Not only is Stephanie Bailey an entrepreneur to be reckoned with, she's also a woman with serious style.
As the founder of MAMA MUSE, she has brought a refreshing take to the maternity and post-partum industry that has previously been overtaken by frumpy smocks and ill-fitting pants. Giving maternity wear longevity with her highly edited collection of effortless urban essentials, MAMA MUSE is fast becoming the go-to maternity brand for those wanting comfort with cool factor. As a mum of three, Stephanie had long struggled to find well-constructed maternity basics that reflected her own sense of style when she decided to take up creative reins for her own line and launched MAMA MUSE in 2018. Drawing inspiration from the street fashion of London where she spent most of her years, MAMA MUSE was born with the fundamental premise of creating a universally flattering collection of quality contemporary maternity wear that works both during and after pregnancy. Stephanie’s enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and fashion, combined with her law degree and fashion design background, has seen her deliver her dream of becoming the brand of choice for quietly cool, coveted maternity wear. We spoke to Stephanie about all things style, and how we can maintain it in those tricky months of pregnancy and beyond.
What inspired the launch of Mama Muse?
It all started four years ago when I was pregnant with my third child, Louis. Whilst maternity wear had come a long way, I still found it challenging to find clothes that reflected my own sense of style, allowed for nursing access and could realistically be worn post bub’, thereby justifying the investment. So, in 2015, I began laying the foundations for a maternity brand that ticked these boxes and, by early 2016, had trademarked the name MAMA MUSE and tagline COOL, COVETED MATERNITY WEAR. With no formal design training, it all came from a place of passion, instinct and my own experience as a mum of three. I started researching the market, sketching designs and spent the best part of two years perfecting samples and generally obsessing over what pregnant women online and around me were wearing. The goal was to create a highly edited, universally flattering collection of quality maternity and nursing staples that were timeless but with an element of edge. Pieces that transcend pregnancy, can be styled with your existing wardrobe and still make you feel like, well, you!
Where do you seek inspiration for new collections?
I’m a visual person and love nothing more than losing myself in the pages of a fashion magazine, scrolling through Instagram or the boards of Pinterest. I’m constantly tearing out, taking screengrabs and pinning images. I definitely pay attention to what other women around me are wearing, making a mental note of what works and what doesn’t, which elements elevate an outfit and ways this could be translated into maternity and nursing wear. I’ve also learnt that good design takes time. I’ll often start with a sketch that I’ll revisit multiple times over months, making adjustments until it meets my three key criteria – quality, longevity and thoughtful design. The pieces need to look polished despite repeated washing and a changing silhouette, so details that go beyond simple ruching are important. Many of my designs incorporate concealed inner bust layers, flexible nursing-friendly necklines, soft shirring, delicate pleats, deep pockets, zip details and double-layered fabric to smooth the silhouette – all of these add functionality and interest.
Your collection is beautifully classic and can stand the test of multiple seasons of pregnancy! What do you think is the secret to dressing in a comfortable yet stylish way throughout pregnancy?
Get the foundations right! By investing in a small armory of well-cut, quality basics that you’ll wear again and again, getting dressed suddenly becomes a whole lot easier. This means finding pieces that have the feel-good factor but also work with what’s in your existing wardrobe. When you’re pregnant, comfort is key and dresses are a versatile and easy go-to for days when you’re feeling less than sparkly. Dressed up or down, they need only be paired with a covetable tote and classic white sneaker (or statement loafer, studded bootie, knotted slide – there’s so many great flats out there!) and you’re good to go. Pregnancy is probably not the time to take on a whole new style persona – think trend-aware rather than trend-driven. Once the foundations are there, I always look to accessories and styling pieces to pull it all together. Have a good rummage through your existing wardrobe and set aside layering pieces (such as a favourite blazer, cashmere longline cardigan, denim or leather jacket) and put them in a separate section of your wardrobe so they’re easy to find and throw on before heading out the door. And, don’t pack away that Gucci belt just yet! An over-the-bump belt, statement necklace or sparkly earrings, bright headscarf or knotted headband, and those super-cool shades that make you feel like you’ve still got it can be just what’s needed to give you that effortless yet ‘styled’ look.
As a mother to three young children, you must have pregnancy and motherhood style down pat. What are your tricks for finding your style as a mother?
Don’t abandon your own sense of style – practical and stylish can co-exist. There’s no doubt motherhood will change the way you dress for everyday – kids bring immense joy and, more often than not, immense mess! If you love a silk floral dress as much as I do, translate the vibe for mummy mode by pairing a floral shirt in an uplifting (and stain-concealing) print tucked into high waisted jeans (a new mum’s saviour) with crisp white sneakers or your latest loafers. You’ll still look polished but ready to juggle a newborn and sprint after a straying toddler. If you’re like me and live in your Lululemon leggings, think of easy ways to elevate the look with a great hooded jacket, quilted backpack or chic cross-body bag and metallic sneakers. If you’re at a total loss post-baby, looking to other women and influencers who are mothers can help. You’ll notice them wearing well-cut basics, more often than not in neutral colours, with creative styling – a pop of fuchsia here, a flash of leopard print there, bold jewellery or a statement jacket.
What’s a quick way to elevate an outfit when you’re feeling a little lacklustre as a pregnant woman or mother?
All hail the accessories! Once I had reorganised my dresser so that my favourite styling pieces were in my line of sight, it made daily dressing way less taxing. Be bold and throw on that cool hat that was hiding at the top of your wardrobe. Wrap a colourful headscarf around your two-second mum bun. I love delicately layered gold necklaces but it was only once I hung them on a jewellery stand on my dresser that I remembered they were there and reached for them daily. A luxurious tote-style bag that you absolutely love and that can double as a nappy bag is also a worthwhile investment. It doesn’t need to be a purpose designed one – just large enough to fit the essentials, carry over your shoulders or clip onto the stroller and, most importantly, in a wipe cleanable material (LV is my go-to). Be resourceful – that grey cashmere travel wrap also makes a perfect baby blanket on the go. A great cross-body bag is both chic and super practical if you want to keep your personal items to hand, add a pop of colour to your outfit and have everything else clipped to the stroller. Great layering pieces also make a big difference. Throw on a polished blazer over your everyday maxi dress, white tee or striped nursing top, tie a fine-knit sweater around your shoulders or add edge with a leather jacket or texture with a beautiful cardigan. Oh, and when you’re operating on the sleep cycle of an A&E surgeon, a pair of stellar sunglasses is a motherhood must – anything by Celine, Gucci or Illesteva usually does the trick. Just make sure that you put them in a hard case when you’re out and about with kids – trust me I’ve learnt the hard way!
Who are some of your pregnancy and motherhood style muses?
Laura Wills of @thefashionbugblog / www.fashionbugblog.com has amazing pregnancy style – I love the way she mixes the high and low and her earrings are nothing short of epic! Fellow Aussie Mama Boss Marcia Leone of @notsomumsy/ www.notsomumsy.comfor aspirational but relatable style and laugh out loud honesty. I recently met her at the One Fine Baby Show in Sydney – she’s such a lovely person and a big supporter of other mum-run small businesses. Lastly, Kate Waterhouse of @katewaterhouse7 / www.katewaterhouse.com– her achievements in the fashion world are too long to list, her taste is impeccable and she really understands how to push the envelope while nailing understated polish for when she’s out and about with her girls. I adore everything she wears.
What are your favourite pieces in the Mama Muse collection?
I love the Elliot Pinstripe Maternity Shirt Dress for it’s comfortable yet polished feel. The delicate under-bust shirring accentuates your bump but also works well post-baby and the mother-of-pearl style snap closures add elegance and allow for easy nursing access. It also has pockets which, as any mum knows, are a big bonus. The femininity and ease of the Anaïs Ruffled Maternity Day Dress make it effortless to wear, plus the elasticated, detachable straps allow for breastfeeding without looking like a nursing dress. It also works well post-baby. Thirdly, I love a cool graphic tee. I thought Bébé à Bord was a different and playful way to announce your pregnancy in style!
Can you tell me a little about your career before Mama Muse? How has it helped you in your business life?
My resume pre-Mama Muse is varied to say the least. I’ve been a waitress, sales assistant, lecturer, travel agent, gym manager and Pilates instructor. Throw in a few part-time courses at The London College of Fashion, a three-year stint as a manager for a cosmetic surgery company, a law degree and practising construction law for a London City firm before becoming a full-time mum and launching Mama Muse – I’m not one to rest on my laurels! The saying ‘I met you and found me’ really resonates for me. I’ve no doubt that having kids is what gave me my purpose and direction in life. I hope other mums with big dreams read this and feel encouraged to take a chance on themselves and their great ideas. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. For as long as I can remember I’ve kept a notebook beside my bed to scrawl down random musings and business plans, usually fashion-oriented but not always. I’ve dealt with people from all walks of life and recognise the importance of building relationships. My commercial background and law degree have helped with the mechanics and practicalities of running a business, but it’s becoming a mother that has taught me the most – patience, resilience, strength, courage, flexibility – these are what really help me get through the demands of each day.
As a business owner and a mother of three, how do you manage your workload?
When you’re everything from Creative Director to cleaner, and all the hats in between, there are inevitably days when it’s completely overwhelming. My husband frequently travels abroad for business, so I’ve learnt to hone my time-management skills. We’re all different but I’ve found a few simple things really make the difference between having the best laid plans and real productivity. Let go of the guilt and set aside a dedicated amount of time each day that you can live with to focus on your business or budding idea. For me, that’s three hours, and after that I need to immerse myself in my trio’s lives. If you have very young children, this is only possible with some form of outside help – a nursery, nanny, grandparents – whatever works for you. If the budget allows for it, get some help around the house. I have a cleaner come each week and it is an absolute life changer. While I couldn’t run a business without my iPhone (EVERYTHING is linked to it), I also have a paper calendar on the fridge so I can see exactly what’s on for the month ahead – both the personal and professional commitments. I put everything up there so there’s no last-minute school dress up day panics or overlooked kids party gifts. Be effective – if you’ve taken the time to open and read an email, wherever possible deal with it there and then. That school excursion consent form won’t sign itself. I love making lists and each day I’ll jot down a short list of achievable goals. There’s no better feeling than throwing it in the trash at the end of each day, plus they double as great coffee coasters. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. When you’re a mother, it’s easy to let the worry and workload consume your thoughts. If you’re going to stay sane, don’t sweat the small stuff and celebrate the small wins, whether it’s an impromptu hug from my kids or unexpected post from an influencer I admire.
What does a typical day look like in your house?
Thankfully, I’m an early bird as I haven’t needed to set an alarm clock since my eldest was born six years ago. Kick-off is usually 5.30am – I’ll unpack the dishwasher and make the kids brekkie. Mine is usually eaten standing so I can get on with packing the kids’ lunches. It’s a bit over the top but I do have a little menu planner on the fridge so I don’t have to think too much about what to pack and so it’s not cheese sandwiches every day! There’s always a 30-minute whirlwind of activity just to get out the door – half of that typically spent trying to get shoes on. I always try to get the brekkie dishes done and throw on a load of washing before I leave so when I return I can put the morning’s mayhem behind me and turn my attention to all things Mama Muse. My youngest two attend a local nursery three days per week and my eldest is at school. If it’s not a nursery day, then apart from looking after the kids, I aim to get through only the essentials – urgent emails and customer orders. On the nursery days if I’m not up against it with a looming deadline, I’ll fit in a spin, Barre or Pilates Reformer class at Rancan Sisters Fitness overlooking Sydney’s historic Headlands – one of my treasured new discoveries. If there’s lots on that week, I’ll get stuck in for the next three hours focussing on the business – marketing, design, emails, social media, shipping orders and so on. Lunch is usually leftovers, then I’ll hang out the washing and turn my attention to dinner. I try to cook as much as possible, but I’m not averse to the odd Crust Pizza or fish and chips down at Balmoral Beach on a Friday. Then it’s pick-ups and off to the playground, Little Athletics or a quick play date before heading home to jump on the dinner-bath-books-bedtime treadmill. We all eat together around 5pm and, as with breakfast, I try to do the dishes and ask the kids to help tidy up the toys before embarking on the bedtime routine – there’s nothing worse than finally getting everyone down and then being faced with an overflowing sink and indoor play centre! I start putting the kids to bed around 6.30pm, with the eldest usually asleep by 8pm. Reading together is one of my most cherished times of the day (and usually the first chance I get to put my feet up!). Even though I’ve read most of the books for what feels like the millionth time, I love that we still laugh at the same parts like a shared joke. Once the kids are asleep, I’ll spend some time getting things ready for the next day – packing backpacks, locating readers, labelling show and tell items, filling up water bottles and so on – anything to ease the morning rush. Then I’ll check my email, perhaps do an online grocery order and spend half an hour or so on Instagram. I wish I had more time to dedicate to social media as it’s so important for businesses these days, but I find too much double-tapping makes it hard to unwind and switch off. By this stage the sofa, Netflix and a hot chocolate or glass of wine (depending on the day!) beckons. Apart from the odd night out with hubby or girlfriends, I’m usually in bed by 10pm and whispering that silent mama prayer that everyone has a good night and sleeps through!
Do you have any tips or hints for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Don’t let self-doubt drive your decisions. Change the message in your head from “but what if this happens” to “let’s try it and see what happens”. Make sure you embark on something you genuinely love and enjoy doing. The reality for most entrepreneurs is years of hard (and unpaid!) graft. Find a mentor. Having a rational sounding board from someone you look up to and respect can make the world of difference. Don’t dwell on mistakes. We’ve all made countless – learn from them and move on. Have a clear vision, stay true to it and don’t worry excessively about what everyone else around you is doing. Big things have small beginnings.