What’s it like to truly live your values, every day? When you shop, how purposeful can each buying decision be? Considering the American appetite for consumption, that sounds nearly impossible. But one woman is determined to make it easier.
Rebecca Ballard is an attorney-turned-entrepreneur who parlayed her non-profit leadership skills into her sustainable fashion start-up, Maven Women. Her dresses are designed for the urban, working female who believes in a more minimalist wardrobe — she can wear her Maven Woman dress all day, and keep it on into the evening.
Gearing up to launch some new styles (including one especially for moms!) in the coming months, Rebecca spoke to Mamachic about the trials of the fashion industry, translating her values into her work, and “doing-it-all” while mama to her newborn, Nathan.
Rebecca Ballard, 35
Occupation: Founder & CEO, Maven Women
How did your prior legal experience motivate you to start your business?
I ran a non-profit and know how to do a little bit of everything! Because of my work running non-profits and in social entrepreneurship, I felt I had developed the skillset necessary for Maven Women, and everything aligned. Interestingly I felt I was ready to start a business around the same time that I felt ready to become a parent, finally feeling that I had the maturity I needed for both.
For some time I have yearned to live my values every moment, every day. I have worked a great deal in human and labor rights and realized that I couldn’t shop my values. I saw fair trade businesses popping up, but that elegant, chic aesthetic was missing from the new lines. So I set out to make dresses that actually speak to the working woman. The lawyer, the doctor, the consultant. The professor and the teacher. The government worker. And of course the non-profit worker.
What inspired your design for a maternity/breastfeeding dress, the Courtney?
I designed it from my own experience, through pregnancy and post-birth. I saw that many breastfeeding-friendly dresses and tops are too tight on a post-partum belly, both aesthetically and functionally. Our new-mama bodies are still in flux, and the belly area has to be forgiving has to be forgiving and adjustable. We tend to still have our belly weeks if not months giving birth, and most dresses don’t look great on the post-partum belly let alone the rump, bust and thighs. Their tighter skirts made my legs look like sausages and tight belly area made me look like I was in my second trimester still!
With The Courtney dress I incorporated a fabric belt, which you can cinch in to showcase an empire waist during pregnancy. Post-partum we have a belt which adjusts again as your body slowly shrinks back without putting any pressure on your belly. This is particularly helpful for women who had C-sections like myself as well as all women who are wearing, shall we say, very “hospital-style” underwear for the first month or two. We also use hidden zippers — it’s functional for nursing and pumping. It’s a smart design and with some pleating, it’s also very, very flattering.
After having positions such as director of a homeless center and lawyer with the U.S. Department of Commerce, what has surprised you most about the fashion industry?
It’s intense! I’ve run into roadblocks at every turn, and there are always delays and bottlenecks. I’ve had to problem-solve and troubleshoot so much along the way and pivot more times than I can count.
Honestly, it takes over a year to make your first dress and REALLY do it the right way. I want to fully stand behind anything we put out there! I fit each dress on over 30 women, across geographies and ages. I ask for feedback, and then adjust the prototype as needed. My youngest fit model was in her 20s, and the oldest in her 70s! The average age was mid-thirties, and we also fit on women of all different heights.
What’s it like to operate a start-up with a newborn?
There’s no rest for the weary! Nathan was born six weeks early with a cord prolapse. I delivered him two hours after my water broke. It was truly a scary birth. Luckily, he didn’t need to be in the NICU. It was very, very challenging.
Nathan is now amazingly on-track or ahead of schedule developmentally in every way. He starting rolling over at three months and he slept at least eight hours a night consistently three weeks after his real due date. I feel lucky that I have such an awesome baby as well as a husband that was able to take four months of leave.
What aspect of motherhood has surprised you?
I’m surprised at how much I appreciate breastfeeding. I didn’t think I would like it, as I struggled so much with my body during pregnancy with issues like nausea, sciatica, excessive swelling, and more. When my preemie was born I then struggled with oversupply — we had a lot of pumping and bottle feedings as a preemie his age isn’t able to immediately latch.
Now there’s this beautiful bonding time when I nurse. I get snuggled in bed with Nathan, and he looks at me with these big eyes… he then spits up all over me afterwards. (laughs) But even that is such a part of it. Having this physical attachment is a gift. This is why I want to create this nursing-friendly dress, and make it part of a true breastfeeding experience.
Shop Maven Women for your perfect work-into-evening dress here >>
Use discount code MAMACHIC for $10 off your order.