Cool Little Ones Founder and Austin Woman small business grant winner Glenna Devonport took a chance on herself and won.
By Glenna Devonport, Photos courtesy of Glenna Devonport
I will never forget March 2020, the month the coronavirus changed the trajectory of my life. Was on the last week of my 12-week maternity leave when my boss gave me a call, saying something to the effect of, “Glenna, this coronavirus is really shaking things up. I am so sorry, we just can’t afford to have you come back to work. Clients are canceling projects. I hope you can come back one day, but right now, we are having to make a lot of tough decisions.”
I hadn’t been unemployed since I was 14 years old, and take pride in my independence and strong work ethic. All of that came crashing down when I began the conversation with my internal committee: “Well if they really wanted me, they would have figured it out.” Talk about some soul searching. I remember thinking, “If this isn’t a sign to try and work for myself, I don’t know what is.”
For the next few weeks, I scoured the job boards, networked and planned my next move. I had a newborn and 2-year-old at home with me full time, my first time experiencing the “stay-at-home mom” life. In a way, I naively envied stay-at-home moms and what I thought their lives were like. Getting up, working out, taking a shower, going to the park, going to lunch with your friends, coming home for naptime and watching bad TV. I quickly realized it was actually far from what I had envisioned. I struggled with selfishly yearning to take a business trip and continue my career while equally feeling appreciative of the unexpected time I was spending with my kids.
I spent months outside with my guys at the Wildflower Center, walking the trail at Lady Bird Lake, hiking state parks and exploring all that Central Texas has to offer. During this time, I started noticing not only how sweaty my 2-year-old was when we were outside, but also how sweaty my baby was when he was in the stroller or car seat. I looked down at myself and thought, “If I am wearing these cute moisture-wicking clothes, why aren’t my kids?” Yes, some of the big brands had options, but I wanted something cute, fun prints without a brand name plastered on it.
I borrowed an old Brother sewing machine from my stepmom, printed off a pattern and started sewing my kids moisture-wicking clothes out of my old ones. Sewing had never interested me, but for the first time, I felt like I was working again. I was experiencing creativity on my own time, originating something and then watching it actually work—how soul fulfilling that is.
I had friends comment on the cute prints and how well the fabric worked on their kids. It was on one of our many walks around the neighborhood with our little guys in tow that I said to my husband, “I am going to lean into this hard and start a company.”
Next thing I knew, I was on a trip to Los Angeles with my mom to source fabric and identify manufacturers. We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. But I was thrilled to follow through on my idea. We walked up and down every street in the design district looking at fabric and asking every store what manufacturers they recommended. We set up meetings with those manufacturers and asked all the questions we could think of. I still laugh when I think back, because it was so clear that I had zero experience in apparel manufacturing. I made an extremely small first purchase order and begged my top choice manufacturer to take me on as a client. When the clothes came in, they actually started selling, so I added dresses to the line.
What I ultimately learned on this trip was if you take small steps forward every day, those small steps will lead to bigger steps and soon you will actually be doing whatever it was you thought you couldn’t do at the beginning.
The Future Looks Cool
Now here we are a year later, and my first full line for Cool Little Ones is currently being manufactured and will be available early April 2022. Supply chain issues, materials and labor price increases have positively challenged me to become comfortable adjusting to an ever-changing business environment. Although my orders are still small, my goal is to maintain manufacturing in the United States and incorporate environmentally friendly fabrics. There is still so much for me to learn, but I am taking one day at a time. For most everyone in the world, no two years have been as hard as the past couple. We are all adapting to the unknown while trying not to surrender or stop creating.
As women we are asked, “Can we do it all?” I answer with a resounding “Yes! However…” You don’t do everything well all at once. I’m fortunate to have my mom and her best friend as role models who have individually challenged male-dominated industries, societal status quos. Both built successful businesses headquartered in Austin. I’m confident I can have a meaningful career pursuing my dream of owning a thriving company, while simultaneously being a great mom and spouse. But what has been the toughest for me to reconcile, and why I answer the question with a qualifying “Yes! However,” is fully understanding that I may not excel at every one of life’s responsibilities concurrently. Instead, I let myself realistically flow gracefully with the daily balance. To me, that is the definition of success.