Mother Of Invention: Julie Cole Of Mabel’s Labels Brings Order To Our Messy Lives

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Who she is: Mabel’s Labels co-founder Julie Cole. Mom of six.

Why we love her: Cole has created the ultimate labels for everything from sippy cups to sandals to backpacks: durable, waterproof, microwave-safe and UV-resistant. Best of all, they’re personalized. We’re stocking up in time for the back-to-school rush.

In her own words…

How did you come up with the idea for Mabel’s Labels?
I started this business with three relatives. We’d often get together with our kids and noticed that belongings were always getting lost or mixed up. We decided to do something about it by creating a cute and durable product that we knew other moms would love as much as we did (a.k.a., our now famous “labels for the stuff kids lose!”).

Tell me a bit about your professional background. How did you decide to become an entrepreneur?

I have a law degree but after my eldest son was diagnosed with autism, I shelved a legal career to monitor his therapy. The idea for Mabel’s Labels had been brewing for some time and his diagnosis became the catalyst for its launch. The business both filled a gap in the market and provided a work/life balance. I’ve never looked back!

What do you think of the term ‘mompreneur’?
We are often referred to as mompreneurs, and indeed we have won prestigious awards that include that title. The only problem is a perception that mompreneurs are hobbyists. I would argue that most do not run businesses as a hobby – we are savvy, smart and entrepreneurial business women.

Your labels are dishwasher, microwave and laundry safe. That is quite a feat! What type of research went into creating such a durable product?
Well, we started with our kids! Thanks to that built-in test group, we knew our labels had to be extremely durable so it was a question of trial and error before finally settling on the right materials. It also helped that one of our co-founders, Tricia Mumby, has a background in printing!

You have a large following that includes a whack of celebrities. Who are some of your famous fans?

We’re lucky to have shared our products with celebrities literally from A-Z, from Jessica Alba and Brooke Burke to Reese Witherspoon and Constance Zimmer. And then there’s Gwyneth Paltrow, Marcia Gay Harden, Tina Fey…the list goes on. Tori Spelling and Marissa Winokur love our products for their children’s birthday parties, as do many other celebrities, and TV hosts Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Kelly Ripa are fans. Recently, Rachel Weisz was pictured with our products, and before her, Jennifer Garner.

What’s the most rewarding part of running your own business? And the most challenging?
The most rewarding part is knowing that we’re providing the very best products and service and, although we’ve received many awards, they wouldn’t mean much without happy customers. Remembering to avoid working so much ‘in’ the business that I forget to work ‘on’ it can be a challenge, though balancing kids and business probably trumps that!

Can you describe your various products, including Iron On Labels, Tag Mates, Sticky Labels and Shoe Labels?
Sticky Labels are extremely durable waterproof, microwave safe and UV resistant labels. They’re very versatile and can be used on everything from lunch containers and baby bottles to beach toys. Skinny-Minis are smaller labels, ideal for electronics, toiletries at camp, pens and so on. We have two types of laundry-safe clothing labels: Tag Mates, which are peel and stick labels applied to care tags, and Iron-Ons, which are applied directly to clothing and other fabric items that do not have tags. Our amazingly tough Shoe Labels stick to the inside of smooth-surfaced footwear and do not budge! Other items include customizable Household Labels; stationery, including Mama Cards, which are like business cards for moms, and seasonal products such as holiday address labels. All of our waterproof labels typically outlast the items they’re placed on!

How did you come up with the idea for Allergy Alert labels?
As parents, we were aware of the issue of kids’ allergies and knew Allergy Alerts labels were an important item to offer. Our products are already widely used in schools and day cares, wherever kids meet, so these are the perfect complement. And they can be fully customized, unlike similar products which come pre-printed with one or two allergies. We’re all about personalization since one size rarely fits all! Our “My 411 Wristbands” can also be customized with allergy info (and 10 percent of sales of this product is donated to Autism Speaks). We started out wanting to make things easier for parents and children, and our Kid Safety Products are a natural extension of that concept.

How do you balance the demands of running your own business with being a mom?
As the mother of six kids aged 11 and under, it can be a challenge. Now that our business has grown, a lot can be delegated, but my work isn’t less, just different! In the early days, I would be making labels until 3 a.m. in my sister’s/business partner’s basement, then would get up with the kids at 6 a.m. for the day. I eventually got a nanny and have other support, such a homework helper for the kids. Work for me is not 9-5, though, and the lines between business and home lives can blur. In fact, there’s a picture of me on the Mabelhood blog in my hospital bed, immediately following my sixth C-section, with newborn and Blackberry in hand. That same babe went on to become the youngest in attendance when I spoke a couple of weeks later on a panel about entrepreneurship. I think the trick is to figure out what works for you; there’s no one way to do anything.[ITPGallery]