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The M Dash

Live with purpose.

What Does a Modern Mom Look Like?

October 19, 2019 | Filed in: Woman of the Week

No one knows the trials of finding postpartum workwear quite like Liz Tenety and Jill Koziol, the co-founders of Motherly, a lifestyle brand for modern moms. That’s why M.M.LaFleur chose to partner with them for our first capsule collection for new mothers making the transition back to work. Here, Jill (Motherly’s CEO) and Liz (Motherly’s chief digital officer) talk about parenthood, style, and starting the business they needed themselves.

You decided to create Motherly because your generation of moms had needs that weren’t being met. What are those needs?

Liz: Before we started Motherly, we saw that so much online content for parents was being generated by message boards, which certainly did not provide expert-driven information. I wasn’t going to rely on conflicting opinions to solve a problem with my life or my child. I also saw publishers using fear-mongering and the mommy wars as primary ways to drive traffic. I knew that our generation needed something better, because I needed something better. When Jill and I started interviewing women about this, we got overwhelming feedback that the existing content was a really bad fit for the attitudes, experiences, and education that millennial women were bringing to motherhood. We decided to take motherhood seriously and not treat it like a niche market, because it’s not a niche. This is an incredibly universal experience that almost half of the world population has. It is a permanent lifestyle transformation. 

Jill wears the Hailey dress. Liz wears the Graham kimono and the Doris dress.

Jill: Millennial moms look very different from previous generations, and there are three important drivers behind that. The first is that we are the first generation in U.S. history where women are more educated than men. We value expert information and get frustrated if things are dumbed down for us. The second driver is that we are the first generation of parents who are digitally native. We are looking online for information about parenting, and we want a user-friendly experience. We also have different expectations for how we’re going to interact with brands and content—we have a nose for authenticity, and we’re looking for a real connection. And the third driver is that, starting two years ago, the majority of births in this country were of minorities. Our generation’s families do not look like our parents’ families — they are more diverse and blended. There is less judgment and more of a “you do you” mentality. Our generation of women wants access to information that will empower us to make the best decisions for ourselves. And because we tend to be educated and working, we want to understand how motherhood integrates with and builds upon our own core identity, rather than completely taking it over. To meet these needs, Motherly is woman-centered, expert-driven, empowering, and nonjudgmental. 

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What made you two realize that you could become business partners?

Jill: Liz and I had parallel lives for several years before we actually met. We both went to Georgetown at the same time, Liz for undergrad and I for graduate school. Both of our husbands went to the Naval Academy at the same time. We had children within a couple months of each other, and lived and worked in the Washington, D.C. area. And both of our husbands deployed and served in the military when we had young children. But we didn’t meet until our husbands both went to Stanford Business School. Liz’s husband, Colin, reached out to my husband, Pete, because he saw that they had both gone to the Naval Academy. Liz and Colin planned to go to a dinner at the school, and since we had a daughter about the same age as their son, they asked if we would watch their child while they went out for a few hours. So the first time I met Liz is when she and her husband dropped off their son for us to babysit.

Liz wears the Blake shirt, the Zhou culotte, and the Bezel earrings. Jill wears the Morandi sweater, the Foster pant, and the Capri earrings.

Liz: Before we both ended up at Stanford Business School [which has a program for spouses of students to take classes, too], I had worked for the Washington Post for most of my twenties in a variety of roles. At Stanford, I just felt this entrepreneurial itch. I was very interested in new media business models, and I thought I could create something different. I was standing in my kitchen one night after my kids went to bed, and I had a light bulb moment. I realized that the space that most needed innovating, and where I could really make an impact, was motherhood.

I bounced the idea off my husband and he was like, “Yeah, that’s a great idea. You should run with it.” And within two weeks, my network had led me to Jill. At that point, we were friendly but not really friends. Jill had invented a product called the SwingEase, which converts a baby’s swing into a toddler’s swing. So I knew she had a background in business and marketing to moms. I approached her and said, “I have this idea for a platform that can change the conversation about motherhood. I have a background in media, and you have a background in business. What do you think of this idea?” I was not asking her to be a co-founder; I was really just looking for feedback on the idea. And we had the most invigorating hour-long conversation and we fell in love.

Jill: We immediately fed off each other’s energy. Liz and I are two millennial mothers ourselves, educated and digitally native, and we founded Motherly because no one else was doing anything like it. After our first conversation, I called her back two days later with a business plan, and I said, “Let’s go do this together.” And we launched six weeks later. That was four and a half years ago.

Liz wears the Graham kimono, the Doris dress, and the Bezel earrings.

Coming from such different backgrounds, were you nervous about working together, especially since you didn’t know each other that well?

Liz: I’d never co-founded a business before, and Jill was giving me a crash course. At one point in the very early days, before the website had even launched, I was trying to understand how equity works. We were talking about it and I said, “I need to take some time to research and contemplate this.” After that call, Jill said, “I really respect that you took the time to do that and to make a deliberate, thoughtful, educated choice about equity instead of going with your emotion or gut feeling.” For me, that was an early sign that although we were super different, we could play to one another’s strengths from a point of respect, which is our secret sauce. There are very few venture-backed businesses with two female founders. And even fewer with two female founders who are both mothers. Most startups fail because of disagreements and personality conflicts in the founding team. Liz and I may be incredibly different, but we both approach problems with a lot of cognitive diversity.  Also, frankly, because we are moms, we understand the value of being efficient people. 

Tell me how that plays into style. For a lot of new mothers, feeling polished and put-together can be challenging, but it can also be incredibly powerful.

Jill: That’s why we wanted to partner with M.M.LaFleur for this postpartum workwear collection. Becoming a mom can provide an opportunity to reinvent yourself in ways that you want, maybe with fashion. Conversely, fashion can also be a way to remind yourself who you are and that motherhood hasn’t changed you that much. Fashion is very intertwined with how you see yourself. And if you’re returning to work after having a child, it can be very emotional. There are a lot of changes happening to your body and your identity. And to have a capsule collection that helps with that process is a powerful thing.

Jill wears the Hailey dress and the Bezel earrings.

What has motherhood taught each of you about style?

Liz: I am currently a postpartum mom. I had my fourth child in early July and I came back to work just in time for the postpartum capsule collection launch with M.M.LaFleur. One big impulse I’ve had since becoming a mom is that I want to simplify my life. I want to simplify my schedule, my home, and my wardrobe—which is why it’s so important that all of these pieces in the capsule collection work really hard for the woman who is already juggling a new baby. These clothes perform in a lot of different ways just like she does. Just like many other people in my generation, I want to invest in quality products and experiences that I know will last me a long time.

Jill: I too have become much more of a minimalist in all aspects of my life since becoming a mom. I try to get rid of the noise that extra stuff brings into my life. The clothes I value are the ones that stand the test of time. They’re classic and well made and not too trendy. In a related sense, I have also developed a uniform. Over the years, I have defined what makes me feel good, the types of fabrics that I like, and the shapes that work well on me. Having fewer, better clothing options helps combat the decision fatigue that can happen in so many other aspects of my life. I don’t want to overthink anything.

Liz wears the Valerie top, the Foster pants, and the Bezel earrings. Jill wears the Fey top, the Harlem skirt, the Bezel necklace, and the Claressa earrings.

How do you think your generation of moms is approaching style differently?

Liz: When I was growing up, you put the word “mom” in front of things to put them down and to say they were not cool. And the epitome of that is “mom jeans.” There’s this line from a skit about mom jeans on Saturday Night Live that says something like, “Get the jeans that say, ‘I’m not a woman anymore, I’m a mom.’” And that outdated idea really speaks to how our culture has wrestled with the role of motherhood in women’s lives—that once you become a mother, that’s all you are, and you’re not cool anymore. You’re certainly not a style icon. But now, motherhood is being treated with reverence and aspiration. Mom jeans are trendy. And there are a ton of celebrity moms who are incredibly stylish. We’re in a totally different place of seeing what motherhood can look like.

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Photos by Matthew Priestley. Styling by Nyjerah Cunningham.