Hi, Michelle! Thanks for sitting down with us on International Women's Day.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Hello! Of course. My name is Michelle, I’m 36 years old, and I’m the Co-Founder and CMO of Sunday Citizen, a company I started together with my husband, Mike, and our business partner, Michael, around 3 years ago. I’m also a proud mom of 3 kids.
Take us back to the start. Where did your story begin?
I was born and raised in San Jose, Costa Rica, as one of 4 siblings. That’s where I studied advertising, completed my MBA with a Marketing Focus, and then started my career. My first few jobs after graduating were in advertising and marketing (where I worked with fashion brands like Tommy Hilfiger and Kenneth Cole). I also worked in a start-up; I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit, so particularly loved working in a company that was in its early stages.
Tell us more about the start of Sunday Citizen. What sparked the company’s creation?
Mike and I had spoken about the possibility of combining our expertise in textiles, product development and sourcing (him) and marketing, branding, and advertising (me), but it all came to fruition in 2018, when we were living in China.
An entrepreneur, Michael, approached Mike about trying to create the softest blanket ever for his branch of luxury hotels. The product needed to be easy-care. It had to maintain cashmere-like softness even through hotel wear and tear, and those huge industrial washing machines! Mike started working obsessively to create the perfect blankets, and they became a huge hit. Guests requested to buy them, many even mysteriously “went missing”, and interest soared.
That’s where it all began. I fell in love with the product and knew we were on to something. I got involved and we started to create a brand around it. We finally decided to launch with more products and start selling direct to consumer.
Wow! What a story.
You mentioned China. That’s just one of many countries you’ve lived in - correct?
Yes! Aside from Costa Rica, I lived in Israel for 2 years after graduating from University, and then moved to Miami in 2012 where I later met Mike and got married. Together, we moved to Boston in 2016, back to Miami the following year, all the way to China in 2018, back to Costa Rica right before the pandemic (supposedly a 3-week holiday that turned into one year – we were incredibly lucky with the timing!), and then finally back to Miami.
What an adventure! How has all that moving been, while raising a family and starting a company?
It’s been an amazing adventure, but obviously it’s had its challenges. Mike and I had 3 children in under 5 years, while moving around the world and creating Sunday Citizen. The work-life balance can be hectic. Being a part-time mom (of course) doesn’t exist, but at the same time, when you start your own company, part-time work doesn’t either. Both require complete dedication and energy, and giving any less than that, to either one, was never an option.
So, how have you managed to do it all?
Honestly? I haven’t. I think, as a working mom, it’s so important to be transparent about that. I don’t want to sell a dream that doesn’t exist. There are struggles every single day, and frustration and tears. I’m pulled in different directions - grocery shopping, cooking, and trying to be as present as I can for my kids, while also going into the office every day where I breastfeed my youngest baby at my desk.
Even if, nowadays, the world tells you that you can, I don’t think anyone can do it all. We just need to remember that we’re only human.
Thank you for your honesty - that’s really refreshing.
Do you have any tips for other working moms out there?
The main thing I would say is to try and focus on being 100% present in whatever you’re doing. Do one thing at a time, and do it well. Even though I technically have less time to dedicate to work now that I’m a mom, I feel I’ve actually become more productive, because I’ve learned to not get distracted by things. When I’m working, I’m working, and when I’m with my kids, I’m fully with my kids. It’s a very mindful process.
Also, learning to prioritize is key - focus on the things that matter, stress less about the things that don’t, and be decisive.
That’s very useful advice.
How have you found working so closely with your husband?
People always ask me this! Thankfully, for us, it actually works very well. We’ve learned to keep work and home life separate, and we also know our strengths and departments within the business. Mike and I challenge each other more than anyone else; we push harder than a co-worker usually would. This can lead to some strong discussions (!) but I think it also brings out the best in us. For me, an important goal of marriage is to help each other grow and become better people, and a work partnership is very similar – we help each other grow, professionally.
Another plus to working with Mike is that our priorities are fully aligned. We know each other inside and out, and we’re both aware of what’s going on at home, so we don’t have to justify why we’re making certain decisions. There’s never any doubt that we’re doing what’s best for the company and our family.
What have been some of the high points on your journey to creating Sunday Citizen?
There have been some amazing moments so far, for which I’m very grateful. Starting a business during the pandemic was far from easy, yet it feels like everything came together at just the right time for people to receive what we were offering: a way to elevate your downtime and relaxation, to take care of yourself and be kind to yourself, through soft, cozy, homey things that bring so much joy. Watching the company grow so rapidly has been incredibly rewarding.
Having my children go on this journey with us has also been a huge blessing. My eldest learned to crawl on top of our Sunday Citizen blankets! And during product development, our kids always let us know which samples are their favorites by choosing the softest ones to fall asleep on. They’re some of our harshest critics!
That is so sweet!
How about some of the challenges you’ve had to face?
Aside from those I’ve mentioned as a working mom, I think the main challenge I’ve faced is trying to effectively communicate our brand’s values and ideals to our target audience, despite English not being my first language. When Sunday Citizen first started, I was in charge of all of our communications – social media, emails, and website copy. I not only had to be very careful of my language accuracy, but also had to become more attuned to our customer’s needs, to reach and represent them.
Another thing is that, naturally, I’m not a showy person. I’m very low key and prefer to keep an intimate, close circle. At the same time, I realize how important it is for people to get to know us, our faces and our story as Sunday Citizen grows. So there’s a balance I need to strike.
Thanks for being so candid, Michelle. It’s been great talking to you.
Finally, what can we expect from Sunday Citizen in the future?
We have a lot of great things in the pipeline! There’s a whole bunch of incredible loungewear pieces launching soon, which is very exciting. We will also be bringing out a new Bath collection, with ultra-soft absorbent towels made in Portugal. Finally, we’re taking everything we’ve learned - and continue to learn - about what our customers love to bring you an even wider variety of cozy, high-quality home goods. Watch this space.