International Women’s Day 2022: Celebrating 8 Female Product Founders

“She believed she could, so she did.” —Unknown

Raise a glass (mug or sippy cup) to the amazing, inspiring women entrepreneurs who bring endless creativity, innovation, quality and inspiration to The Tot! This year we’re honoring female founders from six of our favorite brands: Dumyé, Milton & Goose, Nico & Yeye, Olli Ella, TWEE and 2MamaBees in honor of International Women’s Day.

Feat_Melissa Soto New Year
Nico & Yeye founder, Melissa Soto

Recognized by the United Nations since 1911, International Women’s Day (IWD) on March 8 recognizes “the social, cultural, and political achievements of women,” an event that raises awareness against bias, recognizes equality and applauds the achievements of our fellow gals.

This year the theme is “gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow,” bringing awareness of women and girls as potential changemakers to combat the effects of our climate crisis — one of the greatest global challenges we face today.

We’re excited to showcase eight female brand founders, all of whom help bring The Tot to life through their imaginative, expertly crafted products. Each one of these entrepreneurs supports this year’s IWD theme through their use of sustainably-sourced, humanely produced and eco-friendly materials. 


L-R Chloe and Olivia Brookman


Chloe & Olivia Brookman, Co-Founders of Olli Ella

Known for their playful, iconic and beautifully made furniture, bedding and toys, sisters Chloe and Olivia Brookman have garnered a devoted following since they opened their virtual doors in 2011. Based in Australia, they create products are as kid-friendly as they are eye-pleasing.

What inspired the birth of your company?

Chloe: Ha! The birth of my son! Olivia and I designed a nursing chair which became very popular among our pregnant friends at the time. We took a punt and took it to a local children’s trade show in London (where we were living at the time) and it ended up being picked up by Harrod’s. The rest is history!


How would you describe your role (or roles)?

Chloe: Olivia and I both act as CEO and creative directors — Olivia’s forte is designing toys and mine is business strategy, however we both are both heavily involved in business and design. We love working together — we are both very different when it comes to our approach and how we operate (she is very methodical and I am a bit haphazard) but we always seem to agree on all the important decisions.


How have your kids influenced your designs?

Olivia: For me, playing with my kids is the best way to unlock my own creativity. Getting down on their level, interacting with their toys and seeing how they engage with their world is truly inspiring. Ultimately, my goal is not just to create something aesthetically pleasing, but also to make something that surprises and delights children and parents alike. 


How would your kids describe you?

Olivia: They always say I’m silly and squishy. And great at making snacks. 

Chloe: I once overheard my eldest boys saying that I was “half mum half kid” — that pretty much sums me up in their eyes!


What are some things you absolutely must do to maintain your sanity and well-being despite your hectic schedule?

Olivia: I’m thankful that I’ve managed to find a fairly good balance between the hectic and the more mundane aspects of life and work. I try to find time each day to do something creative, whether it’s ceramics, knitting, cooking or just doing play dough with my kids. 

Chloe: Gardening. Oh, how I love it! I’ve carved out times of the day throughout the week to get elbow deep in compost and love just being in the garden with the chickens — and it’s a good workout too!


Margaux DelCollo


Margaux DelCollo, Founder of TWEE

Known for their handcrafted sidewalk chalk in magical (and often mouth-watering) shapes ranging from unicorn horns and golden eggs to macarons and glazed donuts, TWEE “showcases the ordinary in extraordinary ways.” Margaux DelCollo’s Philadelphia-based maker studio specializes in reimagined, eco-friendly childhood classics for playtime, all perfectly designed to help support fine motor skills while inspiring creative play. 


Which motto or quote reflects your personal philosophy?

“A calm sea never made a skilled sailor.” Prior to TWEE, I was Curator of Education at a Seaport Museum; nautical sayings run deep.  


What drives your commitment to creating non-toxic, eco-friendly products?

My goal for TWEE is to make things I want my children to use and be proud of – and that means everything we make is safe for little hands as well as the environment. That’s one of the things I love most about The Tot — how you lead with your commitment to safe play.  


What challenges have you encountered while running your own business?

Soooo many and in no particular order: knowing when to shut my computer for the day, mastering the mystery that is shipping, learning how to keep my staff safe and TWEE going in times of COVID, algorithms, this Tik Tok thing, learning to lead a team fearlessly and what is the right amount of pizza to order for the office lunch meeting.  


How would your kids describe you?

They would say I’m magic.


What’s the best advice a parent or grandparent ever gave you?

There’s no trophy at the end of all this. You go and do your best everyday and that’s all you can do.


Melissa Soto


Melissa Soto, Founder of Nico & Yeye

Inspired by her children, Nicholas and Celeste, Nico & Yeye offers furnishings that are effortlessly stylish and built to grow with your little ones. Based in Los Angeles, this company is changing the way we create spaces for our children to play, learn and sleep, with minimalist, modern pieces crafted from sustainably-sourced hardwoods that look instantly at home.


How would you describe your role (or roles)?

I have many roles, creative director, CEO, marketer, delivery person, quality control…I think that makes me appreciate everyone on my team even more because each one plays a very important role to make the magic happen. The one role that I consider to be the most important is Inspiration-in-Chief, consistently reminding the team that what we make matters.


What drives your commitment to creating non-toxic, eco-friendly products?

As a mom, I worry more than ever about the future, we want to make certain that we are doing everything we can for our children and future generations everywhere. Their safety and to make the  world a little better for them is our mission. Here are some specific things we, as a company, do are:

  • Build-to-order so we don’t have any wasted furniture.
  • Make furniture that lasts and can easily be repurposed.
  • Work with organizations that plant trees with every purchase.
  • Donate part of the proceeds to help climate change initiatives.
  • Build sustainable furniture and work with materials that won’t harm our planet.
  • Use mostly recyclable packaging to minimize landfill waste.


How have your kids influenced your designs?

My brand is rooted deeply in memories of my childhood room – ones that bring me great joy. My mom would let me paint furniture, paint walls, move around furniture, hang pictures on the wall and decorate how I wanted. That creative freedom sparked something, and the little girl that is still inside me wanted to help bring some of that magic into everyone’s homes. Because it all starts there. So when you ask what influences me, I have to say the magic of childhood!


What are your hopes or plans for your business going forward?

We have big plans for Nico & Yeye. We are starting out with furniture, but are planning to add more practical storage, bedding and décor to complement the line. It’s also in our mission to give back to our kid communities, to inspire creativity in these children. We have some fun plans to make that happen. 


What are some things you absolutely must do to maintain your sanity and well-being despite your hectic schedule?

I am still trying to figure that one out… Like many business owners and moms out there, I tend to put myself last. It’s always my kids, my husband, my business, my family, and at the end it’s me. I have learned the hard way that it is crucial to do things for yourself because if not, then you become a bad mother, wife and daughter. I try now to be intentional about making time for myself. One of the things that brings me great joy is doing things with my hands, like sewing or crafting.


Shari Raymond


Shari Raymond, Founder of Milton & Goose

When Shari Raymond was hunting for a play kitchen for her children but couldn’t find what she was looking for, she decided to make her own! Milton & Goose’s stunning play kitchens, toys and furnishings are expertly crafted by second-generation Amish toymakers in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, from premium-quality woods and child-safe finishes to last from one generation to the next.


Which motto or quote reflects your personal philosophy? 

I’ve always loved the quote from TJ Watson, Jr., that “good design is good business.” On both a personal and professional level, I appreciate good design. We put a lot of thought into our designs to make sure they’re functional, beautiful and safe. That whole process is at the core of Milton & Goose. 


What inspired the birth of your company? 

I love the phrasing of this question, because this company really has been like raising another child! And in fact, my own children inspired its start. Back when my oldest was turning one, I was looking for a play kitchen as a first birthday present and I couldn’t find one that was not only sturdy and solid, but also chic enough to leave out in our living room. Hence, Milton & Goose was born. 


Describe the defining “pinch me” moment when you realized, “Wow, this is really happening!”

There have been so many incredible moments along the journey of Milton & Goose. I try not to get too high on any one moment because I know that there’s always the next challenge right around the corner. That said, we’ve had a few pinch-me moments, like our Essential Play Kitchen showing up in Kim Kardashian’s playroom or opening up the the Wall Street Journal one weekend to find a story on play kitchens with an oversized picture of one from Milton & Goose! 


How have your kids influenced your designs? 

​I’m lucky to have three little in-house product testers. They’re usually the first ones to play with my prototypes. I try to listen to their feedback and observe the way they interact with the pieces. 


What are some things you absolutely must do to maintain your sanity and well-being despite your hectic schedule? ​

My weekly date-night with my husband. During COVID, when bringing babysitters in became more challenging, we made a habit of ordering in takeout once a week after the kids had gone to bed. It’s a little bit of time we get to look forward to on a weekly basis and is something we can always fit in, even on the most hectic of weeks. 


Juliana Vanlaanen
Samantha Alani


Juliana Vanlaanen & Samantha Alani, Co-Founders of 2mamabees

Best friends from childhood and now mamas to eight children between them, 2MamaBees’ playhouses, furniture and accessories are a true labor of love. Each farmhouse-inspired design is handcrafted from FSC-certified wood by the founders themselves, inspiring joy, creativity and endless hours of open-ended play.


What inspired the birth of your company?

2MamaBees has truly been organic in its growth. When we had the idea to start our business, it was with the intention that we would just be filling our weekends doing something we loved. Between the two of us we have eight children, and as I am sure many parents can understand you can lose yourself and your identity when eight other people need your undivided attention! This was a way for us to carve out some of our lives for “us.” Just two best friends, building and creating products we loved for our own homes. The fact that other people love those products too still makes us pinch ourselves daily. 


What drives your commitment to creating non-toxic, eco-friendly products?

This question is going to make me cry…it always does. Samantha has five children. Her son Mekhi, age 7, has autism. She handles it with effortless grace. I could really dive into all the research she has done regarding toxins and the effects they have on children, but what is more important to us is being a part of the change.

We are dedicated to creating products we know are safe for children. We didn’t want to just be bystanders or hypocrites preaching about safe play while providing a product at a lower price point because we could sell more. We spent the extra money, did the extra work and took the extra time because it matters to us. It hits too close to home for us to not cross every “T” and dot every “I” when it comes to providing safe, non-toxic and eco-friendly products.


How have your kids influenced your designs?

Fun fact: All of our products are named after our own children. 

We really tried to take into consideration every aspect of playtime with our own kids when we designed our products. Our playhouses are all almost six feet tall inside to create room for parents to comfortably play as well! Finding ways to involve sensory play, motor development and environmental consciousness was also very important to us, which is why our stove handles click, our faucet knobs turn, our play food can be cut in half and our window boxes can be used to plant real flowers or herbs. 


What are your hopes or plans for your business going forward?

We have a very exciting product launch coming this summer, which will include a larger one-story playhouse, gourmet kitchen and other playhouse upgrades. We are always focused on expanding our knowledge of the industry and ways we can improve our current product line. 


What are some things you absolutely must do to maintain your sanity and well-being despite your hectic schedule?

Wine. Can we answer with that? In all honesty, we both still resort back to DIY for our outlet and “me” time. We have a passion for home improvements and love to design and create inspiring spaces in our own homes. 


Sahar Wahbeh


Sahar Wahbeh, Founder of Dumyé

As with many of our favorite brands, Dumyé’s inspiration arose from Sahar Wahbeh’s child. Sahar wanted to give her little girl a special doll for the holidays, but nothing captured her heart, so she dusted off her mom’s vintage sewing machine and created one of her own. “I guess I just got to it and never stopped.” For every soft, organic cotton doll purchased, a donation is given to children in need, reflecting Dumyé’s mission to create Dolls With Purpose®.


Which motto or quote reflects your personal philosophy?

The greatest gift we have in life is in the giving itself. There is SO much joy in giving. Whether it be giving the perfect gift to someone you love or giving support to a needy person you’ll never know. Giving someone an opportunity. Giving someone your gratitude. It all feels good. And I tell you what, it will heal you (and this world) from the inside out.

Dumyé has giving built into its fabric. For every doll purchased, we give back to a child in need either through education, nutrition or play. How your doll gives back is a surprise revealed when you take it home. I love that the first thing our kiddos get to do with their new Dumyé is experience the joy of giving back to another child.


What inspired the birth of your company?

I was searching for a special gift for my daughter, something that would become iconic of her childhood – her first doll. I looked everywhere but couldn’t find anything that really captured my heart and her spirit. It needed it to be beautiful, safe, washable and ideally look a little like her. I finally gave up and decided to make one myself.

I knew there were other mothers out there who were looking for stylish, personal and meaningful gifts for their little ones, but my personal project didn’t evolve into Dumyé until I realized it was an opportunity to set an example for my daughter of what I felt she most needed to know: marry your passions with your life’s work, find the courage to fulfill your potential, respect mother nature, show compassion for your fellow man and know in your heart the real gift in life is in the giving.


Describe the defining “pinch me” moment when you realized, “Wow, this is really happening!”

On the third day after Dumyé launched, we received an order from the Editor-in-Chief of Harpers Bazaar, Louise Nichol. I didn’t personally know her and I had no idea how she discovered Dumyé. Soon after receiving her doll, she posted a beautiful picture of her daughter with it on Instagram, telling the world how it was the doll she dreamed she wished she’d had when she was a little girl. Soon after, she invited me to do an interview and photoshoot for the magazine. I still cherish the pictures they took of me and my daughter in my small studio. 


What challenges have you encountered while running your own business?

All of them? Jokes aside, scaling a business like Dumyé is very challenging because of the handmade, personalized nature of our dolls. After many failed attempts at finding an artisanal partner, I finally gave up and joined forces with a social enterprise supporting underprivileged women in rural communities with economic opportunity. They had never made dolls before so I spent an entire year training 25 women and two men on how to make every millimeter of my dolls. It was one of the most challenging things I have ever done! So much time and so many resources were invested in this process, and I had no idea if it was even going to work. Thank goodness it did!


What drives your commitment to creating non-toxic, eco-friendly products?

The values that drive Dumyé as a business are the same ones that steer my home. I would never put anything into the world that I would not put in my children’s hands.

Respecting Mother Nature is one of the three key pillars of Dumyé’s Karmic Goodness pinky promise. We incorporate natural, organic and sustainable materials into all of our products and packaging. Our dolls’ bodies are made with GOTS-certified organic cotton. Their hair is spun from 100% post-consumer plastic, and their clothing is mostly made from cotton and linen.

But it’s not just about what our dolls are made of, it’s also about longevity. With timeless design and quality craftsmanship, our dolls are made to last. Many of our customers keep their Dumyé as a keepsake to mark the season of childhood and pass on to the next generation.

At the end of the day I want what’s best for our children’s health and our earth’s wellbeing. You can feel that intention in every doll.