Monday, April 29, 2013

Spotlight on Mom: Sonja Pettingill of Vestopia -- A Utility Vest for Moms


Now that my girls are getting older and I don't have to pack as much stuff in a diaper bag like I used to, I have been looking for another way to carry their necessities when out and about.  Even though I am not lugging around formula, double the change of clothes, rattles, books, etc., I still need a way to store and be able to find things I need like diapers, wipes, binkies, etc.  And, with the girls being more mobile, I thought a backpack or other form of hands free storage would be great -- than having to lug around a heavy bag, in which the shoulder straps never stayed put.  During my search for just the right product, I stumbled across Vestopia, created by mom, Sonja Pettingill. 

Imagine a hunter or fisherman with their utility vest.  Then, imagine a Mom with a similar vest, but having filled all the pockets with your little ones necessities for easy transport.  Sounds cool, huh?  I thought so, when I saw photos of Sonja's utility vest for Moms at her website, Vestopia.  I wondered why this vest in all the major baby chain stores, as I know moms (and Dad's) would love this option, over the standard diaper bag, especially families who likes to hike, and get outdoors with their children.

Want one of these cool utility vests for Moms, or one for your child?  Then, head on over to Sonja's website to browse her product selection, and to place an order.  And, make sure you use the promo code "20-OFF" at checkout to receive 20% off your entire order at

I can't wait until Sonja sends along one of her new Vestopia vests for me to try out in the coming months.  Right now, she is making a few changes on her current design, and plans to have a new version ready by the fall/early winter.   But, in the meantime, you can still purchase her popular Vestopia vest for Moms, as well as the kuvvy made especially for kids.  
 Lulu loves her kuvvy

Make sure you mark calendars for this Friday, as I will be running a giveaway for one lucky reader to win a kuvvy for their child.  But, in the meantime, please enjoy my Spotlight Mom interview with Sonja Pettingill, of Vestopia.

Name: Sonja Pettingill
Company Name/Product/Service: Vestopia; creator of the Mom's Utility Vest & the kuvvy for kids
Company Location: Philadelphia
Company Website:
Twitter Handle: @VestopiaClothes
Age of Company: 4 years
Favorite Inspirational Quotes“Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value.” ― Pierre Teilhard de Chardin 
Favorite Book: Margaret Drabble's, The Radiant Way

Tell us a little bit about yourself.  How many children do you have?  What are their ages? Your hobbies? Etc.

With family and work my life is full and satisfying ... never a dull moment! I have a 21 year old son, about to graduate from college; he's great, smart, savvy and even has a job offer! I always say he's the perfect part of my life as things seem to go smoothly and predictably for him and everyone loves him.  My daughter is 10 and growing up so quickly. She's a red head and strong-willed and loving, sweet and funny; she plans to be a professional soccer player when she grows up... I love this age; we are reminded that everything is possible! She gives me great design help and is the main influence for kuvvy colors.  Besides being Mom, keeping the house somewhat sane and managing my business, I love photography, hiking, gardening, my dear girlfriends and sisters, and traveling. We're going to Peru soon to trek the Inca Trail; I can hardly wait; this is the trip of a lifetime! 

Briefly explain your business.  How did it come about?
Vestopia started with the the idea of replacing the diaper bag... fishermen and hunters have utility vests, but who could possibly need pockets to manage life more than a Mom? In days gone by I was a geologist and needed pockets to manage in the field. When I had kids it seems like a natural extension for the new job. The Mom's Utility Vest was born with detailed design including insulated pockets for drinks (and EPIpen), secured zipped pockets for valuables including passport if traveling; 18 pockets in total. The Mom's Utility Vest enables Moms to be fully present with their kids; I see this as the most important and vital role a parent has, to be really there with their kids & not worried about the diaper bag getting stolen or dirty. Having hands free to fully engage with your kids makes parenting easier, more fun and more loving.

 I didn't actually have the vest when my kids were very little, however I use it all the time now. It's much more than a diaper bag replacement even though it was originally designed for that; it's evolved into a hiking vest and is very popular in Colorado and Seattle because it's perfect for a day hike; much easier to reach for your camera and drink than taking the backpack off and rooting through it each time. It's also ideal for theme parks - I had Mom's running up to me after watching me in the Harry Potter roller coaster line for >1 hour as I had my phone, cold drink, sunscreen hat,  valuables etc with me to use while they had to stash their bags in lockers;  for me everything was secured it in pockets as we rode upside down, didn't lose a thing, and walked off at the end (no locker again).... Mom's running after me literally asking where they could get one. The Mom's Utility Vest is an attractive, colorful all around great & useful design for women to use anytime you want your hands free. Now it's in 2 weights, fleece lined and lighter cotton-nylon and microfiber. All our vests are machine washable, ready for years of life. 

We've also got the kuvvy for kids, reversible, 7 pockets including secret inside pockets, 4 on the front and a large one on the back. Kids love them; they have loads of things to keep in pockets and the kuvvy helps them to be more responsible for their own things. 

At this point we sell primarily online but will be branching out to retail in the next year. We'll be doing an Indiegogo crowd funding campaign in April and May to raise capital so we can go into bigger production which will enable us to move to retail shops.

What is a typical work day like?
I'm up early dealing with email, then I get my daughter up, make breakfast, pack lunch, drive to school then drive to the factory in NE Philadelphia. This is not daily year round, at the moment it is because we're working on a new version of the vest and making samples is a complicated procedure requiring very regular monitoring. I drive home (& might pick up some food for dinner), work at the computer - all day, creating/updating Amazon shop, dealing with Mom Bloggers that are reviewing samples, reaching out to journalists for media coverage, fulfilling orders, preparing for the Indiegogo campaign, developing the Kuvvy Kreature stuffed toy and working with my co-author of the book side, doing a webinar on publicity, working with my interns on social media, creating a social media post, updating our website and blogging, adding any new PR, photographing samples and preparing them for web and Amazon use.... I don't necessarily do all of these in one single day, but bits of several of them for sure. I stop for the dinner/ bedtime hours and later at night I do some more including make a list of what must be done the next day; then do some marketing reading before bed. At least 4x/week I fit in an hour of power exercise, sprinting up the driveway, yoga video and or a  power hike. Whenever I have the chance I talk to people about the vest, the design, colors & fabrics. This is a business that changes all the time.

What has been a struggle while starting up your company? 
I had no idea about anything to do with the garment industry when I started this. I've had to learn everything about design, pattern making, marking, sourcing fabric & notions and find a factory to manufacture my vests! This was very difficult and I had a costly failure with the first one. The Mom's Utility Vest is so complicated and needle intensive there are not many people that can sew it.  

What did you do in your past work life?
I was a geologist and started in the oil industry in Calgary. Later I worked in higher education both teaching and in administration.  When I had my daughter I stopped to become a full time stay at home mom. When she was about 5 and in school full time I started Vestopia.

What have been some of your major successes?
Finally getting a first production line out was the greatest success, after a couple of years of design, sample making, fabric & notion sourcing, finding a factory and overcoming the disastrous first factory problems. It felt like a miracle to get that first run! I have had loads of successes along the way I'd say, from finding my partner in NY that makes videos and websites, to getting my vests into a local shop to making a life doing something entirely new and exciting.

What have been some of your major challenges?
Again, finding a good manufacturing facility was a big challenge. Sourcing fabric in the volumes I need is hard, finding the right insulating product that is safe, light, non-toxic, sewable and washable was another challenge that took some time and money, but worked out very successfully. I've made some big mistakes, but I don't make the same one twice; I'm getting pretty good at knowing how to deal with new challenges.

On those impossible days, what motivates you to keep going?
... and I do have them! I just will not quit! There is only one way for us and that is forward; I've come much too far to stop! Some days I just have to remember that I really am still very excited about this business but that other things affect my mood and tomorrow everything will be back to normal.  

What is your balancing secret in managing a business and family?
That's a good question. Because my son is 21 and graduating college I am aware of how ridiculously fast a child grows up and I very consciously spend the time I can with my daughter; you can't get that time back again one day in the future! I stop work by 5 and devote myself to the family until she is in bed. While making dinner I overseeing her homework, we talk, eat dinner, play pingpong, play with the hamster and I still read to her in bed every night. When I leave her at about 9:30 I do a little more work, prepare for the next day. Weekends it's family first, though I typically do 4 or 5 hours of work around the family plans.

What is next for your business?
We've designed a creature that goes in the back pocket of the kuvvy, and story books to go with it; it's an adorable concept and kids love it. We have to produce the toys and books and market them. We're also making a vest for Dads and expanding the vest line to lighter more streamlined versions. ... never a dull moment. 

Do you have any advice for other mom entrepreneurs that are starting out and struggling, or are on the fence about starting a business?
I say dive in if you have a burning desire to do it. It takes perseverance and you'll work a lot. Expect that "success" will probably take longer than you think. We only regret the things we don't do as they say and I agree. There are so many things you'll find that you don't know along the way but solutions always emerge when you look for them; you learn so much starting something new and what could be more interesting. Good luck and enjoy the journey!

1 comment :

  1. This vest is such a great idea for moms I know a few moms who would love to have this.