Crib Sheet #62: Mother Tongues’ Michelle Hamman.

business woman, Mother tonguesLinguists and fashionistas, take heed!  Michelle’s carved up a brilliant niche company out of her love of language, her bilingual background and her penchant for design.  From electrical engineering to a sabbatical in Mexico, there’s never a dull moment for this Mother.

What business did you start up?

MotherTongues is a fair labor, organic cotton apparel company. I research words that have no direct English translation and print them with poetic and symbolic descriptions on t-shirts, socks, aprons, scarves, and tote bags. The values of community, peace, justice, and ecological well-being contained in the words add up to more than just a “message apparel” company. People wearing Mother Tongues apparel show their “philosophy of life.” One’s worldview is not related to one’s age and Mother Tongues clothing is worn by 4-year-olds to 80-year-olds!

What motivated you to do it?

I made the transition from electrical engineer to home-based entrepreneur when our daughters were one and three.  It was getting too difficult to keep up with changing diapers, coordinating naptime and working from home! As a bilingual person, language is important to me and so too the differences that are embedded in culture. MotherTongues began when my husband and I explored the riches different languages and cultures offer.

How many children do you have, and how old are they?

We have two girls: Jami is 8, and Michaela 6. We are a bilingual family (Afrikaans and English), currently attending a language school in Chiapas, Mexico, and working towards our goal of becoming a trilingual family.

How long have you been running your business?

Five years. I started out very part time, but now that our girls are in school, I’m able to spend more time working to grow MotherTongues.

How did your family react to you starting your own business?

My husband has always been very supportive of me and MotherTongues, and he helps out a lot with the creative side of the business. Our girls are always drawing new designs “for mom to use on her next t-shirt”!

Easiest part of your job?

I love researching new words, brainstorming new ideas for apparel, and pondering which image will work best with the word.

Hardest part of your job?

Definitely to get PR for Mother Tongues. I would be perfectly content to research and design new t-shirts all day long, but I need to step outside of my comfort zone more to do marketing & PR.

What skill would you most like to improve?

Cold-calling: retail stores, media, important contacts. I wish I could think faster when I’m on the phone!

What is the accomplishment you are most proud of?

First, I’m proud of the ethos I’ve built around Mother Tongues. It is fun to have a business that is about MORE than just a t-shirt with a unique design.

Second, I’m proud of the money Mother Tongues has donated to The Center for Women in Transition in my hometown over the past three years – $1 for every t-shirt, tote bag and apron sold, retail AND wholesale.

Finally, I’m proud to own a unique small business that keeps evolving and changing me and my beliefs in the process.

Can you recommend 3 essential websites for moms in, or going into, business?

Favorite part of a typical day?

I love dreaming up and researching new designs. Even taking just half an hour to think creatively energizes me.

And a few more questions, considering that American Express should be featuring more mom entrepreneurs

Childhood ambition? To see the world.

Time of day you get the most work done? Definitely early morning. If I can get up before the rest of the family…

Last purchase? A Kindle – so that we can keep reading while we are on sabbatical this year, on 2 continents.

Favorite book or magazine? I can’t pick just one! Travel books (I just read The Lost Girls: Three Friends. Four Continents. One Unconventional Detour Around the World.) and Inspirational books (Me to We: Finding Meaning in a Material World, Mountains Beyond Mountains).

Inspiration? New sights, sounds and tastes experienced when traveling.

Least likely to…..skydive.

My life… never dull.


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