“It will all be worth it,” Sarah said. “If I could go back nine years and tell myself anything, it would be that this will all be worth it.”
In 2013, Sarah Dooley was having her first baby, learning to cloth diaper, and starting a business. Today, she runs a company with over 70 employees, has been featured on major media outlets like Good Morning America, Forbes, and Refinery 29, and her sustainable products can be found globally. But that sort of success doesn’t happen overnight. The nine year journey from humble beginnings to an industry thought leader was full of highs and lows, challenges and rewards, and a lot of hard work.
“It is nice to have more of a work/life separation now versus then. At the beginning, I was working from home 24/7. Life bled into work. We did markets on the weekend, used our dining room table for production into the night, and could never really sneak away from work. Although sometimes I miss parts of the beginning hustle, it was hard to never really turn work off. We try to be more intentional with our time away from work these days, and it is easier now that we have a larger team with split responsibilities,” Sarah said.
Although Sarah now has a team behind her, it can be hard to turn your brainchild over to others and entrust them with your brand, especially one that you have spent so long building. Even though Sarah is a strong and diligent leader, a company with such momentum needs more than one person behind the wheel. She says, “the biggest challenge has been trusting others to take over tasks. I have learned a lot about the strength of a team versus the strength of an individual. While it might be hard to train for a task or hand something off, bringing on a team member that has more strength or knowledge in an area than you is quite amazing and benefits the whole company.”
Change is always difficult, but there has definitely been benefits to growing the company, as Marley’s Monsters now has a dedicated retail store and Eco-Shop staff, a wood shop and team of craftsmen, along with a warehouse full of team members cutting fabrics, sewing products, packaging materials, and shipping across the country. Things look wildly different than when Sarah first started out of her living room, but in the best way possible.
“In the beginning you just build, make, dream and hope that it means something to someone. It can be hard to stay motivated, but if I knew my work would turn into something in the end, I would have felt more confidence to do it and push forward through the hard times,” Sarah said. Now she has traded her dining room table for an office, and manages a leadership team.
“I’ve learned that I can do anything I put my mind to. I’ve learned so much about what I enjoy and what I don’t. I’ve learned about communication and community. I’ve learned that entrepreneurship is hard! But, it’s also so exciting that I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’ve learned that the learning and growing as a person never stops; and if you embrace that, it’s much more enjoyable.”
Although Sarah started on her own, it has been a collaborative effort from the beginning. Sarah’s husband, Chad, also has a big hand in the development of products and the company as a whole.
“Chad introduced me to most of my environmentalist thinking because of his studies in Environmental Geoscience and Sustainability Management. So when I was pregnant, he convinced me to cloth diaper. I was pretty easily convinced, but I told him that if we’re going to do that, I’m going to make it fun. To make up for all the laundry, you know? After that I went to the fabric store and bought a bunch of flannel in as many fun prints as I could find and started cutting.”
As time went on, Sarah was able to eventually make Marley’s Monsters her full time gig. As more and more sustainable products were created, she started to lean on Chad’s woodworking expertise.
Sarah said, “I’ve always loved woodworking and furniture design. In fact, while I was pregnant I was trying to start a furniture and lighting company. However, I found that I’m too impatient for big complicated projects, among other reasons, so that didn’t work out. I wanted to come up with a design and make it within hours, which is much more achievable with sewing. Aside from my passion with woodworking from a design standpoint, Chad understood all the tools. He helped me multiple times in college with wood design projects. So when I started making facial rounds, I convinced Chad to make a little container for them. We worked on the design together. Me coming from a design standpoint and him coming from a production standpoint. Wood is complicated; it’s not fluid like fabric and has more restrictions but more strength. They compliment each other well functionally and physically.”
In 2017, Chad too left his full time job to pursue the ever expanding business and life as an entrepreneur. Now, Chad runs the Marley’s Monsters wood production shop, designing and creating complimentary products for Sarah’s reusable endeavors. Their kids are bigger now, and not using cloth diapers, so the Dooley family practices sustainability in other ways.
“Among many things, we use Cloth Wipes as tissues, UNpaper® Towels for cleaning and reusable snack bags for lunches. When we go out on adventures, we bring to-go containers, silicone straws and reusable utensils. I think it’s important to talk about these things with your kids as you’re doing it. You’d be surprised what they retain. Oftentimes they’re asking me for reusables before I’m suggesting them.”
Marley’s Monsters had truly become a whole family venture for the Dooley’s, even the kids contribute in some aspects! With a leader like Sarah, it’s no surprise that the company has grown to where it is now. Despite many shop moves, exhausting days, and a pandemic, Marley’s Monsters is going strong, with great things on the horizon. Join us next week as we continue this conversation with Sarah in a second blog article.