When I had my first child - like every other mother that had come before me - I was entirely unprepared for the change motherhood would have on me.
With the birth of this tiny beautiful person came the undoing of everything I knew to be true. Nothing felt familiar – my body, my brain, my friendships, my relationships, my world – and despite it taking a few weeks (or months or years) to settle in, I soon realised this new reality was – at least for me – the way things were meant to be.
One person who knows this feeling all too well is the founder of Tiny Tags – Melissa Clayton. As a mother of three herself, Melissa experienced first-hand the deep change we undergo when we become mothers, and our subsequent desire to announce and celebrate this new part of our identity. “At Tiny Tags, we celebrate a mother’s most precious gift – their children and the incredible journey of motherhood,” she says.
With a collection of fine jewellery pieces that are completely personalised and guaranteed for life, Tiny Tags has won itself fans by the likes of Meryl Streep, Sarah Wright Olsen and Anine Bing. The brand has also been featured on the NBC Today Show, in O Magazine and on Goop. They have clearly hit a nerve. And while the pieces are undeniably beautiful, Melissa says the success of the company comes down to the community of mothers they touch. “From new mothers beaming with pride and love over their new bundle of joy, to moms who are wearing their necklaces in remembrance of their little ones, or as a symbol of strength for those loved ones dealing with a personal struggle,” these are precious pieces that hold a special place in the hearts of those who wear them.
We asked four mothers (myself included) to spend an afternoon with their children in the park wearing Tiny Tags, and spoke to Melissa – a powerhouse entrepreneur who was a semi-finalist in the 2018 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur Of The Year award – on business, motherhood and why sometimes, we simply need to celebrate the person we’ve become … And the children who have made us Mother.
Take us back to after your first son, Tyler, was born – what inspired the idea for Tiny Tags?
This year we are celebrating 10 years and I have reflected on my journey quite a bit. Over the years, when asked what my inspiration was for Tiny Tags I would say it was because I wanted the perfect ‘mommy necklace’.
However, recently a mentor pushed me on my deep ‘why’ and why I was so committed to Tiny Tags. The conversation quickly turned to my journey of motherhood and my own mother, who passed away three months after my son was born. When tears started to flow, I knew there was something more there.
After reflecting more, I wondered if my deep why stems from my childhood and having grown up living with my father. Although I never questioned my mother’s love for me, she struggled to show up and I think she lived her life filled with guilt.
After my first son was born, I felt incredible empathy for my mother because I couldn’t imagine having all that love inside and still not showing up because she had so much pain of her own. I wondered if I started making jewelry for mothers to celebrate their children because there was a part of me that longed to feel celebrated by my own mother.
Was my passion and dedication to Tiny Tags really the little girl tugging on her mother’s skirt saying, “I am here, be with me, visit me?” Is Tiny Tags my way of making sure every mom shows up for her child and appreciates her? Maybe. Maybe not.
What I know for sure is that children and this gift of motherhood is beyond precious. Tiny Tags is my heart and soul and having a small part in telling other moms’ stories of motherhood has been an incredible gift. So that is my long version of how Tiny Tags came to be and a look into my inspiration.
Was making this career change scary- what advice do you have for moms wanting to make a career change?
Talk to other women who are already in that career and ask someone to be your mentor. There are so many women-focused networking groups and other resources, from LinkedIn to Facebook, where you can find contacts much easier than when I started 10 years ago. I have reached out to so many women and am always so surprised and how willing people are to chat and share their knowledge.
Take us through the range and what you offer?
Almost all Tiny Tags are custom made and personalized with children’s names, birthdays or birth times. We offer all our jewelry in 14k yellow, rose and white gold, gold vermeil and sterling silver. The beauty of Tiny Tags is that we use a laser engraving machine to personalize our jewelry (most other companies use a metal bit to scratch the name into the metal) so the metal is never cut into which creates a fine, beautiful finish.
Laser engraving also allows us to engrave on the back of our jewelry. We had one mom engrave the birth weights of her twins on the back of her circle tags – 1lb 9oz and 1lb 14oz!
Some moms put their wedding dates, special phrase or nicknames on the back of their Tiny Tags. I love how our back engraving makes every Tiny Tags so special.
Talk us through the process behind each piece.
All Tiny Tags are made in Massachusetts and Rhode Island with over 14 artisans involved in each piece. I think most people are surprised to see how manual the process is and how involved. We want our jewelry to last forever and are committed to offering the finest, personalized jewelry on the market which is why we guarantee all our jewelry for life.
You have celebrity clients such as Selma Blair, when did celebrities first start wearing Tiny Tags and how did this feel?
Nicole Phelps was the first celebrity to wear Tiny Tags and when she shared it on Instagram, I couldn’t believe the response. However, the absolute most pinch-me moment, running around my house, was when Meryl Streep wore our 14k gold circle pendant with her four children’s’ names on it. Not only did she wear it – she wore it for the NY Times and Washington Post photoshoots! It was such an honor because she is wearing it as a mom of four children who are grown and out of the house, and she probably misses them. Plus my grandmother was so proud and told everyone!
If you could go back to before you started your business, what advice would you give yourself? What’s the hardest part about running your own company?
I wish I dreamt bigger in the beginning. When I started my boys were little and I was happy if made enough money to help with groceries for the week. If I had dreamt bigger I would have done things differently in the beginning.
And what’s the most rewarding part?
The list of rewards is endless, but I think hearing from our moms and what Tiny Tags means to them is the most rewarding. We hear so many stories and while most are ones of celebration, it is the stories of loss that stay with me. I have cried with and for so many moms that are dealing with the unthinkable loss of a child or have children fighting terminal illnesses. Every day I am reminded how precious and fragile this gift of motherhood is and never to take it for granted.
What has been the most challenging stage of motherhood for you?
I think I am entering it now as my oldest son has just started high school. I have to let him grow and trust him. He plays football so he hangs out with seniors and the question of driving with seniors has already come up. The decisions he makes and the decisions I make now can have really serious implications, and that is scary.
You connect with so many different mothers from all over the world – what are some stories that stand out for you?
I came across a mom on Instagram who lived in Australia who lost her child at 8 months old to a very rare genetic disorder. I reached out to her and we sent her a Tiny Tags with the words ‘our shooting star’ on the back in honor of her daughter. Since losing her daughter she has struggled to conceive and has been through rounds and rounds of IVF. We do a series called Story Behind the Tag, where moms share what their Tiny Tags mean to them and we featured her because she wanted to share her story. Her picture and her story are framed in our office alongside other Stories Behind the Tags because every day I want to be reminded of our community of moms and the stories we have been blessed to be part of.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I wake up early and answer emails and on a good day I work out. My two older boys leave by 7:30 so I am there getting them off to school and then my little one gets up and is out of the house by 8:30. Then I am straight to the office. We have a home office where six of our team members come every day, plus we have 3 remote team members. I spend most of my day working on business development, new designs and meeting with our team. Our entire team is made up of moms (except my husband, Mike) so we are always chatting about new recipes, new ideas for Tiny Tags and all of our kids so I absolutely love working with a group of women.
What are some practical tips you can share for working mothers around time management – how do you get it all done?
I try to prioritize things in my life. So for me, perfectly folded laundry is not high on my list and my boys do their own laundry and have for many years. But when a 9-year-old does laundry, it is not perfect and that is ok with me. My favorite quote is, ‘it is a journey, not a destination,’ when I feel overwhelmed.
Your husband also works with you at Tiny Tags – what are some tips for a successful working relationship with your partner?
My husband joined three years ago after I convinced him to take a leap of faith on me and it was the best decision we ever made! The first 8 months were really hard as we figured out each other’s working styles but now we both have very specific roles and responsibilities. The hardest part is not talking work when we are on date night.
You’re passionate about giving back to the community – can you tell us more?
Giving back is part of who we are as a company. Over the years we have organized St Jude walks, donated 100 necklaces to a homeless shelter on Mother’s Day, and donated necklaces to Boston Children’s Hospital at Christmas. I think my favorite was putting on a birthday party at a local homeless shelter and bringing food and gifts for the birthday child.
One of our most heartfelt events that we launched last year was our Love Ambassador program. On Valentine’s Day, we asked our community of moms to gather their little ones and bring flowers (that Tiny Tags provided) to their local senior center or assisted living home and give them out.
We handed out close to 600 flowers perfectly paired with a smile from a child saying Happy Valentine’s Day. Not only did these children bring joy and smiles to all the seniors – it showed our children that they alone are the gift. At the end of the day, I feel so incredibly blessed for the gifts in my life and we want to help others and pay it forward. If anyone would like to join our 2020 Love Ambassador program please email me!
You earned a BA in philosophy from University of Massachusetts, an MS in accounting, and MBA from Northeastern – how have these skills come into play running your company?
Understanding accounting is crucial for running a business and being able to do my own books in the early years saved me a lot of money. However, I think I have learned just as much from joining organizations like EO (Entrepreneur Organization) and from reading business books.
How do you switch off/unwind?
I love taking my little york poo on a walk in the woods.
If you could jump online and buy something from Tiny Tags right now, what would it be?
Our skinny bar is my favorite – I have my boys birth times on the back because my son was sad when I couldn’t remember what time he was born.
Finally, how have platforms such as Instagram helped your business grow?
It amazes me the power of Instagram. We were in People magazines Mother’s Day gift guide which was a huge event for us and that happened because I sent a message to the editor through Instagram. Instagram has created an entire community for us. We receive dozens of messages a day through Instagram and we are constantly interacting with our community through it.