When Ruth Rau became a mom she grew concerned about how her children’s toys were made when her baby’s teething ring for recalled for lead paint. She knew she could come up with a better solution, so she did. She founded the toy company Mouse Loves Pig where all toys are made with fair trade labor and organic non-toxic cottons. Today she’s learning how to balance being a mom, a wife and an entrepreneur.
Rau’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
I lost my job when I had a baby. Not really, more like I was forced to quit. A year later, my baby’s favorite teething toy was recalled for lead paint and, as an architect trained in design, I thought “I can design better.” So I did. Then I started learning about the traditional manufacturing process for soft goods and thought “I can find a better solution.” So I did. Now we’re selling our screen-free travel toys all over North America with plans to expand worldwide, and they’re all certified organic cotton, and made with fair labor by artisan Mama’s in Nicaragua, and we’re changing the current throw away culture of toys to one of less, but better.
In the process, I’ve realized that our children deserve well made toys that will survive all of childhood play, not toys that are easily broken and quickly thrown away. They are worthy of beautiful things. They deserve to know who made their toys and where. And they deserve open ended toys that fuel their imagination and creativity.
I have a picture that I took of an airport gift shop display rack. It was empty, facing the window, and waiting. Waiting, I’m sure, for our travel toys without the noise. Success for me looks like a display in that airport gift shop filled with our fair trade organic toys and families that reach first for a screen-free open ended toy instead of a battery powered device when they’re traveling with their kids.
We’re currently in the middle of our crowdfunding campaign to fuel our first order with our artisans in Nicaragua. $10k in less than 30 days seems like a pretty sweet success.
My biggest challenge is juggling motherhood while scaling up my business out of the “solopreneur” stage and into the “oh my goodness I have people working for me” stage. I say juggling because it constantly feels like I cannot keep all of the balls in my hands all at the same time. I have to let go of one to grab the next, on and on all day long. Sharing a calendar with my spouse has helped. Asking for help has helped. Scheduling time for not working has helped. Setting regular business hours (and sticking to them) has helped. But really, the juggle/struggle of being a working parent is real, whether you work for yourself or not.
“Every business decision is filtered through the lens of how I will explain it to my young children.”
– Ruth Rau, Founder of Mouse Loves Pig
My parents are my role models for showing me the value of believing in your dreams before you achieve them. They used to tell me all the time “if you can dream it, you’ll figure out a way to do it.” And their belief in me and in my ability to make things happen has been a deep source of inspiration for me.
Being a mother has changed me on a fundamental level. Every business decision is filtered through the lens of how I will explain it to my young children. When we decided to use fair labor artisans instead of a traditional factory, a huge part of that decision was my then 6 year old asking me “who’s gonna make the toys, Mama?” He didn’t want to know what factory, he wanted a name. And really, he deserves a name. Children deserve to know that every job is valuable and that every worker doing every type of work is part of a larger economy. People matter. Their work matters. Teaching my kids that there are people along every step of the way with the products we use matters. We are all human beings and we all have a valuable contribution to make to the world.
There is a photo I took of an empty airport gift shop display when I first started this business. I have a vision of that shelf filled with our Travel Toys without the Noise. Parents with small children traveling will be able to grab a box and have everything they need to keep their child happy and occupied on their flight. I don’t know how big our business has to grow to make that vision a reality, but that is what we’re working toward. Flexible employment for people who need it, beautiful screen-free toys for children to spark their imaginations, and showing my children that their dreams can support their families.