Teacher, Parent, Worker: Wearing All Hats in the Time of Covid

How Barrie Brouse, Mightly’s Creative Director, is making it work (mostly)

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself, professionally?

I am now Mightly’s Creative Director. Last year, I cofounded the company with two other Oakland mothers, both neighborhood friends. But I’ve been in children’s apparel for a long time. I started working in children’s wear about 20 years ago because I love the use of color and mixing unexpected patterns, textures, and themes together. I am a kid at heart! It also helps that my hand-sketch style lends itself to children’s designs. Whether in print design or other media, I am always drawn to hand-made qualities that highlight process rather than slick and highly finished aesthetics.

How would you describe your work style, prior to the pandemic?

Before COVID, work-life balance was hectic, a constant juggle with two very active and differently tempered, and spirited, boys. With two young kids, efficient use of time during the day has always been important because once 2:30 rolls around, family time begins. But I am a night owl and find that I am most creative once everyone is tucked in and I’ve had a few moments to clean up the kitchen and enjoy some quiet.

How has COVID affected your family?

We feel extremely lucky to be healthy but we have also felt the challenges. The four of us (plus Bodie, our 70lb hound dog) live in 790 square feet. It’s perfectly sized for small living during normal times but during quarantine, distance learning, and working from home, it has thrown us for a loop. We are all feeling squeezed to find any uninterrupted time or personal space. There doesn’t seem to be a moment when there aren’t simultaneous work and school calls. My husband and I try to take as many calls in our garden as possible but it isn’t always so easy, because of weather, our chickens clucking, or even a bee swarm from one of our hives! That said, we’ve come to embrace our lifestyle and seek mindful moments where we can.

How has the pandemic affected your work for Mightly?

I am used to working closely with our suppliers in India but since the pandemic, I find myself slowing down and taking the time to really check in them. Whether you are in the Bay Area or Kolkata, we are all in a similar situation, trying to keep our families and friends safe and healthy. We talk about what we see and hear, how our children feel, and the worries that come with trying to navigate these times. Now more than ever, I think about true partnerships and how we cannot do what we are doing alone.  

How has Mightly been able to support you, as a working mother, during the pandemic?

Working with other moms in a supportive environment feels incredibly good. I can’t say that I meet every deadline or that my kids haven’t popped up during a video call. (Their three favorite questions: where is their precious Lego? What to do when they have only 3% battery? How much longer will you be?) “Work from home” is just real life right now. It isn’t always predictable but it is understandable without having to feel apologetic. We talk about our good and bad days with each other, and together understand that keeping our homes healthy and happy is what’s most important. I have worked for other companies in the past where this wasn’t the case and where announcing a pregnancy or a personal vulnerability was not welcome. We all afford each other empathy and flexibility, which are so, so important. 

Are there any hacks that have worked for you, that might also work for other working parents?

With our limited space, my normal work area must be flexible. Staying organized and mobile is important, so I keep an “office in a bag.” I like the Puffy Tote from Baggu. Inside it, I have a tool-kit with my design essentials – pens and pencils, sketch pad, and scissors. This way they aren’t floating in the bag and everything has a “home.” I also keep all the other things that keep me plugged in, like charging cables, earbuds, Wacom tablet and pen, etc in another zip pouch. The tote itself holds everything I need for the day. At the end of a work session or the day (or in many cases, late at night), all the contents return back to the bag and are stowed out of the way. This limits distractions and lets me focus on my kids, when they need it most. And maybe they’ll learn from example!

Are there any work-arounds that you’ve tried that have totally not worked?

Yes! I tried to carve out 20-30 minute intervals of activity for the kids so I could get some work done, which didn’t work well at all. For me, turning work on and off is very difficult and, in the end, fills me with guilt for not carving out enough time to be fully engaged.

How have things gotten easier as months in quarantine have passed? How have things gotten harder?

Summer has been a great time for all of us to take a breath and have perspective on what worked, what didn’t, and what to expect with so much still unknown. We have come to know that sometimes, taking a break or going for a bike ride after breakfast just needs to happen. We are trying to listen to each other more and address our individual needs, as difficult as that can be.

Waking up early has been increasingly harder! While we are not the family that spends all day in pajamas, you won’t see us hitting the redwood trails at 8:00am either.

It is increasingly difficult to find newness and drum up the energy for another cardboard building project, tie dye experiment, etc. There was novelty in trying things for the first time, like riding a bike, skateboarding, magic tricks, planting potatoes, you name it, but we all yearn for the outside world to be healthy again.

What do you most look forward to doing, when the pandemic is over?

I can’t wait to see kids being kids without what seems to be the weight of the world on their shoulders. “Normal” may look different, but when kids can be together in a classroom with a teacher giving them encouragement, not behind a mask, but with a smile for all to see, and even a simple pat on the back, will be something that I am truly looking forward to.

I also miss seeing my family that I am not able to see in person and of course, giving and receiving hugs.

And who can forget seeing live music again? Seeing and hearing music, and dancing, are such wonderful releases for me. I was lucky to see a few live shows right before shelter-in-place, so I’ve been holding onto those memories and look forward to one day seeing shows again, feeling the music and dancing it all out!

Amos 5 and Rafa 8, giving feedback on Mightly's new 100% organic cotton facemasks. 

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