We are committed to empowering women and girls at Elūm. We believe the world needs more women scientists, engineers, designers, programmers, creators, entrepreneurs and leaders. #BalanceforBetter. We believe in girls on top, women supporting women, female-led brands, Chaka Kahn, Malala Yousafzai, and She-Ra! We say a woman’s place is wherever she damn well pleases! We’re excited about a future where a women is free to love whoever she chooses and can choose to do whatever she loves.
To celebrate International Women’s Day we sat down for a chat with our very own boss girl, Melissa Foster. Melissa is our co-founder here at Elūm. She is passionate about encouraging women to fulfill their potential and support one another in the workplace. And as a mom to two daughters, she is actively engaged in raising kind, fearless and gutsy girls.
Hi, Melissa. Thanks for talking to us today. Can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got started in the stationery business?
I grew up a very artistic kid. I loved to draw mostly, but there were so many creative outlets that I would explore, from creative writing and interior design to graphic design and even fashion design. I knew I wanted to become a business owner so that I could run my own show, so I got my BA and started in Advertising. It was when I took a job in a small printing boutique that I became a true paper guru. We were always flooded with the latest paper samples and I received one from a small batch company in Colorado that was all handmade cotton rag. It was thick, fibrous, and soft like a sponge. This began my love affair with paper, and led me to discovering letterpress. At the time it was a forgotten medium that could bring handmade paper to life.
A few years later when a client approached me to design a letterpress-printed wedding invitation, I got lucky. From that one event I caught the eye of one of the most high profile wedding coordinators in San Diego. She introduced me to an inner circle of strong women in the wedding planning industry and I instantly became flooded with business.
What were your goals when you co-founded Elūm?
My goals were simple; to reintroduce letterpress in a way that people had not seen it before and to make them swoon over paper the way that I did. If it worked, I would get to do art, be creative and feel good every day.
Were you ever given any advice that you took to heart and now guides you?
Yes. Failure is the best way to learn. With every failure along the way, I would look back through it and find out where and how things went wrong. Then I would implement a solution for moving forward and just keep on growing.
Have you experienced challenges as a woman running a business?
About three years into my business, I gave birth to my first daughter. I had a play room set up for her in the adjacent office and I was ready to bring her into the shop with me each day. I felt so fortunate, as a business owner, to have the luxury of doing this. But it immediately became very clear that my attention could not be divided. When it came to my daughter versus work, my daughter was my priority every time. It was extremely difficult for me to juggle being the kind of mom I wanted to be all while in the midst of getting my business to the next phase. I began a very real and hurtful internal struggle between my innate yearning to be with my baby and the practical need to continue on with Elūm so that I could support my family. It was more difficult than I ever imagined it would be.
What advice would you give to a woman thinking of starting her own business?
It’s so different today with the social media aspect being such a tremendous part of it all, and the competition seems more fierce than ever because of it. Just keep your focus on what you are trying to achieve and push on. And when an opportunity arrises, always say ‘yes’ and figure out the ‘how’ later.
How important is it that women support and encourage one another in the workplace?
It’s paramount. Throughout my career my greatest mentors and business supporters have been women. They are the ones that kept me sane through it all. Just one conversation with a fellow business owner and I felt heard, acknowledged, and not alone. And one lunch with my former boss and mentor (and the best negotiator I know) and I am recharged for my next challenge. Women are so critical of themselves and this makes it all that much more important that we make it a point to reach out and support one another.
As mom to two amazing daughters, how do you raise your girls to be strong and empowered?
I don’t do things for them that they are capable of doing for themselves. By the time they could talk, I had them voicing their own orders to the waiter. And if they needed a straw or a fork, they would have to ask for it. It is also very important to me that my daughters know they have a voice with me and with any superior for that matter. It’s okay to be upset about something, but I encourage them to come to me with a solution rather than complaint. I explain the importance of communication and that if they are having trouble in math and can’t finish the homework, to email the teacher and ask for assistance. This is a skill set that they will utilize throughout their careers.
We volunteer a lot. I want my girls to feel the incredible joy that comes from giving back, and they do. I also stress that when they have a ‘friend’ issue to go directly to the source and to actually TALK it out. Not text. Talk. And to be vulnerable. Trusting and supporting your girlfriends means telling them when they have hurt you, saying you are sorry when it was your fault, and cheering them on when they succeed at something. It can literally change the trajectory of your own self-confidence. And recently I hosted a “Healthy Sex Chat” for my fifteen year old and some of her girlfriends. We had a Sociologist specializing in Intimacy and Relationships come speak to our girls about such things as body image, disempowering messages to girls/women through media literacy and song lyrics, sexual consent, and the importance of desire, thus normalizing female desire and pleasure. Let’s just say, it was AWESOME.
Do you have a favorite quote?
“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be” —Maya Angelou
On International Women’s Day, what is the most important message you want to send out to young women?
Really listen to the encouraging words you receive along the way. It can be a knee jerk reaction to deflect praise, but if you really take it in you can use it in combination with what you love doing and let it guide you to where you are meant to be. Oh, and go sit with your boss at the lunch table every once in a while . . . she gets lonely.
We’ll sit with you anytime, Melissa! Thanks for inspiring us and starting the conversation today. Now let’s hand it off to our visitors.
Add your voice to the conversation and let us know what you think. And always remember to celebrate and champion ourselves as women.