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Bee Shapiro makes a living out of helping you look, feel, and smell good. The beauty guru is well known for her work as New York Times beauty columnist and more recently, founder of Ellis Brooklyn, a natural fragrance and skincare line she created when she couldn’t find options that were both pregnancy safe and luxurious.
Shapiro is now mom to two adorable daughters, 3 1/2-year-old Ellis (the line’s namesake) and 18-month-old Sky, and busier than ever. Her ability to juggle the worlds of motherhood, business owner, and writer are not without sacrifice. She shares what has taken a backseat (social media, for one), how she’s raising two females in today’s evolving times, self-love and so much more. And you better believe we dug into the contents of her beauty bag.
Read on for the scoop.
Your age: 36
Your littles: Ellis, 3.5 years old. Sky, 18 months
Your day job(s): Founder of Ellis Brooklyn, New York Times beauty columnist
The place you call home: Brooklyn, New York
Tell us a little bit about your day job(s):
I actually have two day jobs. These days I divide my time pretty equally between New York Times, where I am the beauty columnist and cover celebrity as well, and Ellis Brooklyn, a fragrance company I founded a little over two years ago.
What do you love most about your job(s)?
With the Times, I love getting to know and interview a wide variety of people. I’m a curious person by nature and I can’t think of a better job where you can completely indulge yourself by getting to know all sorts of people and worlds.
For Ellis Brooklyn, it’s about really building something — a brand, a physical product. Being a writer for most of my career, having something real and physical is special. There are few highs better than seeing something you’ve been working on for months and sometimes even years come into being.
What do you like least?
With the Times, sometimes you’re assigned something that you don’t love to write. Or there are days when you’re just alone all the time because you’ve been working on something, which can be tough. That’s part of being a professional writer for a living — working through those blocks.
For Ellis Brooklyn, it’s all the stuff that I call “homework,” which are things like dealing with our bookkeeper and making sure our records are all looking good.
Your bodycare line Ellis Brooklyn not only smells dreamy, but is eco-friendly and responsibly sourced. What were some of the challenges in getting the business up and running?
There were so many! I decided not to raise any outside money because I wanted to do the line exactly how I wanted. That meant I was bootstrapping everything. Every vendor meeting was basically me selling them to work with Ellis Brooklyn and why we were going to be the next big thing. Many of the best vendors/suppliers are not necessarily looking with a tiny start-up like we were. We even had to sell ourselves to land a good warehouse.
You transitioned from being a corporate lawyer to a New York Times writer and editor. What were your first seven writing jobs?
Oy, I’m not sure I even remember. I basically took almost anything that came my way at that point. There was a lot of ego-swallowing. That’s one of the tough parts of completely switching industries. I went from being a high accomplishing attorney at a respected law firm to starting from the very bottom of writing. In the beginning, I wrote for everyone — Style.com, AOL Stylelist, an European site called Fashion Salade that is now defunct and was pretty awful to work with … so many!
Did you or your partner get a maternity/paternity leave?
Being self employed—even with the New York Times, since I’m a freelance columnist — I technically did not have a maternity leave. I had to save up money for my “leave” but I basically started taking assignments 2 months after I had each of my girls. The good part of being self-employed is that I could ease back gently and not take too much, provided that I had saved up enough. Also, now that the kids are a little older, I’m lucky because I never have to go into an office. I can work out of my building’s business lounge. Cutting down on commute time is a huge asset in time management. It also means I can see my kids more and join them for a random music or gym class easier.
My husband had a 3 month paternity leave with Ellis but had zero for Sky. Instead, he took a week of vacation for Sky. I think paternity leave can definitely be helpful especially in the early, early days, but so much of it is still on the mom if you choose to breastfeed.
Generally speaking, writers can be creatures of habit. How, if at all, has your work/writing routine changed as a mom?
Before I had kids, I had very ritualistic habits to get into the writing mood. I would make a giant French press of a certain coffee. I had to be in a completely silent place. I had my favorite spots to work/write. Now that I have kids, my time is so precious that ironically I am less precious with getting in the right writing mindset. I can basically write at any time and anywhere. It’s actually made me a better writer. My intros — which have always been the hardest for me — are generally clearer and more direct. I have a lot less time to get in my head and start to doubt myself.
Did you ever contemplate staying home after your kids were born?
I definitely did after Ellis. I would say for the first year I resented working. I wanted to spend more time with her. I didn’t want to miss a single development. I actually dialed back some of my writing and had a nanny three days a week instead of full-time. But in the end, I, personally, felt a little lost. For me, working is so much a part of my identity. I love my job — both of them!
What’s been the most surprising thing about childcare?
Managing childcare is so, so tough. It has definitely made me a better manager, which I have never been in my career really before. Even with Ellis Brooklyn, though I am in a managing role somewhat, everyone is doing so many jobs and so senior in what they do that I don’t do a lot of handholding. Working with my nanny is completely different. Yes, it’s about pay, but also about making someone who plays a hugely important role in your life, happy.
Let’s be honest. No one can really do it all. What do you do less of to make it work for you and your family?
Certain aspects of my career at the Times and Ellis Brooklyn would have gone differently. For example, in my field, having a big social media following has become increasingly important. I did try for a bit, but then realized that having a large following meant sacrificing too many things in my book. It meant I was always on my phone. It meant I wasn’t truly present even when hanging with my kids so I could get the perfect shot to post. But do I sometimes regret or feel bad that I don’t have more of a following? All the time.
For Ellis Brooklyn, we had two years of really great 100 percent-plus year on year growth, but we certainly never made that far-reaching impact that some star start-ups have right off the bat. We’re going to have a huge year this year because frankly, I needed to wait until my kids were a little older so I could actually dedicate more time to the business. Before this past year, I literally did everything over the phone. We launched with some retailers and I had not even met my buyers in person. Was it ideal? Absolutely not. That has all changed in the last year and we’re ready for that massive next step but it definitely was about making it work for my family.
What’s your best advice to a new mom…
Self care is super, super important. Buy that mask to plop on your face when they take a nap. Get that massage that maybe you normally wouldn’t splurge on. Also, don’t forget to make drinks dates with your close girl friends. Those moments are soul-soothing.
...coming towards the end of her maternity leave?
Going back to work can be so jarring. When I started taking work meetings again I was literally still sweating (having general temperature control problems) and leaking (from breastfeeding). It totally sucked. One thing I learned from my first that I changed up for my second is that don’t underestimate the ability for a well fitting dress or perfect lipstick to help those days along. Is it vain? Probably. But who cares! I know I definitely needed those things because it took me a long time to lose my baby weight both times and needed that confidence boost. The one thing is I hated to spend on clothes that I was hoping would be too big for me in a month or two. After having my second baby, I got a Rent the Runway monthly subscription and got rental dress options in the size I was at currently. It was a life saver.
...looking to meet other moms?
My husband laughs at me, but I am almost aggressive when making mom friends. I feel I have so little time that if I identify a cool mom that I could see myself hanging out with, I am all over it. I text her. I invite her and her kids over for playdates. I host mini kid parties so I can invite her over. No shame! It makes your social life so much better if you’re getting a playdate in with other parents that you’d love to hang out with even if you didn’t have kids.
One thing you didn’t know before having kids that you wish you had known:
How precious time is. My husband and I always joke, “What the hell were we doing with all our free time before kids?”
Being a woman today is empowering, and also full of challenges. What has your experience as a mom raising two girls been like so far?
I think about this all the time. In my generation, there were some pretty stereotypical “be a good girl” sentiments going on. I didn’t learn to risk take until much later in life. Also because we have three cultures going on in our household (Chinese, Israeli-Jewish and American), I’ve become more aware that what is considered feminine in one culture doesn’t necessarily exist or translate in another. For example, in Chinese and Israeli-Jewish culture, being great at math and science has nothing to do with gender, whereas in American culture, the stereotype is that guys are great at those subjects. We’re trying to raise our girls as agnostic as possible about those kinds of expectations.
What do you hope is different about work and the workplace when your daughters are running the world?
I hope that women can be more easily seen as potential leaders. One major systemic problem that we face is that we’re not what the general public (women included!) expect when they think of a company or political leader.
What’s in your makeup bag right now: There are so many products! I have become a true beauty junkie over the years. Right now, I have an Hourglass lipstick in a great brown. Jane Iredale lip tint that I use quite a bit and is great when you want some color but not too much. Lucas Papaw ointment. I use the Tata Harper illuminating eye cream as a highlighter. Nars radiant longwear foundation which I’m testing and so far, very good. Benefit eyebrow pencil. Charlotte Tilbury bronze & glow palette. The two eyeshadow palettes I’m really into right now are the NARS Wanted and a Dior one that has 5 different shades of pink and brown. I like the Urban Decay eyeshadow primer for when I need my eye makeup to last all day. And I’m using a Cle de Peau liquid eyeliner that has two different ends, one thick and one thin.
Favorite books to read to your girls: The Mo Willems books are fun, funny, and generally have a great message. I particularly like Waiting Is Not Easy.
Favorite place in Brooklyn to go with kids: Because it’s winter right now, Twinkle playspace is divine! The kiddos can burn off some serious energy and the entire space is so creative, well-done and exciting.
Favorite M+A Products this season?
The Let’s Dance Dress in over the rainbows is so easy and cute. And the little velour sweatsuits (Velour Peplum Sweatshirt and Velour Track Pants) are adorable. I want a matching set for myself!
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