Jennifer Cura, our NJMOMpreneur of the week, never wanted to turn her love of sewing into a real job. Yet, when looking for a way to work and be flexible for her family, the former architect realized that she could fill a niche she had never seen: transform clothes she had never seen before. had worshiped in a bear, blanket or keepsake bag. And that’s what led her to create The Patchwork Bear, a company that brings new life to a baby’s outfit, college t-shirts, grandma’s favorite dress, wedding dresses and more. other clothes that we cherish. What started in her basement has grown into a studio in Princeton with a team of moms working with her to create these personal heirlooms that tell a tale of happy memories (and one of Oprah’s Favorite Things). We chatted with this Hopewell mom of three to talk about her ‘aha’ business moment, how she used downtime during the pandemic to focus, and the beautiful historic location of Princeton where her family heading for a hike.
Tell us about your family and professional background.
My husband, Rick, and I live in Hopewell and have three children. I was an architect for 13 years and I focused on Master Planning. I was working on college and university buildings, something I enjoyed because you think about the impact your building has on the entire campus as a whole. When my children were young, my husband and I worked full time in demanding jobs. I quit my job and chose to stay home because my busy work schedule made the amount and quality of time spent with family almost impossible.
How did you get started in your business?
My business started as a hobby when I was at home with the kids. I started making coordinating quilts and teddy bears from fabrics I bought for the purpose, and sold them at local craft fairs. While my kids were young, I had no intention of embarking on something big that would take them too long again. For this reason, I intentionally kept the business small for ten years while attending business-oriented seminars and workshops. Then, in 2015, the time was right and I was ready to focus on growing it.
What was your “aha” moment that this could be a viable business, and what steps have you taken to make your business successful?
A previous customer asked me if I could make her something from special clothes she had. Afterwards, I knew I had to move the business to this niche service. Rather than just selling a product, I’d do something that ticks multiple boxes and has a purpose. Everyone has clothes that they keep for whatever reason. The patchwork bear allows you to preserve those memories with a physical product and get rid of some of your clutter in the process. Once I was ready to dig a little deeper into the business, I moved it from my home basement and into a sewing studio in Princeton. I approached some of my friends to see if they were interested in a part-time gig. As a working mom myself, it was important that I create an environment flexible enough that those I hired could also take care of their parenting requirements.
Was there something you did for someone that touched your heart in a special way?
By far the teddy bears are our bestsellers, and Oprah even chose them as one of her favorite things of 2017. The clothes people keep on to tell a story, so almost everything I do touches my heart and soul. largely explains why. I like what I do. I love making baby clothes, they always smell so good. The generational elements also seem very special to me. I made a beautiful quilt for a bride where we used three generations of wedding dresses, and I made a baby blanket for a newborn where all of the family contributed a garment.
How does your family support you as a mompreneur?
From the start, my husband encouraged me to go as far as possible. He is generous in offering support, patience and advice. My son, Luke, helps out at least once a week and in the summer when he has free time. My daughter, Bella, answers all the questions I have about marketing analytics and graphics. And my other daughter, Mia, helps with office work and spreadsheets, both year-end and quarterly.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
In the beginning, when non-essential businesses had to shut down, we started making masks and isolation gowns for hospitals. It helped them as much as it helped me because it gave them a goal in such an uncertain time. I also took advantage of the downtime to take online courses and learn how to better market my business. Learning the ins and outs of social media has been a game-changer for The Patchwork Bear and helps take me to another level. We also started getting a lot more orders than usual as people were stuck in their homes and ready to tackle and reuse those sentimental items they had kept forever.
What are some of your must-see local businesses?
Supporting the little ones is very important to me and will always be my choice, that’s what all of my go-to’s have in common. Good coffee is my “thing”, and Small World Coffee is where I go for it. Their slats are the best. I go to Hinkson for business supplies, a small family office supply store that has been around for over 100 years. I would much prefer to entrust my business to them rather than one of the bigger chains.
Tell us about your favorite places with the family in NJ.
Holland Ridge Farms is a family favorite and a priority since we went there to see the millions of tulips you can pick for $ 1 each. We also love to visit in the fall when you can pick sunflowers. We love to take our dog for long walks along the Delaware Trail and Raritan State Park. We also love the Mountain Lakes Nature Reserve, which was once where the Princeton Ice Company harvested ice and then delivered the blocks of ice to the area before refrigeration. There are 9 miles of trails, and you can’t beat the beautiful lake and gorgeous scenery.
What’s the best piece of advice you can share with another new mom-taker?
I’m all for going ahead and doing it. It’s good to start part-time and grow your business slowly, but don’t hesitate. I also recommend taking advantage of free and inexpensive management classes – the Score workshop was a must-have resource for me and aimed to help small businesses thrive.
For more information on Jennifer Cura and The Patchwork Bear, check out their website, Facebook and Instagram pages.
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