curtain call of the day. The family eats dinner together every night to touch base over the day and listen to what happened while we were all apart. Then we do it all over again the next day.

How do you balance raising six children with being the CEO of a successful company, do you have help with childcare/cleaning etc?
I started by having a personal assistant to help me with work but I quickly realised, whilst I was doing the laundry, I was trying to explain how to fill out a spreadsheet to someone who wasn’t doing it quickly or efficiently.

After a couple months, I switched it around and I have someone help me with laundry/cleaning two times a week. I actually can keep up with cleaning, but I realised it was at the expense of being able to spend time with any of my children. I feel very balanced now; I have struck the balance of help inside the home.

Any advice for parents looking to set up a business?
Always put family first. You will be happier, and so will every employee you have. Family. Comes. First.

Anything else you’d like to share…?
I studied photography in grad school, and realised I was a social documentary photographer. When I was listening to a lecture, and I heard that a social documentary photographer uses their images as a vehicle for change, it resonated with me.

Now, I realise that with several areas of my life, I want to use it as a vehicle for change…
With motherhood, I want to use it as a vehicle for change in my children.
With adoption, I want to use it as a vehicle for change in other’s lives.
With Rockin’ Baby, I want to use it as a vehicle for change in mothers and children around the world.

Visit the website: Rockin’ Baby