Many of the best businesses and products are born out of necessity. Often that necessity starts as a personal one and is quickly recognized to have the potential of being massive. You hear the stories every day; a seemingly simple idea that explodes. They’re impressive and often lead the rest of us to wonder, “Where’s my big money-making idea?” because let’s face it, the development of businesses and products are first and foremost to make money. Right? Well, Cristina Polk thinks differently.
Almost two years ago, Polk became a mom for the third time and found herself, as most moms could understand, stretched. With three little ones, she found herself, more often than not, nursing her newest addition on the go. So it was imperative for her to have a decent cover for when her little man needed to eat. The problem was though, she didn’t like anything that was out there. So she made one of her own.
“I made this thing,” Polk remembered, “and then my friends started liking it and asking, ‘What is that?’”
And the light bulb went off.
Polk saw an opportunity for something more, recognizing her need may just serve the needs of more than just herself and her family. Quickly she started brainstorming what would become Lil Haven, “Covers for a Cause.”
When she saw the interest in the cover she made, she, like many entrepreneurs, immediately saw potential and started making plans. But instead of seeing dollar signs or profit for herself, she was excited at the idea of having a product that could start her on a venture of giving back.
“I knew that I wanted to give back for every purchase that I sold,” Polk said.
Straight out the door Polk had a cause in mind. Remembering a friend from college, Stephanie Giddens, Polk decided that for every cover sold, she wanted to give a portion to her and her nonprofit, Vickery Trading Company, whose mission is to “operate a children’s clothing company that renews hope for refugee women.” This is done by employing women refugees living in Dallas, Texas, having come from war torn areas like Berma, Nepal, Sudan, Eritrea and Syria. Giddens, both Founder and President of Vickery Trading Company works to not only provide these women with jobs that pay fair wages, but also provides them with education classes, mentoring and counseling services and an overall sense of community and belonging. It is a cause that strongly resonated with Polk and her belief in empowering and helping other women.
When Polk first began designing her covers and formulating her soon-to-be business, she settled on the name, Lil Haven. Named after her first daughter, Lillian, as she saw her journey into motherhood as her own personal haven and recognized that these covers and blankets she made were like little havens for babies. As her plans took shape and she came in contact with Giddens and fell head first into the undertaking of Vickery Trading Company, she felt like these covers could also be a haven for the women Giddens employed.
“This partnership is such a good fit because Cristina and I both desire to empower women through the work we do,” explained Giddens. “No one knows the needs of a woman better than another woman. The biggest lesson I’ve learned since I started working with refugees is that when we take time to get to know one another, we’re incredibly similar. Put aside skin color, clothing and language and we’re all daughters, sisters, wives, mothers. We share a bond of common experiences that help us to relate across cultural boundaries. When we start to see women as sisters instead of ‘different’, we accomplish a lot more and actually help people in the ways they need — and we end up making new friends along the way. We’ve been able to build an incredibly strong community at VTC by focusing on this. Our associates did not want to work together when they first started. They were from opposing countries and religious sects. But we spent time every day focusing on our similarities and common experiences — staff, volunteers and interns included. Now we’re a like a tight-knit family and it’s absolutely beautiful to watch.”
Having first found a manufacturer in California, as Polk wanted to make sure that everything was made in the U.S.A., her relationship with Vickery Trading Company was strictly that of a kind of mentorship with Giddens, who helped guide Polk on her journey into starting her own business, and charity, as she pledged a portion of her sales to help further Giddens’ cause. However, as Polk was in the early stages of trying to get her business off the ground, she found herself increasingly unhappy with the product she was getting from her manufacturer and realized she had a better solution right in front of her.
“We talked one day and I just asked her [Giddens], ‘Hey is there any way that you guys can make my product?’ Because that’s my dream – to not only employ women, to empower women – if they can make it I think that’s helping way more than giving a percentage.”
With that, the two of them went off. Together they started pattern making, looking at Polk’s designs, which includes a pocket in the cover that is handy for holding pacifiers or keys, but also enables the cover to fold into itself, and securing fabrics that were all U.S.A. made.
“My heart behind it was that I knew if I wanted to start anything I wanted to give back. I didn’t want to just have a product that didn’t have a story behind it; I wanted to give back to women,” Polk said. “I just knew I wanted something that was for a purpose. The stories behind each of those women that are working for Vickery, they’re so amazing and not only is it just helping them have a job but there’s so much more that goes into that company than just giving them a job. She [Giddens] helps with ESL classes, she brought a nutritionist in, she helped them with their taxes, there’s daycare there – I mean, just so much – it’s just, their home. They have found friends, they have found a home, and to have just a small part in that, it’s pretty cool.”
What started as a need-basis for Polk to have her son covered and feel safe has grown into something much bigger: a cause, a mission. And it’s still growing and evolving. Having yet to make her money back, Polk continues to believe in this venture and what she is helping to create through Giddens and the refugee women she employs. She sees a future for Lil Haven that includes going beyond just nursing and grocery cart covers but also t-shirts, blankets, bows, hair bands and hats. There is a whole brand inside her head where she hopes to change her motto of “covers for a cause” to “threads for a cause” and while, like most start ups, it is a slow process with a deep learning curve, it is evident that with her attitude and grace, only good things will continue to develop.
“I’ve come to peace that if it takes me a while, it takes me a while and that’s okay,” said Polk, who with the exception of the sewing, which is done by the women at Vickery, runs Lil Haven all on her own, designing covers and blankets, running and maintaining her website, marketing, social media, etc., “To have a purpose for anything that I do, and for me, God has given me my life, he has given me my purposes: to love my husband – to love him and to love my kids. And I feel like anything I do should have a purpose, so I want to give back to people who are loving others just as well.”
Many of the best businesses and products are born out of necessity but all of the best people and causes are born out of love.