Native Wilds' Founder on Why Collaboration Is Key to Growing a Successful Business
Photos: Cole Morrall
If there's anyone who can vouch for the power of women empowering other women, it's Susanna McMillan. Her brand, Native Wilds, was born three years ago in Atlanta, Georgia after she was frustrated with her overflowing diaper bag filled with not-so-essential supplies for her nearly-Irish twins. That's what inspired the creation of the insanely popular Nest, the multi-tasking scarf and cover that's become a go-to for stylish mamas.
Since founding her brand, McMillan and her family relocated to Los Angeles in order to be closer to her brand's production factories — and the community of entrepreneurial women that the Fashion Mamas LA member forged during her many business trips to the City of Angels. From hosting events to participating in inspiring panels, community and collaboration have been one of the keys to her continued success, she tells us, and she recently teamed with Yumi on an exclusive colorway of the Nest inspired by the healthy baby food brand.
Here, McMillan tells us how she went from TV host to mama-minded accessory designer, what it was like moving her entire fam across the country, how she finds like-minded collaborators, the multitasking products she loves right now, her best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs looking for the "right time" to start their business, and much more. Read on below, then shop the Nest and preorder Native Wilds' Yumi collab here.
What are the names and ages of your little ones?
Judah, 5 and Willa, 4.
Tell us more about your career journey: How'd you get your start and what led you to where you are today?
I started Native Wilds when my son was 18 months and my daughter was 6 months. I was a stay-at-home mom at the time, and had taken a long maternity leave from my previous career in TV hosting. I had no experience starting my own business from the ground up, but I did understand sales and saw an opportunity in the market for products that were multi-purpose and designed for the mom actually using it, not the baby [for example, items in] animal prints and primary colors.
My own belief in what I was creating overcame the learning curves and it’s amazing what you can learn by Googling! The early days were really tough and at times I only had five minutes free to devote to building the business each day, but I was consistent. It’s amazing what a mom can do with five minutes! Native Wilds was essentially built during nap times and shipping orders late after the babes went to bed. I learned how to multi-task quite well. There were many times I’d have to take phone calls with my kids screaming in the car or take them along with me to the factory. Fortunately, people found my screaming employees endearing!
Tell us more about your brand: How did motherhood inspire its creation?
I founded Native Wilds in 2015, after the birth of my two children, born 13 months apart. I felt unprepared for the identity crisis that ensued; shifting from maiden to mother left me feeling unsupported and alone during the wild emotional, physical, and spiritual transformation of pregnancy, birth, and the fourth trimester. I created Native Wilds as a platform for real conversations surrounding motherhood and want to explore this rite of passage in a way that connects, heals and empowers us. I design products that enable new moms to take on the world, babe in tow and without losing themselves along the journey.
When I had my kids 13 months apart, I needed so much baby gear just to get out of my house and wanted an all-in-one, multi-purpose product that could eliminate four items out of my diaper bag. I designed the ultimate motherhood accessory, our signature Nest, a multi-use nursing scarf, car seat cover, and cart cover all-in-one with a built-in pocket to keep track of essentials. It’s made with custom knit, technical fabric milled from eucalyptus trees that is temperature regulating for nursing, hypoallergenic for sensitive newborn skin, naturally antibacterial and sun protective equivalent to SPF 50.
The Nest is designed without tapered edges like other for flexible coverage that allows you to maintain eye contact with your baby while nursing or as a protective sun cover on the car seat. It features the patented pocket to keep track of mom and baby’s essentials on-the-go, and the entire Nest folds back up into the pocket for quick and easy storage. [It] was named "What’s Hot Now" in baby gear by Pregnancy and Newborn magazines, and was featured on Fox News, Mini Magazine, and Glamour UK.
"When you step away from comparison and fear and step into the abundance you already have to offer — to your family, your work, your friends — everything changes."
Why was it important to you to create a sustainable, made-in-USA brand?
Creating a a responsible and sustainable supply chain was very important to me. I’m proud the Nest is part of 3% of products totally made in the U.S.A. and ensure it’s made by people I know and trust! It took me two years to establish the seamless supply chain that we have now and it feels really good. Our eco-friendly, custom fabric is harvested from the wood pulp of sustainably grown trees, and we mill it from scratch right here in downtown Los Angeles. Our cut and sew factory is just a few miles away from our mill, and each Nest is handmade by local artisans. Our nests are each dyed by hand in our dye guru’s back yard in Silver Lake using non-toxic dye and are totally unique. We locally source our materials and ship orders right down the street from our manufacturer to create a small carbon footprint.
What inspired you to relocate to LA, and what was your experience moving to a new city with kids? How did your family adjust?
At 30, moving across the country from Atlanta to Los Angeles, and away from my family with a 2- and 3-year-old was daunting! I had been traveling back and forth monthly working with our manufacturer and felt like I had two different lives. I wanted to merge my work with my home life and had really fallen in love with Los Angeles. I didn’t realize at the time all the obstacles we’d face moving in the middle of year with housing and PRESCHOOL! Our whole world was flipped.
At that time, I found a lot of comfort in trusting my intuition. We found the perfect place to live, an incredible preschool that my son is now graduating from, and amazing friends who have become our new family. I think anytime you go through massive transition, especially with young children, it’s important to have grace for yourself. As a mother, you are the north star for your family. As long as you are aligned with your true self and desires, you can ultimately create stability, peace, and structure no matter the chaos of your environment.
You collaborate often with other brands/mama business owners. What's your process for finding like-minded collaborators, and how has it helped you grow your company?
Collaboration has been the number one way I’ve grown my business. Whether it was collaborating with women at my local sewing workroom or influencers on Instagram, partnership has been key for growth. As with raising babies and a business, it takes a village! One of the reasons I wanted to move to LA was to connect with other women entrepreneurs and there’s no end to the creativity of moms here!
I’m super excited about our latest collaboration we just launched with Yumi, another business owned and operated by a Fashion Mamas member. I designed a custom Yumi Nest in their brand colors and each order gets a free subscription to their organic baby food. I look for brands that align with our values, aesthetic, and target market, then come up with custom campaigns both online and offline that expand brand awareness.
We love that you're also involved in the mama community — how does that empower you/why is it important to you?
I didn’t know any moms when I moved here and completely submersed myself in all the events, groups, women's circles and play dates I could find! Fashion Mamas was a huge part of building my community here. I found our place by posting in the Facebook group and the girl who referred it, is now a best friend. I attended the events and networked with other moms. I really put myself out there and it paid off. Now it's a dream to be hosting my own events and creating more opportunities for other moms to connect. Women are so powerful when they get together and I love the synergy I feel when women come together.
You're known for creating a multi-tasking product that we love — what's another multi-tasker item that you can't live without?
Since my kids are 4 and 5 now, my multi-tasking products have changed. I love my Gathre mats, I take my big one everywhere. I use it for picnics at the park, beach days, and Willa’s afternoon art projects. It’s super easy to clean. I'm also obsessed with Nucifera Balm — I use everywhere and on everything! I think I have one in every room of my house plus my purse.
What's your top advice for aspiring entrepreneurs who feel that the "timing isn't right" because they have young kids?
I'm so glad I didn't wait to launch Native Wilds until I felt like I was ready or had everything "together." The right time to start truly doesn’t exist. I remember wavering in self doubt as I was about to launch Native Wilds and reading a quote from Arthur Ashe: "Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can." It became my mantra and still speaks to me.
When you step away from comparison and fear and step into the abundance you already have to offer — to your family, your work, your friends — everything changes. Never underestimate the power of small beginnings and the momentum the universe brings to those first small steps you take.