Margaret Parciak of ‘Three Yellow Starfish’: The Power of Flexibility; How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic
Celebrate small wins because they’re just as important as the end goal. Over time, I learned to recognize that small wins are just as significant as end goals. It’s easy to overlook those mini achievements if you’re too focused on the big picture. Don’t cloud your mind with negative thoughts of why you haven’t reached the end goal yet; prioritize reflecting on accomplishments often and note the small steps you’re taking towards progress. Over time, these little stepping stones build on each other and serve as a path to the end goal. Whether it’s getting new followers or making a sale, recognize and celebrate the small wins because they’ll keep you motivated and propel you forward.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Margaret Parciak.
Margaret Parciak is the entrepreneur behind Three Yellow Starfish, an online handmade children’s clothing company initially founded during the 2008 financial crisis. Margaret has worked in the IT industry for over eight years, but a recent lay-off prompted by the pandemic provided her with the opportunity to re-launch her small business. She recognizes that the pandemic’s disruption has been especially challenging for working moms. Margaret supports women in their chosen roles as providers and caretakers. She aims to leave a lasting impact on the traditional workplace approach by improving access to flexible, family-friendly work policies.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Thank you so much for having me! I was born in Poland and raised on a farm in a rural village called Krasnosielc, located in Poland’s east-central region. I immigrated to the United States with my parents and younger sister in 1993 when I was just six years old. My parents moved to America to escape political conflict and build a better, safer life for my sister and me.
Growing up, we lived with my grandparents in Hamtramck, Michigan, a city 5 miles from Detroit known for its diversity and large Polish community. I learned to read, write, and speak English very quickly through school. My family relied heavily on me to navigate and communicate on their behalf. My parents tasked me with taking care of duties ranging from setting up the entertainment system to making calls about the cable bill on their behalf. Consequently, I became independent, self-reliant, and learned to roll with the punches at a very young age.
Ever since I can remember, my parents urged me to pursue business. They wanted to spare me from working the same long, grueling hours that they endured. I was more interested in pursuing creative careers. At some point, I realized that pursuing business didn’t necessarily mean that I needed to be super serious crunching numbers all day long and discovered that creativity was a fundamental part of a business.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Life is 10 percent what you make it, and 90 percent how you take it.” ―Irving Berlin
This quote resonated with me because it means that you ultimately decide whether you want to be happy. Life is a struggle, and it throws us into unexpected situations, often at the worst possible times. Still, it’s essential to trust yourself, keep a positive outlook, and take those scary but brave steps towards achieving happiness. When I face unexpected circumstances, this quote reminds me to focus on what I can control, adjust course, and try again instead of getting beaten down by the challenges that come my way.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
After getting laid-off in August, I went through a time when I doubted myself and my abilities. That’s when I read Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis. This book encouraged me to confront my fears and address the “what if’s” and negative thoughts running through my mind. It helped me recognize that the excuses I was clinging to were a significant roadblock to progress and taught me to let those excuses go. Her book helped me face my insecurities, adopt new behaviors, and get going on pursuing my dreams.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
I initially started this business during the financial crisis that emerged during the stock market and housing crash in 2008. It was my creative solution to generating income while staying at home with my son, who was two years old at the time. We couldn’t afford daycare, but I had to find a way to contribute financially to keep our house out of foreclosure.
While researching ideas online, I came across Etsy, a handmade marketplace where artisans sold their crafts. That’s when I had the idea that I could try making children’s clothing. I was always drawn to fashion and liked the idea of making my own clothes. Making baby clothes made sense because they took less time to complete. They also used fewer materials, and I happened to have a toddler to use as a model whenever I needed to figure out sizing. I dove right in, and with the help of the internet, I taught myself to sew. Next, I found photographers that were willing to work with me on a trade basis. They took photos of my items and kept the clothes I made in exchange as payment.
Despite the economic downturn, my little Etsy shop started to make sales. I received a great deal of support from the handmade community. It wasn’t long before the local media reached out, which gave me the confidence to up my game to in-person craft shows. In 2010, my brand continued to grow, and sales were steadily increasing, but my life took an unexpected turn resulting in divorce.
That’s when I had to decide between continuing to grow my business or focusing on finding a stable job. As a young single mother of a then four-year-old toddler, I opted for the safe route. I was fortunate enough to land a steady job as a sales specialist at Apple, securing my foothold in the IT industry. Without any official technical support experience, I quickly graduated from making simple iPhone sales to earning a spot on the business sales team, allowing me to connect with entrepreneurs and business professionals.
Eventually, the demanding retail schedule led me to explore more flexible full-time employment opportunities. In 2013, I took a job as a technology assistant at Hamilton Park Pacesetter Magnet Elementary School in Richardson, TX. Then, I transitioned to higher education and moved to Houston to continue my journey working for the University of Houston as tech support at the Conrad N. Hilton College of Hotel and Restaurant Management.
After a major car accident at age 29, I re-evaluated my life goals and decided that by age 30, I would permanently settle in Austin, TX. In 2017, I moved to Austin and worked as a desktop support technician for the University of Texas at Austin, where I met my fiancé. Eventually, I transitioned to the private sector, working as a help desk technician for Parsley Energy, a local oil company.
Throughout my journey, I was focused on moving up the IT ladder with no intention of making a career shift before the pandemic until I was laid-off and Three Yellow Starfish was re-born.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
After the lay-off in August, I found myself in the familiar predicament that I once experienced years ago. I needed to find a job to safeguard my family from any unforeseen financial circumstances. I started brainstorming creative ways to generate income from the safety of my home. I came across some of my old inventory and decided it would be a good idea to list some of it for sale on my website and Etsy. Without a second thought, I continued where I left off, working on my business.
I listed some of the merchandise I had sitting around and saw that sales started slowly trickling in. The next thing I knew, I was on the phone with my mom discussing ideas for getting a winter collection together. I reconnected with my old fabric supplier and enlisted my sister’s marketing and design experience to think of ideas for what social media content to create. It’s like everything was falling into place so quickly, I didn’t even think to look back. Every time I had a negative thought pop into my head, I got a new follower on Facebook or a new shop like on Etsy. I took that as a sign and kept moving forward.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
This pandemic made me realize that life is short. I specifically remember looking at open job listings and thinking to myself, is doing my own thing really riskier than getting hit with an unexpected layoff? As I searched the internet for tech support positions to apply to, I realized that many employers still required employees to make an in-person office appearance for at least a portion of the workweek. Reading the job descriptions made me notice that the job responsibilities listed were redundant and boring. I realized that I wasn’t interested in working for another tech company and that I was done limiting my creativity. All I could think about was the idea of being my own boss and how the timing lined up perfectly for me to be able to do that now. Ultimately, my “Aha!” moment was when I concluded that if I wanted to improve the quality of life for myself and my family, I would have to pick up where I left off, channel my energy into making this business work, and most importantly, invest in myself. I didn’t want to live the rest of my life, wondering, “what if?”
How are things going with this new initiative?
The business is off to a solid start. I’m happy to see that there is still a demand for high-quality goods handmade in the US. It’s a learning experience because e-commerce and how we use the internet and social media have changed tremendously since 2008. The hard work is rewarding, though, because I realized that in a small way, I’m actually contributing to both children’s and parents’ well-being. Clothing has such a positive effect on children’s development, self-discovery, and identity. By creating these clothes for kids, I’m helping them maintain a sense of normalcy and self-care. It feels good to promote positivity and make little kids feel good about themselves in a time when we all need it.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many wonderful people who supported and encouraged me in times when I needed it most. One of those people is Julie McCullough, owner and managing director at Harkensback Dallas, who was my mentor back in the day. I first met Julie when I took one of her introductory sewing classes. She showed me the ropes and introduced me to many of her professional contacts. Julie helped me figure out wholesale pricing and even helped me negotiate my first large scale order with Zulily. Back when I lived in a tiny efficiency apartment, she was kind enough to give me access to her studio after hours so that I could work comfortably in a well-equipped space. Julie Mccullough is a true friend and amazing businesswoman, who was my guide in a great time of need. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her generosity and support.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
Since I started in this new direction, my relationship with my 14-year-old son, Dakota, has greatly improved in just a few short months. It’s interesting because I noticed that he’s beginning to adopt an entrepreneurial mindset by asking curious questions and inventing creative solutions. He’s resourceful and independently researches topics and ideas that he finds interest in. His latest plan is to open an Esty shop to showcase his unique art. Dakota started watching Shark Tank with me and even makes helpful suggestions to enhance my business. For example, the other day, he mentioned that I should look into making scrunchies because he noticed that they’re a popular comeback accessory that many girls at school are wearing. It’s promising to see that my entrepreneurial journey is already having such a positive effect on his life.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Start with one social media platform and master it before branching out to others.
When I decided to re-launch my small business a few months ago, I wanted to hit the ground running and establish my social media presence as fast as possible. Instead of diving in and attempting to learn everything at once, I realized that I should have started by researching to see which platform would work best for my business. Then, learn the ins and outs of that platform before branching out to different channels. Don’t make the mistake of getting sucked into the social media vortex because it will burn you out before you even get going. Each platform is unique and runs different back end tools. Most have their own specialized search term algorithms, and some have built-in inventory management features. Attempting to learn the ins and outs of all of these platforms at one time is difficult, so I recommend taking it one step at a time.
- Time management is essential to maintaining a healthy work-life balance. I used to think that I needed to hustle around the clock if I wanted my business to succeed. I found myself working until 4 am more times than I’d like to admit. Eventually, I learned that this approach was neither healthy nor productive. It’s more attainable to create a list of goals in order of priority the night before and then focus on crossing those goals off the list the next day. This strategy prevents me from feeling super stressed and allows me to balance productivity and family time. Don’t neglect your own needs; give yourself a break and take time to re-energize.
- Offering too many SKU’s leads to inventory problems. In the beginning, I had the mindset that more variety equaled more sales. There were so many great fabrics to choose from, so I bought a little bit of everything. Eventually, I ended up with a ton of fabric, but I couldn’t really use any of it because there wasn’t enough of one kind to create a full collection. Also, because I’m a one-person operation, storage options were limited. It wasn’t long before my small workspace began to feel very uncomfortable and claustrophobic. This taught me that less is more. Looking back, I should have started by creating a couple of different styles and offering only a few different colors or print options for each. Instead of stocking up on cute prints, I should have waited a few months, analyzed my inventory to identify what was selling and what wasn’t. Taking this approach would have helped me make an informed decision on what merchandise to invest in for the upcoming season.
- Be patient with yourself; failure is part of the process. One of the most important things that I would have told my younger self is to be patient and learn from the failures because trial and error is part of the process. Don’t get discouraged and overwhelmed when you try something and fail at it. Learn to recognize when something isn’t working, and instead of quitting, dust yourself off, re-assess the approach, and try again. I remember how frustrating it was when I was first learning to thread a serger. It’s a tricky process to master, especially for a beginner. I used to get frustrated to the point of tears and vow never to switch the thread out again, but I eventually got there after countless attempts.
- Celebrate small wins because they’re just as important as the end goal. Over time, I learned to recognize that small wins are just as significant as end goals. It’s easy to overlook those mini achievements if you’re too focused on the big picture. Don’t cloud your mind with negative thoughts of why you haven’t reached the end goal yet; prioritize reflecting on accomplishments often and note the small steps you’re taking towards progress. Over time, these little stepping stones build on each other and serve as a path to the end goal. Whether it’s getting new followers or making a sale, recognize and celebrate the small wins because they’ll keep you motivated and propel you forward.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
One strategy that I have found to be the most helpful is not watching the news 24/7. I set aside a daily window of 30–40 minutes dedicated to catching myself up on the news or listening to a podcast on COVID-19 updates to keep up with what’s going on around me. With everything going on in the world right now, it’s easy to become anxious and overwhelmed. I find that limiting my news media intake has kept me balanced and allowed me to focus on other positive things going on in my life.
Along the same lines, I set aside daily time to incorporate positive media into my schedule. I find that watching a daily video like Business Tips with Daymond John or listening to Brené Brown’s Unlocking Us keeps me optimistic and allows me to view the world from a fresh perspective.
My daily routine includes cycling for an hour in the morning, which helps me stay active and maintain a healthy mental state. Picking up around the house and reducing overall clutter is another approach that reduces anxiety and creates a more calming atmosphere. Occasionally playing video games with my family helps me clear my head.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
The pandemic has uncovered that working single parents carry a heavy load. Over the years in my professional career, and as a working single mother, I have observed that long-term workplace flexibility is not a topic most companies consider to be a top priority. While many companies are making temporary accommodations for working parents during the pandemic, a permanent change in the system is necessary. The outdated belief that parents need to choose between work coming first at the detriment of their family is unrealistic in this economy.
I want to inspire a movement that permanently shifts the traditional workplace approach and implements sensible programs and policies that allow employees to combine having a career and caring for a family without judgment. This change would result in happier, better balanced, and more productive employees.
This shift would lessen the burden on taxes and other social systems while steering people towards the path of independence and success. This change would result in working parents feeling more confident, connected, and in control, setting a good example for their kids, and successfully breaking the poverty cycle. When employers aren’t flexible, and parents are simultaneously scrambling to raise their kids while meeting employer expectations, companies lose out on valuable people. We need to improve the system as we advance to encourage employees and future generations to unlock their fullest potential as professionals, parents, and human beings.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
I would love to have lunch with Daymond John, CEO, and founder of FUBU because he’s an influential entrepreneur that I sincerely respect. He understands the challenges that single mothers face and is passionate about supporting female-owned and minority-owned businesses. He’s the People’s Shark! I love that Daymond is not afraid to embrace failure, speak openly about what mistakes he’s made throughout his journey, and share the lessons he’s learned from them.
Believe it or not, I remember my dad sporting a baby blue FUBU tracksuit that he picked up at the local Shoppers World back in the day. As a kid, I was mortified because this was the brand that the cool kids at school were wearing, not dads! We still tease him about it a little bit, but it’s funny how life has a peculiar way of bringing things back around full circle. Who knew that someday I’d be writing about how Daymond John influenced me as an entrepreneur.
How can our readers follow you online?
Follow me on Instagram @threeyellowstarfish and visit my website: shop.threeyellowstarfish.com
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!