I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of realizing your dreams. Assuming you have identified what they are, (to be honest, I’m still working on that part), realizing those dreams can feel exciting, satisfying, maybe even a little intimidating at times, and it’s not without struggle or sacrifice. It takes hard work, belief, support from others, and most of all, the courage and will to make it happen.
As I continue to learn more about the various paths people take and how they are achieving their goals or dreams, the resounding theme I’ve heard is that they are doing what is intuitive to them, what makes sense, what feels right, and what brings them happiness. We had the pleasure of getting to know one of these remarkable individuals recently: Maya Mori, an artist, designer, small business owner, and incredible mother to four children. Surrounded by the people and things she loves, Maya is realizing her dreams.
“It’s such an amazing thing for all of my kids to grow up and see me work hard, and see me achieve my dreams and be creative.”
Growing up with an appreciation for art and imagination, Maya always felt most comfortable working for herself in a creative way. She was surrounded with a family full of artistically minded individuals: her younger brother is an artist, her father was born in Japan and is also an artist, and her mother is a writer. Drawn to vibrant colors and pattern even as a child, Maya emulated her stepfather, an artist as well (sense a theme?), and would spend hours making collages filled with bright designs and textiles.
Beyond being a wife, mother, designer, and entrepreneur, Maya is a really fascinating person, with a bright and exuberant personality, and life experiences that make her authentic and relatable. She loves to plays tennis, rock climb, snowboard, run, try different restaurants, and spend time with loved ones. Her home and studio are warm, full of life, and represent the elements she cherishes, like musical instruments, an art table for her daughters, books, memorabilia, and artwork made by family or friends. She’s always felt a natural attraction to designing and creating, grateful to have grown up in an environment of art and culture, and to pass this type of lifestyle on to her children.
“I feel really lucky to be around creative people…” Maya shares. “I’ve never known anything else, I think I’m pretty lucky to have had that…I have heard a lot of people who go to school for architecture or work in a bank, and discover later they are really artists in their hearts. I’ve kind of always known I was [an artist]. Not to say I haven’t had to work. Because I took a non-traditional path and had a child so young, I’ve definitely had to have jobs for other people, but I feel very confident about doing my own thing. I’ve never had a problem with that.”
Fashion Meets Function
Frankie & Coco PDX, the business Maya named after her two daughters, was born from an idea to help support her family during a hardship. Having always worked for herself in one capacity or another, and using the experience she gained from starting an apparel line about 10 years ago, Maya decided to contribute creatively by designing and making bags. It was somewhat of a part-time project for her, initially starting the business with a close friend who worked with her for the first few months. Without any investment or funding, she used her own sewing machine and the assorted fabrics and textiles she had collected over the years. To her surprise and delight, her designs took off quickly through Etsy, and Frankie & Coco PDX became a full-time job after about six months.
“I want to be connected to each item, even if it’s a simple zippered bag, to know the quality is there, that I put my energy, my soul into it.”
Art comes in many different forms, and Maya’s art happens to be eye-catching and purposeful. “I really like the idea of making something that’s functional and that’s probably because I am a parent now,” Maya describes. “You need a bag everyday, and then you need five bags inside of it.” She finds inspiration by putting swatches together, looking at vintage work, or honing in on what strikes her in the world around her. She often sketches out an idea, then creates it out of canvas and adjusts the pattern until it makes sense to her. Maya has a knack for sourcing interesting and distinctive fabrics, many from other countries like Japan. Her studio is filled with shelves of these bright and colorful textiles begging to be made into bags, and shimmering zippers ready to be attached to new clutches and pouches.
When you see Maya’s creations, it’s easy to understand how she found success so quickly. Her designs are fresh, vibrant, and made with high standards, from production to the materials she uses. It can be a challenge to discover reputable sources, ones that are ethically made, affordable, and high in quality, but this is a priority for the designer. Maya is passionate about being personally involved with each piece, so her customers can feel her spirit and personality in the bags they carry. “I want to be connected to each item, even if it’s a simple zippered bag, to know the quality is there, that I put my energy, my soul into it…” Maya expressed. “I’d like to think I’m putting good energy into these items, that you can go and buy these items and feel the positive energy.”
Watching Maya work in her studio, you witness her keen eye for detail and form, as she plays with patterns and materials intuitively. Her love is in design, and she sees a future for the business where she will be less involved with production, and devote more of her time to her true talent of creating. But she also feels the pull to keep her work “handmade,” knowing she will need to have more hands involved to keep up with demand versus making each bag herself. She hired a studio assistant recently, Arielle, a fellow maker, which was a big step for Maya as her business continues to organically expand. “At what point do you cross the line where it’s no longer handmade?” Maya has been asking herself. “That’s been a big thought process for me. In order for the business to have growth, what can I let go of so that I can be more creative?”
Because Maya had her first child in her early 20s, she took a few different turns on her path as she determined how to be a parent and still pursue work that fulfilled her. Self-taught in the fundamentals of the creative processes, Maya learned from other makers who would share their knowledge and advice along the way. A native of Portland, she finds the Pacific Northwest encompasses a tight-knit community of encouraging, like-minded people, where it’s easy to find outlets for materials and ideas, use machinery, take workshops in your niche, or meet with fellow artists. Some of the most meaningful relationships she’s developed were sparked from conversations with fellow designers, those who would be considered her closest competitors.
“When I started the business, that made me a whole person: being a mother and also having a job. I like that I am home with my kids, but I am also working.”
A Juggling Act
As the first year of her business came with relatively rapid success, it also stirred up some personal challenges for Maya as a mother. With four children and her youngest daughter Coco still just a baby, Maya recognized that while being a mother was important to her, so was her work. In her heart, it was work she knew she needed to do. “When I started the business, that made me a whole person: being a mother and also having a job,” Maya honestly shares. “I like that I am home with my kids, but I am also working.”
She found that in order to distinguish her personal life from her work life, she needed a separate space for her studio. As she brainstormed and tried a few different spots inside the home, her husband Micah, a graphic designer, painter, and musician (who also hand-drew the unique Frankie & Coco logo for her), came up with the idea to build a wall in the garage and construct an area for her studio. This separation allows Maya to be more present inside the home when her workday is done, but also gives her the physical and emotional distance from the family to stay focused while she is designing. “You really have to be so disciplined to own your own business…” she shares openly. “You have to be so organized and stay on top of yourself all the time.”
With her eldest son in high school and her youngest daughter now in preschool, Maya would never say the balance of working and parenting is easy, but it’s not impossible. “It’s been like this slow progression of getting a little bit more space, in conjunction with my kids getting a little bit older, and also making more money and being able to make decisions that give me more freedom,” Maya explains. “Which really is just time. To me, freedom is any more time.”
“I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have the support of my family, so it’s the greatest joy and the greatest challenge to run a business like this.”
The Support of Family
Much like the work she is doing in the studio, her job as a mom requires effort, diligence, and help from the whole family. Maya and her supportive husband Micah, a graphic designer for Nike, are up at 5am each morning. On his way to work, Micah takes the children to each of the four different schools they attend, while Maya heads into the studio to begin her workday around 6:30a. Because childcare and different programs are expensive, Maya promptly channels her energy into her work and stays focused on her designs and production until 4:30p, when she finished up in the studio and heads out to pick up each child from their various activities. Once everyone is home around 6:30p, the evening is spent having dinner, working on homework, and preparing for the next day. Depending on your lifestyle, this type of schedule may feel familiar or foreign, but it’s how Maya and Micah never compromise the experience their children receive at home and at school.
While it’s difficult balancing the demands of work and parenthood, Maya finds so much satisfaction in knowing Aidan, Ethan, Frankie and Coco see their parents working in creative ways, pursuing their passions. “It’s such an amazing thing for all of my kids to grow up and see me work hard,” Maya shares. “And see me achieve my dreams and be creative.”
Arranging her work around the important parts of her life, like taking her daughter to piano or watching her son’s track meet, can make Maya feel like she needs superhero powers at times, but she wouldn’t miss these defining moments. “That’s a struggle for everyone,” she empathizes. “I do think that now I so appreciate my kids, because when I was young, I was a creative person and I didn’t really use my time wisely. They forced me to be really focused and that was a quality that didn’t come naturally to me.” By learning how to be meticulous with her time, Maya finds that she is even more productive in accomplishing her goals.
As Maya invited us into her home and studio in the Boise-Elliot neighborhood of Portland, Oregon, we were given a glimpse behind-the-scenes at someone who has figured out how to have fulfilling work, a family, and to be involved things that bring her happiness. Yet the part of her story that’s most inspiring to me is that doing what she loves is not an easy walk in the park – it’s hard, and at times strenuous, but it’s worth it. “I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have the support of my family,” Maya shares. “So it’s the greatest joy and the greatest challenge to run a business like this.” Her journey is one that’s seen sacrifice and joy, struggle and reward, but because she’s realizing her dreams, it’s nothing short of extraordinary.