Feature Story

Jennifer Porter

Founder of Stylesmart, Satsuma Designs and Mom

Q: As an entrepreneur you’ve started both a service company and a product company, which do you think is more challenging and why?

Jennifer: Here’s the easy answer, but I’ll follow up with specifics – both! In both cases you’re working to establish long term relationships with customers. Regardless of what you’re selling, there are tried and true paths to excellent customer service that include: integrity (a big vague word that means you do what you say you will do), fair pricing and practices, a willingness to listen to customers, clarify expectations and execute. In my experience, however, producing and selling ‘things’ is more challenging.

I would say chiefly because as a designer/manufacturer you’re at the mercy of your suppliers to stick to their commitments and deliver on time, strive for the same level of excellence and pay the same attention to detail that you do for every product and order that goes out the door. We rarely get a second chance to wow our customers and it’s very clear that our vendors and partners play a key role in our success (or opposite!). Free and common sense advice: take the time to get to know your partners on a personal level so that good will flows and you both see the benefits of working toward the same goal.

Q: Satsuma is new for you, and a product line you developed after having your son. Did his arrival impact or inspire this decision?

Jennifer: Absolutely! I started Satsuma Designs with a friend who’s also a parent. We connected over the fact that so many of our purchasing decisions were going ‘green’ both for the benefit and health of our families, as well as more broadly to have a small hand in protecting our community’s natural resources. We both looked at our consumption through a new lens whether investing in a new mattress and all natural cleaning supplies to researching the best and most affordable hybrid cars that would also fit a couple of car seats, strollers and all those kiddo accoutrements! We thought we could have a direct impact and help other families make easy and affordable choices that were good for everyone – kids and the environment. That led us to researching the newest and most earth friendly materials and we settled on bamboo.

Bamboo is a sustainable resource and naturally antibacterial, which means pests and all those little microbes don’t like it and won’t set up shop. With that, it’s a great material for children’s products and it’s also incredibly soft. Our resolve to launch this business was cemented when a wise woman told me that the two best markets to start something in are kids and lingerie. People will always spend to give a child something soft and cozy and women will always care about their knickers. On both counts, I believe she’s right!

Q: When you became a mom, did you feel like you needed to compete differently to stay ahead? How?

Jennifer:Yes, but I don’t think that becoming a mom was the determining factor in that many women are faced with life changes that require a whole new level of time management and priority-setting skills. I think motherhood is a catalyst for this type of stock-taking exercise, but parent or not, I believe women are faced with these challenges daily. What I found most interesting and really comforting was that when decisions had to be made between caring for our child and taking on that new project with limited time, I went with our child.

That gave me confidence to know that my heart was in the right place from the start and that anything that came after in terms of outside child care, striking the right family/work life balance, etc. was going to be more intuitive than I expected. That felt good. My emails got shorter and I began to look at new business leads with a sharper eye. Cost/benefit analysis took on a new, more personal meaning.

Q: What are your tips for creating balance as a business owner, wife and mom?

Jennifer: Put your family first and find a practice that brings you peace and a relaxed countenance – yoga, jogging, meditation or other. Start with five minutes every day to step back and look at what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, how you’re treating people as you do it and whether you can improve. The how will come.

Q: Bamboo is hot right now. What makes it such a good product for linens and blankets?

Jennifer: In general, bamboo is an incredible plant and resource. Not only is it an earth friendly resource in that it grows to maturity in a few short years, but it is grown and replanted on the same plots, preserving soil integrity, and its healthy growth doesn’t require any kind of natural or other pesticide. Its chemistry turns off bugs and so it grows happily and pristinely in the wild. In our case, these naturally anti-bacterial properties are retained when it’s processed into fabric, which means that customers enjoy the comfort of knowing that it’s good for their families and the earth.

And as your readers well know there are any number of products now designed from bamboo – flooring, bicycles (the pinnacle of clean transportation!), dishes, clothing, and more. We work with two blends of fabric – 100% bamboo jersey, which is similar in feel to ultra soft pima cotton, and our bamboo/organic cotton velour blend which is very soft and cozy. Both fabrications are very easy to care for and machine washable. All these properties make for a very luxurious and durable solution for any type of bedding.

You can learn more about the products and services offered by Stylesmart and Satsuma Designs by visiting their web sites:

www.stylesmart.com
www.satsumadesigns.com