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July 21, 2022 23 mins

In part 2 of our conversation with Sarah LaFleur, we dive deeper into the story of her life and building the iconic clothing brand M.M.LaFleur. 

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
I'm Sam Edis and I'm Amy Nelson. Welcome to What's
Her Story? With Sam and Amy. This is a show
about the world's most remarkable women, their professional and personal journeys. Together,
we'll hear from gold medalists, best selling authors, and leaders
of the world's most iconic brands. Listen every Thursday or
join the conversation anytime on Instagram at What's Her Story Podcast.

This is part two of our two part series with
entrepreneur Sarah Leflour, CEO and founder of clothing brand mm Leflour. Sarah,
you have had a wild two years personally. Yeah, yes,
you you went through a lot and then I mean
this just expansive beauty that you welcomed three babies in

seven weeks. Yeah, I know, it was. It was insane.
It this was all through COVID as well. And you
know what, actually, I honestly think that got me through it.
I think if I had if I were like a
percent my job, which is I would say definitely how
I was pretty kids, then I think I might have
just crumbled under the stress. But there was something about like, oh, well,

like I've got three humans, defeat, got gotta go. You
know that, like made it somehow manageable. But yes, the
backing up a little bit, Yes, my long story is that, um,
you know I struggled to get pregnant for really well yeah,
for a while. But I think pretty early on I
learned that I had a congenital condition called a unicornuate uterus,

which basically means I have half a uterus. It's kind
of shape like a banana, which is so strange. It's
a it's a banana shaped uterus, and I have one
fallopian tube. And so you know, as it is, like
my chase are getting a pregnant or lower just because
like you ovulate not you know, you're not always rotating
one one um ovulating from one over versus the other,

but just it just basically means your chances are kind
of have to begin with. And then the biggest problem
was that they you know, they said, like, you're you're
likely to miscarry in your second trimester, even your third trimester,
so you probably want to consider surrogacy from the get go.
And I, you know, I had a hard time kind
of getting over that emotionally, Like that was a big

hurdle for me. So you know, I was like, well,
why don't I why don't I try first with IVF
and multiple miscarriages, you know, things really just like not
playing out the way I had hoped. And that went
on for basically two plus two and a half years,
and ultimately, um, we did turn to surrogacy and I

my husband Chris, and I met this incredible woman, Tricia,
who is the mom of two girls, twin girls, and
she agreed to be our carrier and we tried one
transfer with her um in that ild, which was devastating
because you kind of think like this is the last thing. Um, Like,

if this doesn't work, I don't know where else to turn. Anyway,
it didn't work, and so I said, Okay, I want
to try it one more time with a slightly different
protocol at IVF protocol. I got pregnant, but I was,
you know, pretty sure I was going to miscarry again.
So I was like, let's try one more time with Tricia.
And Tricia said, you know, I wanted to try with
two embryos, like I feel like it's going to work

this time. And anyway, we did it, and somehow that
was the time that it worked. And this is like literally,
I want to say, like three weeks before we went
into lockdown, but Mushi Tricia ended up giving birth to
our twins in September, and and I actually, I'm kind
of convinced that the only reason I actually was able

to carry it a term was because of COVID. As
terrible as that sounds, like I was at home all
the time, like I wasn't running around like a crazy person,
and uh, I always had my feet up, so I am.
And actually that's that's been like I think that's been
reported in the New York Times that like they were
seeing historic rates of a decrease in Nikkei babies during COVID.

But anyway, so so they were born back to back,
and we flew out to Minnesota in September to welcome them.
And yeah, I mean I owed Tricia everything. And then
you gave birth when August early August? Did you take
your baby with you to meet his siblings? So we
didn't because we were so worried about COVID and it

looks like we were going to have to quarantine. It
was all like the it was one of those days
where the state laws were constantly changing to say, like
which state is now on the quarantine list versus which state?
Which States are not, and we were terrified that Kento
was going to get COVID. And that was again a
time we didn't know all that much about kids in COVID.

So we ended up leaving in with my mother in
law and my aunt. My parents were still in Japan
this at this point. They didn't actually get to meet
the kids until they were closer to one, but my
bless them, My my mother in law my aunt were
champions and you know, they did all the night feeds
and all of that, and so we brought them back.
I think about it about ten days later. So what

is the day like now? I mean, now you are
running a company and you have three small children. I
will be I will say like, I do it with
a lot of help, and I just want to be
like super transparent about this because um, I've got a
nanny and a no pair and that is how we
make it work. And we've also got my mother in

law often coming to help, and my parents often coming
to help. And I somehow still feel like that's not
enough help. You know, just a month ago we all
had COVID and so it was just me, my husband
and actually my mom also got COVID with us which
was actually it helped because we had three adults instead
of two, and all of our kids dad COVID, and

I surprisingly got really really sick, to the point where
like day twelve, I'm having to take pax Lovid and um,
it was so hard. And then the day we're supposed to,
you know, emerge from quarantine, our nanny got COVID, and
actually right now our pair has COVID. So like it
just if I'm being totally honest, it does feel like
I am solving for one day at a time. You know,

it's like every single day, I'm like, okay, do we
have childcare today? Okay, good, I can go to work.
So I don't know, do you have tips? My tip
like listening to you a like, it is really hard,
and COVID has made parenting children so much harder in
different ways for babies, in different ways for teenagers. Right

my kids are young, they're seven. I have four girls
who are seven, six, four, and three. But listening to
your story, like I had to text Sam earlier today
and I was like, just so you know, today's madness
because there's no babysitter and the kids don't have camp,
there's COVID and another and one of my siblings families
and everything's a mess. But like I think that used
to derail me completely and now I'm like, well, this

is just what we're doing, right, and like we have
to do the best we can with what we have
where we are in this wild different world we live in.
And everyone I work with knows like I'll like I'll
be you know, waiting for some practice and taking calls,
or I get up really early and I work for
an hour and a half. Of their styles sleep, but
like I'm not available sometimes in the middle of the
day for chunks of the day and that's life. And

then like Sam is my motherhood mentor because she's a
years ahead of me. But the other thing I would
say too, is just that like there are there are
some things of like that I do tactically, Like I
put all of my kids clothes in the laundry room.
They live in the clip the clothes stay in the
laundr room. Their closets and their bedrooms are empty. That's
really I don't care. It's like you're all getting dressed

in here hours of time and then and they're fine
with it. And the other thing is I do the
same thing for dinner every Monday, the same thing every Tuesday,
the same thing every Wednesday, which makes grocery ordering super easy.
I don't think about it. I change it like every
a few months. But that's it. That's amazing advice. It
reminds me of my mom when when I was like

folding the baby clothes once, she was like, why are
you folding them? And I was like I don't know.
She was like, just put them in a basket and
put it away and you can just dig for whatever
you need. And I was like, okay, just like surprisingly
saved so much time. But yeah, you know, thank you
for for just even like sharing that, because I think

sometimes I feel I feel tremendous guilt, especially towards my colleagues,
you know, who are working so hard and I'm like,
oh my god, I need to like hold up my
end of the bargain. And and that has felt really
hard the past two years. And so you know, I

realized how I mean, I'm clearly super privileged. I also
run my own company, so I get to set my
own times, but it's um I do try to share
out with my team and like make it really clear,
and I am hoping I think. You know, I'm just
thinking about my executive team. It's all women. UM. Now,

it's not It wasn't like intentional. That's just kind of
how you know, people came, people left, and now we've
got an all female team. Um and for our moms
and and uh, we've all been going through some some
type of COVID COVID situation, and so I think we're
trying to show a lot of grace and understanding with
each other so that we can all make it work.

I'll share two things, Sarah. First, you clearly earned your
team's respect with your intense pre kid work ethics, So
I think you can drop the guilt there. They know
the Sarah who gives a hundred and fifty percent of
the time. You know. So this is a moment. I
like to call the first five years of parenting the
maintenance eres. It's so much manual labor and you just
have to get through them. And once the kids are

four or five, it will be ten times easier and
you'll be in the honeymoon period until the teen years.
Trust me, I know that. So this will go on
for that much longer. You're right, and I you know
it's um, I mean, I love my job, so I
and also you know, I'm founder CEO. I would never leave.
But it is one of those moments where I suddenly

was like, oh, I get why women leave the workforce now,
and I know, and I've got to like a super supportive,
truly like fifty fifty husband. But it's just I seem
to be like, well, I mean, he's definitely affected by
it too. What we joke, we're like one of us
has to be the wife, who is it gonna be?

So yeah, okay, so so three more years, three more years.
These baby years are really short and our careers are long,
so it's important not to make short term decisions that
affect your career forever. Amy and I tried to share
this with women, because once you get through those tougher years,
you'll be so happy you maintained what you had. Yeah.
Also you can, like you can still build during these years.

Like you know, I started the riveter when I was
I didn't know it, but I was pregnant with my
third daughter in three years and like you can do that,
like like you, Sarah, I would say, I hadn't a
wild amount of support. I had to nanny's and my mother,
and it never felt all the same. Like, you're not
alone in that when you have many children from young
Sam had her kids close together to you need a

massive amount of support and that is a big privilege
to do that, but it's a privilege that you pay
for completely. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I also think you know,
Sam has always said this to me because I'm still
I'm still in that phase right my youngest is three.
But it also applies to your marriage. I mean you're
talking about you know, like with your husband's also juggling
with taking care of the kids and his job, but

like your marriage during this period. Like when people ask
me how my marriage is, I'm like, it's fine, but
like we have little kids, what does this even matter? Right?
Like the focus right now? Right and like and like
and that's okay because you can't have everything to be
wonderful and you can't dedicate massive amounts of time to
every relationship that you have with work, with your spouse,
with your kids. Like it's just ever shifting. And so

I think that getting through these years is really hard
and there's no easy way around it. It's so true.
Um my husband, I thought, like feral cats during COVID,
I thought I thought one of us is gonna kill
the other one. I'm not true it's gonna be, but
somehow made through alive, and I think our marriage is
stronger for it. UM's test testing are We've been together

since college, so you know, I got we're almost at
seventeen years. But it is like I do wonder like
had we not had like ample time to like just
be the two of us, whether we would have survived
the past two years. So yeah, it's it's testing us
in ways I never knew possible. Absolutely, And in terms

of the guilt thing, when you're at work, you're giving
a hundred percent and at home you're giving dred percent
of your energy there, so that eliminates a lot of
the guilt, but when you're feeling guilty in either place,
you're not giving a hundred percent. I used to feel
so guilty going on business trips when my kids were little,
and then I realized I wasn't doing anyone any good
because my trip wasn't going as well as it could

because I was feeling guilty, And then my kids weren't
benefiting from the guilt. So instead I kind of shifted
my mindset and I'd get on the plane and commit
to leaving it all behind and being present on the trip,
and that would allow me to be more present and
focused on my kids when I got home. I love that,
I think, I said, my mom's an entrepreneur. But she
said something to me when we were all in COVID

lockdown together. She said, um, my job is my most
is the most interesting thing in my life. But the
children are the most important thing in my life. And
I thought that was a good perspective. And I was like, fine, fine,
we're not the most interesting. I never thought we were.
But you know, how does she feel about your career

and the fact that you've taken the entrepreneurial path. I
think when I said I was going to quit my
most private equity because she private equity job, she was like,
are you in the state? Are you out of your mind?
But then I was like, she's an entrepreneur in two
so there's like clearly, you know, she could not have
imagined the apple falling that far from the tree. And
I think she gets it. She said, she said to me,
when starting a business is like taking off your stockings.

It's like once you put them off, you can never
put them back on. She's very philosophical, but I think
it's true, you know, I am, and so she's very
very supportive. Um really like she was, you know, a
pioneer in many ways. Like she she lives in Japan.
She started her own business in in the early nineties,
really unheard of, I mean in Japan period, but like

especially you know, thirty years ago, kind of just it
didn't exist. And she always said, um, you know, my
company is the kind of company where work in life
mix all the time, and that's okay. So if if
one of my kids calls me during the work day,
I'm going to take the call. And if your mom
is ill and you want to go home and take

care of her, you go do that. And so she
she you know, she's been running her company now for
thirty years, and you know, it's a collective of these
women who have a lot of caretaking responsibilities, whether that's
Asian parents or younger kids or now grandkids. But she's like,
it's all people who love to work, and so we
just kind of all make it work. And I think,

I mean, she's obviously, um, a big hero of mine,
but I think in many ways, the her way of
of approaching things has kind of slipped into my subconscious
and it's just so different from I think how I
was trained to work being in corporate America the first
few years where I actually remember this one conversation or

like one of my one of my colleagues was really
sick and she needed to go to the emergency room
and her boss said something to the effective, well, like,
you can't really get sick at this job, as though
it were like a choice, you know, But that's that's
actually so much of I think how corporate America operates
or and has offer read it. Hopefully it's starting to

change a little bit, and so I really am trying
to do something different. I think I myself am the
test case, like, you know, can I make it work?
And hopefully can other people benefit from it where women
can stay in the workforce and and and also feel
like they can be there for the people who are
important for her. And now a quick break. We're gonna

go to the speed round now, so we'll ask some
brief questions and you can give us quick answers. What
book are you reading. It's called The Magician. It's amazing,
so it's home. I'm not going to pronounce his last
name correctly, it's a it's an Irish last name, toy Bin.
But anyway, it's an amazing book. It's about Thomas Mann,

the great author, and who was gay, and it's it's
I mean, it's fiction, but it's it's uh, it's seen
through his eyes growing up in in Germany, part of
a Jewish, a really well established Jewish family, and what
happened to him. And I should say like maybe, and
fiction is totally my escape. I think it's like the

one thing that really takes my mind off a lot
of the things that are going on. Your mom's drink
of choice was whiskey. What's your drink of choice? I
love to drink um. But actually right now I've been
drinking a lot of spin drift because I feel like
I can't handle my alcohol the way I used to,
So I am. I'm actually as soon as I put
the kids to bed, I just like pop a spin

drift grapefruit the grape fruit flavor, and I actually poured
into a wine glass and it makes me feel like
I'm having a cocktail. Who leaves you star struck? Gosh,
I'm gonna have to go with dear drink. Quinn She's
the founder and CEO of Lafayette One, which is just
an incredible brand. And she is a founder CEO that
I admire so much, and whenever I'm in her presence,

I just feel like I want to like suck all
of her wisdom. Um and anyway, so she she's wonderful.
Where do you see yourself in ten years? Oh, I
hope I'm CEO of I'm am or I love it
And maybe that's why I'm on an entrepreneur like I don't.
I don't see myself like starting many many many businesses.

Like I think like I found something I really like
and I would love to keep doing it. Lou Burns
has been listening to our entire interview. He comes in
at the end with a male perspective. Take it away, Lou,
I'm wondering about your husband and what he felt and
thought the moment like maybe like during the trimester when

you both realize that, like, oh ship, we're going to
have three more mouths butts in this house. Did you
guys have a conversation about that? What was that that moment? Like?
So actually, so when when I think I share Tricia,
our carrier said, like, let's transfer to embryos. And I

remember Chris and I said, we were about to go
visit his brother in Philadelphia. So we were sitting at
the ANTRAC station, Philidate Helfia station, and this was right
after my um the first transfer had failed, and so
we were feeling really really low and we were about
to go see family, and we were like, like, we
didn't feel like we could be like chepy about it anyway.
Chris was like, we should definitely only transfer one embryo

because what happens if we end up with twins? And
I was like, we would be so lucky if we
ended up with twins, you know. And and we actually
called the doctor to say like, is there a chance
of twins? And the doctor view of the nurse relaid
the message to us, don't worry, there's no chance of
twins because the embryo qualities are so low. And then

we ended up with twins with Tricia. And so he
was like, I told you so. I think told you so.
So I think he was like in in shock horror
way longer than I was. I just moved to Cloud
nine like stupor quickly, and he was like, what on

earth just happened? But he got over it and actually
he's like, it's easier and you could just do it
all at once what and done? So yeah, he got
there emotionally. It took a while though. Now when they
started eating solid food, was everybody assigned the child? What
was it like? So actually, I'll tell you somehow, eating

I found easier because, um, you can just like you're
feeding them with like a spoon, right, and so you're
just going from one to you know, and you can
like they're chewing while while the other one is getting fed,
and it somehow works. What I actually found hardest was
bottle feeding because it's like you have to hold up
three bottles at the same time, Like, how on earth

do you do it unless you have two people there
at all times, which is not always a given. Um,
And we ended up buying something that you definitely cannot
find in America because I think every American mom or
any American would find it so shameful. But you can.
So we found it on a Chinese Amazon website and
it's it's like like almost a necklace that you strap

around your baby's neck and you can put the bottle
in the necklace and so you can like literally you
can it can be hands free and so literally we
would just like put the necklace on all three babies
and they would feed themselves, read about like any like
mother motherhood and mothering site, and they're like, you know,
this is a really important time for you to bond

with your baby, so like hold the bottle and look
at the baby's eyes. And I was like, Nope, don't
have time for that, Like put on your necklace, like
it's time to eat. Amy. I loved Sarah. She's so fantastic.
I feel like we'd be great friends with her. I
don't know. She makes me want to start an entrepreneur
support group and invite her to be the first member.

She's incredible and you know, it's it's really interesting. One
of the things I thought was most interesting in speaking
to her was like you said, it's super clear she
has this incredible work ethic right, and that she built
this company out of an idea. She hired someone to
find her co wonder to design the clothes she envisioned
in her mind, and she has stuck with the growth

for over a decade and like that is really hard
with the startup. I mean when she said she was
clear and tenure, she still wanted to be the CEO
of and on the FLOORA. I was like, really, because
I don't know if I can slow be the CEO
of The Riveter, I might be dead. But but it's
really like, she has this incredible work ethic, and it's
interesting to see someone with that work ethic transition into

motherhood and the way we think about work, you know,
when we're in those early years of motherhood, when you're
like all of us in your workaholics and what that means.
And she was just really honest about it, and I
thought it was really interesting. I think because I'm in
the thick of your four as an entrepreneur, I just
found her perspective so comforting and helpful and inspiring. I
was so appreciative of how honest and unfiltered she was.

Thanks for listening to What's Her Story with Sam and Amy.
We would appreciate it if you leave her of you
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