Creative Crushin’: This Founder Is Saying YES to the Diversity of Motherhood by Saying NO to Retouched Photos
Did you know that many of the maternity clothing photos you see involve a faux baby bump? Ugh. And even when real pregnant ladies are involved, you best believe you won’t be seeing any linea nigra, stretch marks, or anything else but a perfectly smooth bump. That’s why maternity line founder Courtney Klein and her partner Grace Kapin decided to take a stand against retouching.
In her company Storq’s newest campaign, they cast real expecting and post-partum mothers and teamed up with photographer Nicki Sebastian to show mothers, babies, and Storq products in raw, natural, un-retouched light. The result is a gorgeous collection of photos that allow newly pregnant mamas to actually see themselves, not just model-size women that happen to be pregnant.
For this week's installment of Creative Crushin’, we sat down with Storq founder and CEO Courtney Klein to learn more about what inspired her to start a maternity clothing and parenthood essentials company, how motherhood has changed her approach to work, and how to build a small but mighty team that’s scattered across the country.
P.S. She is also the founder of internet fan favorite CuteRoulette.com, a now-defunct website that served up cute animal videos by the hundreds ;)
Anjelika Temple here, Founding Partner + Chief Creative Officer at Brit + Co, and longtime (like legit 20 years) friend and confidante of our inspiring subject at hand, Courtney Klein. Courtney and I went to high school together in Salt Lake City and shared a love of existentialist poetry and baby tees, we subsequently overlapped in NY for a few years, and then both ended up in San Francisco. As you'll see, Klein has a refreshingly realistic point of view on and sense of humor about motherhood and entrepreneurship, and I’m beyond thrilled to share her story with you.
Brit + Co: First off, tell us a little more about your background.
Courtney Klein: I grew up in Salt Lake City, UT, nuclear family, angsty teen, lover of the Delia*s catalog and JNCO’s. I’ve always had a combo of right brain and left brain, I majored in Dance and Political Science. After college I was set on working at the State Department, but on the day of the exam I woke up the sickest I have ever been in my entire life. So I took that as a sign and haven’t looked back.
B+C: Before you founded Storq, what did your career path look like?
CK: My background is actually in branding and strategy. I started my career in Strategy and Account Planning at Razorfish, and I went on to become a partner at an agency called Hard Candy Shell where I worked with clients like Disney, eBay, Discovery Channel, and Rent the Runway. My strengths are in building and growing brands by listening to people and solving problems. This perspective has really informed my own approach to creating a business where the emphasis has been on solving real problems and incorporating feedback from our customers from the get-go.
B+C: Tell us about the turning point when you knew you just *had* to take the plunge and start your own biz.
CK: I had just moved across the country for my husband’s work and was faced with a choice about whether I wanted to continue with my current career or try something new. I was eager to start my own business, but I wanted to take my time and make sure I was creating a company that was genuinely useful and would become something I’d be excited to work on every day. It took some time and a lot of research to settle on a concept but eventually I felt comfortable talking about the idea out loud. Talking about it sparked interest and led to lots of questions, which was great because it helped (read: forced) me to work through my ideas and define my vision for it. The feedback was unexpectedly impassioned and it seemed like I was hitting on a nerve so I decided that it was now or never.
B+C: What inspired you to start Storq?
CK: Well, I had recently turned 30, and I was at the life stage where lots of friends and family were becoming pregnant. I just kept hearing the same complaint from all of these different women in my life that all they wanted was a way to maintain their identity and style throughout pregnancy and into motherhood, but there weren’t any companies out there that spoke to them. Most of the maternity clothing out there felt like a compromise in some way.
So I started looking into the market, and I found the demographics of motherhood are actually shifting in the US. More babies than ever are now born to women over 30 and first-time mothers are increasingly more educated, in the workplace, and have disposable income to spend. We’re having babies at this totally different time in our lives, but maternity wear was strangely stuck in a bygone era.
To me, it looked like this growing group of women out there wasn’t being addressed, so that is who I had in mind when I started working on Storq. We focused on comfort, fit, ease, styling, and efficiency. And above all else, treating pregnant ladies like people.
B+C: How did you team up with your partner Grace?
CK: I like to say that I tricked Grace into joining Storq. We were good friends and I knew she was between jobs and looking for her next thing, and I was looking for someone with experience in fashion to help bring the basics collection to life. Grace has worked her way around the fashion industry from publishing to styling to merchandising to trend forecasting and immediately understood the vision for the company. We worked well as a team and could play to our individual strengths. Neither of us had kids at the time and we had never worked together before. It was a grand experiment but luckily it worked out.
B+C: Aside from making maternity clothes high-quality, versatile, and v. cozy (first-hand experience, y’all!), what is your company’s driving force?
CK: Our goal is to make women’s lives easier during an incredibly transformative and challenging time. Even if that’s just a bra or pants that fit and make you feel like yourself, that’s something any woman will tell you that you can’t take for granted during pregnancy and nursing.
B+C: How has your take on Storq (and work in general) changed with the birth of your two amazing kiddos?
CK: At first I wasn’t sure how becoming a parent would affect my work ethic. My mom worked throughout my childhood and I always looked up to her and knew I wanted to be the same kind of role model for my kids. It turns out that having kids, and a business that supports women as they become mothers, has made me more determined than ever to build a business that will make my son and daughter proud.
B+C: As I mentioned above, your company has recently made a point to say buh-bye to retouched images, faux baby bumps, and overly aspirational (read: unrelatable) images of motherhood. What inspired this change?
CK: We’ve always had the goal of wanting to help women to dress an unfamiliar body with as little stress as possible. When we first started, we did that by treating pregnant women like any other fashion customer. We showed things styled in different ways, mixed with non-maternity clothes, to emphasize versatility and provide outfit inspo. We never used fake bumps, but we mostly used real models who happened to be pregnant. Over the years our customers have let us know that seeing things worn by exclusively model-size women can be intimidating, and they wanted to see how things fit on a greater variety of body types and sizes. This campaign, along with expanding our size range up to size 2X/22 (going up to 3X/26 in the fall) has been a response to that feedback.
We wanted to create a shopping experience that felt like a welcoming space for expecting mamas, new parents, and anyone else who finds their way to our site. There is so much beauty and diversity in the experience of motherhood, and we wanted to find a way to celebrate that and make that a central part of who we are as a brand.
B+C: What do you hope this shift communicates to your customers?
CK: Our message is inclusive, regardless of how or when you found us, we want to be a welcoming point of entry for everyone on this journey. It’s hard enough bringing kids into this world, we want to make looking and feeling good something anyone can achieve.
B+C: I imagine that casting models and hiring the right creative collaborators for this project was a big piece of the puzzle. Tell us more about how it all came together.
CK: We set our sights on working with the photographer Nicki Sebastian, who has such a special talent and passion for shooting mothers and families. It was the first time we shot with someone who had experience in this realm and it was such a game-changer for us. She brought out the most beautiful moments and put everyone at ease, particularly for our models who weren’t used to being photographed like this. Shooting with an all-woman team felt absolutely amazing. In addition to the casting, we think these are the things that really come through from this shoot and have been resonating with our audience.
B+C: Who makes up team Storq? What tips can you share for working with a small bi-coastal team?
CK: We are a small but mighty team of five women. Two in SF, two in Brooklyn, and one working remotely from the DC area. Communicating, putting in literal FaceTime, and setting expectations so that everyone can work efficiently and independently have been key to making it work coast to coast.
B+C: What does your support system look like? Do you have mentors, community groups, etc that help you thrive?
CK: My partner and Storq CD Grace! My husband Zach. Other women business owners, particularly my friend Emily Sugihara who started Baggu. We have a standing Friday lunch that’s one of the best things on my calendar each week. I belong to a couple internet mom groups that can provide support and, if not that, at least a little comic relief.
B+C: On that note, we’re all about cheerleading. Who are some innovative women working in the mama space we should know about?
Favorite Quote: "When you’re a twerking mother, balance is really important because you don’t want to go too low and blow out your butt and bust your knee." - Amy Poehler
Trivia About You: I wore an eye patch for two years as a kid.
Go-To Karaoke Song: Ace of Base "I Saw the Sign"
Fave Mom Gadget: Storq Kit Bag
Late Night Snack: Popcorn
Currently Reading: Circe by Madeline Miller
B+C: Back to that whole you-were-a-dance-major thing, how do you bring dance or any other creative practice into your life now?
CK: Despite days where I am doing literally zero of the things I love most, Storq is definitely a creative endeavor. It’s collaborative and, when I am not chest deep in forecasting spreadsheets, incredibly fulfilling (that’s a 3PL pun for my ecomm friends out there!). My other predominant creative outlet comes only once a year, but I really pour my all into it, and that is Halloween and the Klein family Halloween costume.
B+C: When you’re feeling burnt out or overextended, how do you reset and recharge?
CK: Hm, that depends what I’m recharging from. After work, I spend time with my family and refocus my attention on being at home with them, in the garden, cooking together, and playing. Then, after a good dose of family time, I need to reset again and we break out the cocktails and popsicles. Some people meditate, I do popsicles and cocktails.
B+C: What advice do you have for entrepreneurial women just starting out? What do you wish someone told you when you started out on your own?
CK: Just put something out there. It doesn’t need to be perfect. If you want all the answers before you start, you’re never going to do it. Give yourself a date to start talking about what you’re working on. Once you start saying it out loud, it becomes more and more real.
B+C: What’s up next for Storq that we should be on the lookout for?
CK: We want to be the MUJI for pregnancy and parenthood — get all your simple, well-designed essentials in one place.
For more from this fierce female founder (how’s that for alliteration?), follow Klein on Instagram @courtklein_, ooh and ahh over all things Storq @storq, and head to storq.com to shop maternity and parenthood essentials for yourself and the mamas in your life. And with that, Imma go ahead and curate a few of my favorite pieces that kept me outfitted during my pregnancy and beyond.
As an avid fan and wearer of Storq garments during my pregnancy (def wore the leggings + caftan for a full 12 months after my daughter Anokhi was born), I’d like to put in a vote for some more non-prego Storq apparel in the near future ;)
Got a creative crush of your own who we should know about? Send us the deets. DM us @britandco and be sure to check back on Creative Crushin’ next week for a brand new story about a brilliant creative or two ;)
Author: Anjelika Temple (Photography by Nicki Sebastian, Sabrina Bot Photography, courtesy of Courtney Klein; Design by Sarah Tate)