GoBe Kids is excited to share an inclusive interview with Stephanie Fowler, CEO and Co-Founder of Austin | Fowler. Co-founded with her husband, Austin | Fowler is a fashion brand dedicated to providing chic and functional bags for moms, parents, professionals and travelers, everywhere. Not only is Stephanie an entrepreneur and former executive, she is also a loving wife and a devoted mother to 4 amazing kiddos─she does it all!
In this interview, Stephanie shares how she started Austin | Fowler, the lessons she’s learned along the way when it came to balancing family and business life, and so much more. Here are our top 5 tips from this successful mama-preneur:
- Know your priorities and stick to them.
- It’s ok if your journey is different from someone else’s (for parents and business-owners alike). There’s no need to compare.
- Remember that you cannot do it all (as much as you may want to!). There is true power in saying “no” if doing so means you stay committed to your priorities.
- Prioritize your health and well-being as you will be a better parent, professional and friend if you take care of yourself.
- Storms in any season of life will always come─but they don’t last forever.
We hope you enjoy getting to know Stephanie as much as we did. Check out the interview in its entirety below!
Share your story with us! What were/are the biggest driving factors that guided you to where you’re at now? What lessons did you learn along the way?
In 2015, I was a busy mom and was frustrated by the choices I had for diaper bags as nothing suited my taste or offered the organization I desired. After a fruitless search for a better alternative, my husband and I embarked on a crazy journey to create the multi-purpose bag that I had always wanted but could never find. What I wanted: a chic bag that was beautiful-but also functional-and unbelievably easy to keep organized. Equally as important, I wanted a bag that was chic enough to carry to the office, for a weekend away, or just every day. Since our days are filled with both the chaos and joy of 4 young kiddos, we have had plenty of opportunities to put our bags to the test. And this is the birth of Austin | Fowler.
I was a full-time executive in the corporate world for the first few years of Austin | Fowler so we built the company during the late nights and early mornings when I wasn’t working and after the kids went to bed. We made significant sacrifices the first 5 years of building Austin | Fowler in both time and financial investments but we believed so much in the brand and the life we wanted to create for our family. One of the lessons I learned was that it’s important to know your priorities and stick to them. We never sacrificed family time to build Austin | Fowler but we did sacrifice time spent on hobbies or other things-and we were okay with that.
What were some of the “hindsight is 20/20” moments you had in your journey? If you could go back in time and do something different, what would that be?
I wish I would have known early on that my journey would look completely different from another entrepreneur's journey and that’s okay. We all have different values and goals and therefore you can’t compare your success and experience to anyone else. Enjoy the journey and continue to design the life that you love and do it on your own timeline.
As a wife, mom of 4, a business owner, and a former corporate executive-you’re pretty much a superhero! What advice would you give to other parents on how to face and take on the “organized chaos” that life can sometimes resemble?
First, you have to get clear on your priorities and your can’t-miss moments. Once you know those, you can fill in work around that. I want to be there when my kids leave and get home from school most days so I schedule meetings around those times.
Second, you can’t do it all so identify the things that you will say no to. To this day, I still say no to a lot of social events because it may mean sacrificing time with my family. I’m also strategic with how I choose to help and give back. I don’t serve on the PTC at my kids’ school because that takes away time from them but I will absolutely chaperone field trips because that’s a way that I can help in their classroom and spend time with my kids.
Third, think through when you can eliminate, automate, or delegate. I am the biggest fan of grocery pickup and delivery services, ordering online, and anything that eliminates errands. This simplifies our lives while saving crucial time that I can spend with family, friends, or in Austin | Fowler.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I try to start my day with quiet time doing devotions, reviewing my goals, and a workout. Keep in mind that this was virtually impossible for me to do when the kids were really young so don’t feel like you need to incorporate that into your schedule. I am continually adjusting my routines and schedule for each season of parenting.
Once I get back from the gym, I’m getting ready, helping the kids get ready, making breakfast, and getting the kids out the door for school. My work day starts a little later than I’m used to (from the corporate world) because it’s important to me that I’m home with them in the mornings before school.
Then I get to the office and finally start my work day. I try to have my priorities scheduled out ahead of time for the Top 3 things I need to work on that day. I feel so blessed because my husband, Vince, is one of the founders of Austin | Fowler so I get to see him during the day and can often have a quick lunch together. This is huge for ensuring we spend time together for just the two of us.
Overall, the workday is usually sprinkled with team meetings and then it’s a toss up between designing new products, working on strategy, or marketing. And then in a blink of an eye, I’m packing up to head home and see the kids get off the bus.
Evenings typically always include dinner together, helping with homework, running kids to practices, clean-up, and laundry. Always. so. much. laundry.
One thing I do to simplify our life is to get as much ready for the next day as I can. I do a final pick up of the house, lay out clothes for tomorrow, lay out breakfast, anything to make the morning easier. And then sleep. For so many years, I sacrificed sleep but it’s so important. Prioritize your own health and well-being, mama! You will be a better wife, mom, career woman, and friend, if you take care of your health!
GoBe is passionate about supporting and fostering a “parent community” or “mom tribe”. We’d love to hear more about your mom tribe/community-what it looks like and what you lean on them for.
My biggest inspiration has come from a close group of friends that actually have kids older than mine. Their wisdom and calm guidance was so helpful and listening to their experiences was a huge comfort. They continue to remind me how fast it all goes which sheds so much perspective on what you might be going through at any stage of parenthood. Having a group of moms that you respect and also share a good laugh with is so important.
What ultimately inspired you to pursue designing bags and accessories? Was there a key, pivotal “ah-ha” moment that you’d like to share with us?
Our oldest wasn’t even 2 years old when our twins were born and I was working full-time as a corporate executive. I felt pulled in so many directions, exhausted, and like I would never catch up. I was craving order and systems to keep it all together. As a family, we always loved to take our kids out for little adventures and to just get out and do something together. With three little ones, I so desperately wanted a bag that would keep me organized on-the-go but was also chic enough to be carried into the office if needed.
It was frustrating that I couldn’t find anything that combined functionality with an elevated and chic style. Ultimately, I realized that if I was looking for it, other women must be as well. Although my husband and I have no background in design or manufacturing, we were determined to solve this problem once and for all. Women should never have to sacrifice style for functionality - and that resides at the core of all things Austin | Fowler. We believe that if women feel chic and organized in any situation, they will always show up as their most confident self.
Organization and systems is definitely a part of the Austin | Fowler brand and love your “bag clean out/pack up” stories every Sunday. How would you describe/explain this process to other parents? What tips and/or advice would you like to share on how to set yourself up for a successful week?
We accumulate so many things throughout the week when we’re out running errands, going to work, out with the family, etc. At any given time, you may be able to dig in your bag and pull out a few receipts, a business card someone gave to you, a piece of mail, a gum wrapper, etc. These mementos from the week can accumulate quickly so taking just a few minutes once a week to clear it all out and reset your bag for the week ahead is a big help.
Once your bag has been cleared out, look at your calendar for the upcoming week and identify what you have coming up this week that you could prepare your work bag, travel bag, diaper bag, or handbag for in advance. Ask yourself questions like: what supplies do you need to have on hand in your bags? Then add in those items right away so that you know you have it all ready to go. Taking a few minutes to do this each week sets you up for a smoother week ahead. More often than we realize, it’s the little things we do that have a significant impact.
What are some of the “must-haves” in your bag?
I keep a set of our Austin | Fowler Everyday Packing Totes with me at all times to contain all of the essentials and I pull items either for myself or my family from thee constantly throughout the week. Some of my essentials include band-aids, neosporin, flossers, hair binders, comb, mints, an inhaler for one of my kiddos, medicine and vitamins, eyebrow pencil, chapstick, etc. I also make sure I always have bottled water with me as well as a protein bar.
As a mom with younger kids, we always made sure we had of course the diapers, wipes, snacks, toys, and pacifiers. I think the important thing for moms is make sure you have a separate tote in your diaper bag with items for you too. We always make sure to pack everything for our kids but it can be easy to forget to pack the things that mom needs and will make her day easier. This is where a separate designated totes comes in handy. Maybe you have a protein bar in there, some lipstick, a supplement mix-in for your water that you love, or any other little things that make you happy, too!
You and your husband co-founded Austin | Fowler. What is it like working with your spouse? Any advice you would like to share for other couples who may be considering a similar venture with their spouse? What challenges are there? How do you separate the “spouse” role from the “work partner” role-or do you even need to?
I absolutely love working with Vince but we definitely had a couple of years where we were learning to be co-workers. I came from a corporate environment and he owned his own photography business for 10 years and had been a pro-athlete and youth coach-in essence, we spoke very different languages. We definitely had to learn to appreciate each other’s strengths and perspectives and how to effectively work together. Now, he’s not just my business partner, but also my most trusted advisor, and the person who I am continuously bouncing ideas off of. Staying committed to finding a way to work together effectively was a game changer for us. We knew we weren't going to give up on each other no matter what differences we had to work through.
How do you combat and get past those moments or days when it feels like you’re running on fumes?
It’s so easy to let it all overwhelm you. When I start to feel that wave of emotions come on, I take a step back and just think, evaluate, and adjust. Sometimes it’s as simple as stepping away for an hour or running an errand to clear my brain. Other times, I just need to make sure I’m getting extra sleep so I’m giving myself a chance to recharge.
Another thing I do is listen to an inspiring podcast or do a training course to help re-energize me and motivate me to keep going. I’ve come to learn with both parenting and business that the storms don’t last forever but they’ll always come. And with every storm that passes, you gain strength so that you’re not rattled as much any more-or when the next storm comes.
What is one thing that you want GoBe parents or any parent to take away from this interview?
There is no perfect parent. Don’t compare yourself to others because we all have a different journey. Just try to identify what kind of parent you want to be, what you want your ideal family life to look like, and then try to make decisions and act in a way that brings you closer to that on a regular basis.
To close out, do you have any other advice you’d like to share with our GoBe parents?
Parenting has different seasons that you go through constantly. Each season comes with unique challenges and blessings. But even though some days may feel longer than others, try your best to enjoy each season because it goes so fast and then you never get that time back.
Thank you so much, Stephanie, for sharing your inspiring story and all the wonderful tips! We’re so grateful that we got the chance to know more about you, Austin | Fowler, and the parenting wisdom you’ve learned over the years. Your story is truly incredible and will likely resonate with many of our GoBe parents. We’re so glad that we got to share this beautiful story with our GoBe community and we hope that it speaks to your heart as much as ours. Every parenting journey is truly different and that’s something that GoBe strives to celebrate every day. Just like Mother Nature, parenting seasons change and it can either be predictable or it can all change in an instant. Don’t be afraid of your season changing-instead lean in and embrace it for all the beautiful unique moments that it will bring. You got this.
- Alissa, from the GoBe Team