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Empowering Professional Motherhood: A Conversation with Joy O'Renick

Joy O’Renick , Founder/CEO at MARION Maternity

Discover the journey of MARION Maternity, a high-end maternity workwear brand, through the eyes of its founder and CEO, Joy O’Renick. In this insightful conversation with Stephen Bland of Wytlabs, Joy shares her inspiring transition from educator to entrepreneur, highlighting the unique challenges and opportunities in the maternity fashion industry. Focused on sustainability and professionalism, MARION Maternity stands out as a niche player, addressing the gap in maternity workwear for professionals. Explore the brand’s commitment to empowering women, its best-selling products, and its recent ventures into retail with Nordstrom. Join us in unpacking the story of MARION Maternity, where luxury meets sustainability, and motherhood is celebrated with style.

MARION is a high-end maternity workwear brand focused on sustainability, empowering professional women during pregnancy and nursing.

Joy O’Renick
Founder/CEO at MARION Maternity

Hello everyone, welcome to our latest white pod. I’m Stephen Bland, your host. I’m with Wytlabs, an internet marketing agency that specializes in e-commerce. Today I have Joy as our guest. Joy, feel free to introduce yourself and tell us about your background.

Hi, my name is Joy O’Renick and I’m the founder and CEO of MARION. We’re a high-end maternity workwear brand that is really focused on sustainability and also just really exists to empower women who become pregnant and are nursing. At the same time, they’re professionals and still need to look like professionals and therefore just need to be able to access garments that are made for the work that they do. Because of that, like I would say the vast majority of our clients are lawyers and congresswomen and executives and that kind of thing. The brand just really came into existence because I was working as a professional when I became pregnant for the first time and was pretty startled that there was such a small amount of maternity workwear on the market and almost nothing that existed that was made for women who were in more formal positions. And so since the world has changed so much and women don’t, you know, we just don’t leave our jobs when we become pregnant, it seemed like a strange thing and something that created a lot more professional challenges than I thought were necessary transitioning into motherhood. So I had been a long-time teacher and school principal and left that to start MARION with absolutely no fashion experience and just learning the industry and just figuring out what was needed and trying to make it happen. So it’s been almost two years since we’ve started and it’s been a pretty cool adventure so far.

Awesome. So you’re you only is it only maternity for maternity close forever?

Maternity and nursing. 

And nursing is awesome. And when did you start the brand?

We launched officially in April 2022.

So tell me more about the brand. Your target audience is women. It’s considered a premium brand, correct?

Yes

So what makes you different than your competitors?

Okay. I think just the fact that maternity work wear or work wear for women who are professionals, especially in occupations that are more formal and require more of a corporate dress code, just doesn’t exist to speak of. You know, lots of the big brands will carry, you know, a nice pair of dress pants sometimes or a button-up shirt and that kind of thing, but it’s not something that is a big feature of most of the maternity brands which is so interesting given that 140 million women a year get pregnant and a larger and larger percentage of women who are professionals continue to stay in their same occupation after they become moms. As women rise higher in the professional world, most of us need better clothes to continue to look just like our professional selves while we’re continuing to work. And so the lack of that was shocking to me.

 

It was only through my own experience that I realized that that was kind of a major gap in the fashion market. And it’s honestly really the only reason we can succeed: the ocean is entirely blue or has been where this little niche has been concerned. And so we’ve been really lucky to have like, we have like an absurd number of like Harvard law grads who get pregnant and buy from us. And I’m just like those kinds of women who are super, super bad-ass, super powerful, and just need to like to keep wearing a pretty fun suit.

That’s awesome, I love it. So what are your best-selling products?

Maternity pencil skirt. We have a skirt suit that sells all the time. One of our biggest stressors with that maternity suit that we have is just keeping it in stock, which is kind of a great problem to have. We sell a lot of work-wear dresses especially ones that have nursing access that is hidden because until you’ve been pregnant and nursing, you don’t realize that pumping or nursing at work means getting completely naked in your office when there’s not like of gizmos to allow you to do that. So I don’t know if you had planned to talk about breast milk this much today.

No, I mean, I have a two-year-old, so I just, have a two-year-old daughter, so I watch my wife go through it. So yes, I know what you’re saying. I have some, not myself, but I’ve seen it.

You’re breast milk educated. Yes. Not personally. It’s, I mean, it’s things that you would never think about. And I was an educator for like 15 or 16 years before I became a mom. And so it’s just, it was kind of one of those things where I’m like, why, why has nobody addressed this? Cause it’s a huge industry. I mean, the maternity industry itself has value has increased by billions in the past few years now that it’s kind of become a fashion place as well as just a place where you go to buy things that are required. I mean, Hatch has done a great job of making maternity fashionable and a lot of the pregnant celebrities are making it cool to invest in your maternity wardrobe. And so the fact that that piece has just kind of remained, I guess, untouched was a little bit surprising, but good for us.

Definitely. So what are some activities you’re doing to promote the business?

And congrats on your two-year-old. Life is busy right now, we’re just, man, it’s funny, like you kind of hit one hill and then you go to the next. We just signed on with Nordstrom, which was exciting. And our product line just kind of got the like. So that’s been like in the past couple of months, that’s been like all of my time has been focused on learning what EDI is and how to use it and how to get set up with all the different requirements. And they’re the big boys, so they.

Perfect, that was my next question in retail.

They get to tell us exactly how they want things, which is great. And so everything will go up on their website here in the next week or so. And then after that, I think that’s really kind of the next frontier is, we have great reviews, we have great customer relationships. I think our quality is really what sets us apart. And so on a small scale, just doing e-commerce smaller dropshipping and wholesaling, we’ve been doing well, but it’s a very small scale and so getting to break into that marketplace with Nordstrom and some of those other retailers where we’re going from like hundreds of views a day to millions is kind of awesome. So I think the next thing is, I want Bloomingdale’s and Saks and Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman and all of the higher-end maternity or higher-end department stores that have a reputation for exceptional quality are really where we want to be.

 

I mean, we’re hugely focused on like our sustainable Italian suiting fabrics and just really luxury 10 cells and things that are both eco-friendly but also just gloriously luxurious. And, you know, we are a higher price brand and we, and I think we back that up with some excellent, excellent product. So I think that kind market places where we fit in well. And, frankly, where there’s just not a lot of options for women who need a good suit.

Where can we buy from your website at this point? What is your website?

My website is marionmaternity.com and that’s where we do all of our e-commerce for the most part. And then we do have other retail partners online, like Figure Eight Moms and One Hot Mama and a few other places like that that drop ship. Milk and Baby is another big nursing retailer that we drop ship for. And then we’re also in a few brick-and-mortar stores around the country, like Ness Maternity in San Francisco. And we have retail partners in Texas and North Carolina and that kind of stuff. So we, I mean, we’re kind of spread around and just kind of, I think we’re building as we go. Nice, nice pace, but I want to, I think, increase that.

Awesome, that’s great. What is your plan?

Get in with every big retailer there is. And, you know, I think, you know, it’s kind of, it’s kind of the thing to do, I think. But I think beyond that, I think focusing on the niche of workwear has been, has been a good plan because frankly, there’s, that’s the only place that we can compete because that’s the only place without competition that can just financially crush us. But over time, I would like to expand a bit more into some other parts of maternity fashion and even postpartum, just like high quality, sustainable, just like mom clothes, I guess. But continue with our focus on sustainability. We do partner with OceanCo right now. And so for every piece of like every style that a customer purchases, at this point, we pay OceanCo’s partners for the removal of a kilogram of ocean-bound plastic.

 

in the world’s most polluted waterways. They have a whole map and it’s a cool system that’s equivalent to about 88 plastic bottles. So if a customer buys four pieces from us, it’s 88 times four. So there’s, we want to continue to work with like very well vetted reputable companies like that and try to make an impact with what we’re doing. I’d eventually like to offer some lower-priced products as well. I think know, the sustainability piece and the fact that we only manufacture with ethical factories makes, you know, makes being super, super, super low, low priced, you know, kind of impossible. But I think that we’d like to be a little bit more accessible price price-wise point and maybe have like a, like a, a label that’s maybe more mid-range than, than high priced just for professionals who, who aren’t, you know, necessarily holding Harvard Law degrees.

Gotcha, are you ever gonna dabble in baby clothes?

No. I think there are plenty of options out there for that.

I know, I had to ask, kind of goes hand in hand, figured I’d ask, I’ll go.

Totally. I’m obsessed with finding the blue markets now.

All right. That’s great. Is there anything else that you want our audience to know about you and your brand?

I think it just kind of goes back to like, I feel fortunate to be in an industry where we get to do something good that I think is important. And as a woman who has been, you know, like the only high school principal in a district or the only whatever, you know, you kind of as a woman, even in 2024, you still feel sometimes some pressure to, to prove that you belong in the room, even if your numbers are great. And even if, you know, if it were.

 

If it were a faceless game, you wouldn’t feel that same pressure. And I think when you get pregnant, the pressure goes up exponentially because there’s this kind of unspoken thing like, ah, are you really that committed or are you going to stick around or are we going to have to pick up the slack while you’re on maternity leave? And it feels crappy. And so I think the idea of just getting to support other women who are amazing and doing great work and feeling like a little bit better about all of that when you’re already having like the hardest time of your life feels good. And so I just hope that we get an opportunity to continue to do that and hopefully level the playing field as much as we can do with our littontribution.

That is amazing to hear. Joy, I appreciate you coming on, and thank you for your time today.

Thank you. It was so nice to talk to you, Stephen.

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