Starting a business takes dedication, vision and lots of hard work. Starting multiple interlocking businesses and raising a little girl at the same time? That takes something approaching superhero status.
Achieving a balance
But, to Meca McKinney, owner of Jypsea Eclectic Handcrafted Leathergoods, a career as a serial entrepreneur is actually a way to find some work-life balance. At Jypsea, McKinney does the design work she’s always loved, making high-end leather bags, and helps budding designers through teaching and consulting work. Because she does it on her own terms, she can also make time for her eight-year-old daughter, volunteering in the girl’s classroom, or just hanging out after school.
“I knew from when I was about 11 that I was going to be a fashion designer, and I never had a plan B,” McKinney said.
She started realizing that dream early. As a freshman at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, she took night and weekend classes, which meant getting to know people who were already employed in the fashion industry and taking classes in their off time. Soon, one of her new friends told her about a temporary opening to fill in for a spec technician—a designer who deals with the technical specifications of apparel orders—who was taking a maternity leave.
“Mind you it was my freshmen year,” McKinney said. “I didn’t even know what a spec technician was, but I knew I wanted to get my foot in the door.”
juggling life,, school, family and work
McKinney continued working in the corporate fashion world while she took the rest of her classes for an associate’s degree from FIT. In 2001, when the fashion industry went into a dip following 9-11, she opened her own vintage store, which she named PYT for “Pretty Young Things.”
“I decided I would bring in my sewing machine when it was slow and made reversible tote bags” she said. “They sold better than anything else I was selling. It was crazy. I was so excited about that.”
Eventually, though, McKinney shifted to other priorities. She got married, finished her degree and had her baby. At first she thought she’d continue her corporate career, pumping breast milk in the office bathroom and keeping up with her childless colleagues, but she soon found that plan wasn’t for her.
“There’s no flexibility,” she said. “It’s not like you can work 11 to 7. It’s strictly 9 to 5—and 5 is really a fantasy because if you walk out the door at 5 everyone else is frowning at you, and you’re not a team player. You’re expected to stick around the office and keep working until 7, 7:30.”
So, when her daughter was six months old, McKinney decided to try staying home. But that didn’t mean sitting still. She quickly began her second entrepreneurial enterprise, a line of natural skin and spa products called InnerGlo.
“I would be literally with my baby on my hip stirring my potions on the stove, melting the shea butter and adding the coconut oil,” she said.
returning to the corporate world and growing a business
She built her own website, packaged her products and took her baby with her to craft shows. When she finally decided to give up the business, she sold it to another woman who wanted to leave a corporate job and work for herself. The Innerglo brand is still alive today, and McKinney said she talks with the new owner now and then.
The next shift in McKinney’s eventful career came when her marriage collapsed. Her daughter was just three at the time, but McKinney decided she had to go back to the corporate world.
It was a rough time for both mother and daughter. The girl was shaken by her parents’ split, and McKinney had to put her in daycare for 11 hours to commute from their home in New Jersey into New York City for an eight-hour workday. “I would be the first parent there and the last parent to pick up,” she said. “Every day I’d be on the train, I’d be crying, I’d feel so awful.”
McKinney had two jobs in a year and was laid off twice as companies fell short on their budgets. Finally, she decided the corporate life wasn’t for her. She went back to school for her bachelor’s degree and back to entrepreneurship, reviving the Jypsea brand she had created years before.
“I so missed making handbags,” she said. “It’s one of those things that I would do if no one paid me to do it. It’s one of those things I’m going to do until my last breath.”
But McKinney also expanded the Jypsea brand way beyond making handbags. She’s written a book aimed at young designers who want to start a line of accessories. She’s done art installations, and she develops visual displays for a jewelry company. She also leads workshops and classes on design skills for children and adults, and she’s found she has a passion for teaching.
Refining the work-life balance
“When you’re home, you can get a lot more accomplished,” she said. “It’s just about time management.”
Financially, the shift to self-employment wasn’t easy, but McKinney said she had a bit of a cushion because her ex-husband has been good about paying child support, and she also received alimony for a couple of years. Today, she still doesn’t have health insurance, though her daughter is covered under her dad’s plan.
“I just work out a lot, and I eat really healthy,” McKinney said, though she added that she’s looking into low-cost insurance plans.
McKinney plans her work days around her daughter’s schedule, sometimes getting work done at 3 a.m. and other times adjusting her afternoons to accommodate the little girl when she’s sick. She also takes time to volunteer in her daughter’s school, something many parents can’t manage because they have to work during regular business hours.
“I have made a life out of working around my responsibilities around my daughter and yet doing things that bring me joy,” she said.
Written by: Livia Gershon