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Secrets of Success: Kate Pietrasik

There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.

Meet: Kate Pietrasik, a single mother who in 2011 started Tootsa MacGinty, a line of children’s clothing to provide parents with cute, stylish and gender-neutral clothes for kids. Kate’s young daughter was the inspiration for the brand.

Kate was ahead of her time—Target just announced it’s going gender-neutral in its toy department—and Tootsa MacGinty collections don’t have separate sections for boys and girls. The clothes are colorful, bright and cheerful.

You can find Kate on Twitter @TootsaMacGinty. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Kate Pietrasik: I’ve always loved art, doodling, drawing and making stuff. As a kid I wanted to be an illustrator—or to work with animals. I suppose I’ve somehow managed to combine the two! Why did you start your own business?

Pietrasik: As a single parent with a nine-month-old baby daughter, it was partially out of boredom and partially out of dismay whilst shopping for baby wear. I was shocked by the gendered aisles in the clothing and toyshops, and dismayed at the inappropriate “mini-adult” fashions I was expected to buy for my little girl.

I had been working as a freelance women’s wear designer for several years, with various companies in Europe, and I could no longer travel. The evenings were long and I felt very passionately there would be other parents out there wanting to buy colorful, stylish clothing with gentle, childlike graphics for their children too. And that sparked the idea for a unisex children’s wear collection. Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?

Pietrasik: Tootsa received really positive feedback from the very beginning. Taking orders during our first trade show, we could tell there was a real appetite for an alternative to gendered clothing, but nothing prepared me for the amount of press support. We were featured in so many different publications from the very start and it really helped to boost the brand’s profile. What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?

Pietrasik: That making mistakes is an important part of the process. We learn from experience and if, in business, we are too cautious and too afraid of failure it could hinder the development or growth of your idea. It can feel like it’s two steps forward, one step back at times… and that’s OK. What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?

Pietrasik: Find your “social media” voice and reach out to your customers and followers in a warm, inclusive, non-patronizing way. After all, your secret weapon is probably your network and you can never have too many friends. Your customers will hopefully be like-minded, passionate people who would like to be involved in what you’re doing. Grab their support and knowledge—and then pay it forward. Do you have a 2015 small business prediction?

Pietrasik: In the kids’ wear industry I see a real trend towards smaller, more specialized boutiques both on- and offline. Brick-and-mortar stores have to work really hard to offer a pleasant shopping experience for parents and children with curated collections and in-store activities, coffee shops within clothing stores and a much more personal experience.

Dwindling finally are the pink girl and blue boy aisles as parents have become more savvy to those marketing techniques and are demanding more diversity for their children.

I also see an increase in Web shops using video and more “blog”/lifestyle/magazine style content to lure shoppers in a smart way. What’s your favorite book?

Pietrasik: Let My People Go Surfing by Yvon Chouinard. Chouinard is a climber, environmentalist and founder of Patagonia, the outdoor clothing company. Let My People Go Surfing is his memoir and a must read for anyone who wants to peek behind the scenes and gain insight into the creation of a brand with a distinct, clear, environmental message and a drive to just do the right thing. Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?

Pietrasik: “For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” – Steve Jobs