Fiona Kennedy is the founder of Red Ruby Rouge, a bricks and mortar store with a large, and growing, online presence. She tells Motherland about moving from NYC to Northern Ireland, managing a business while raising two children (with a third on the way), and why she’s happy to admit that  juggling can be a nightmare…

When I first started Red Ruby Rouge, I was childless, so much freer. I’d just moved to Northern Ireland (where my husband grew up) from New York, and I was still doing some work for my boss there, so was travelling back and forth. It was good for the business: I’d do a lot of buying from small designers when I was there. At the beginning, my shop had mostly American designers. It was a bit of an anomaly, because no-one else was doing anything similar. It was really nice to have the chance to show designers from across the world.

I was originally a lawyer: I’d worked in Brussels, and did my Masters there. The professor was from the NYU school of law, and gave me a job running his programmes in New York. It was a monster job, but rewarding and challenging – I loved it. After six years – due to visa complications – my husband moved out to be with me. We worked hard and played hard until we got to stage when we wanted to be more responsible and start a family. It was time to move closer to our families in Ireland and Scotland. I admit I did find the change very difficult – straight from New York to the N.I. countryside – but the saving grace was travelling back a lot.

It was risky starting the business. But the timing seemed right for me, so I took the chance. Over here, universities are not run in the same way, and my job didn’t exist. I didn’t want to practice something I wasn’t interested in. I began setting up the store in 2007, and launched a year later. It wasn’t even a positive time for retail, but I’m a positive person, and I knew it was a niche idea. I also knew I could work really hard.

I find it stressful when other mothers say that juggling is fine – it’s lovely to hear someone admit it’s a nightmare sometimes

When I started, I was in the store six days a week. Now, after two kids (Sammy is five, Edith is nearly three), and another baby due in July, I’m there four days. I do have some flexibility though, because there’s always someone else working in the shop. My husband works in Dublin during the week, so I have a childminder, and then evenings and weekends to catch up on extra work. Of course, all it takes is one person to be sick for the whole thing to fall apart. I find it stressful when other mothers say that juggling is fine – it’s lovely to hear someone admit it’s a nightmare sometimes. I’ve had to learn that it’s OK if I’m not hitting mark: it’s OK if I’m not the best housewife, mother or employee sometimes. Some days I think I’m totally on top of it all, and other days I’d just like to lie in darkened room.

As the business grows, and we get to know more about what our customers like, we’ve become more international. When I travel, I have my eyes out at all times, but I don’t get to do that quite as much now. One girl who works for me is based in South Africa, and I’m close to all the people who have worked for me, so when they travel they always come back with great recommendations.

With children, 20 minutes free time is a luxury: usually, that’s when I’ll look for potential designers. A lot of research goes into it: sometimes there’s a connection through artists and creators we love, or we stumble on a blog. Following someone’s Instagram or tumblr really shows their aesthetic too, and what’s influencing them. So I follow lots of people’s smaller blogs to look for people. Imagery can be really influential and inspiring, especially if you feel you’re seeing the same thing all the time.

Being apart from my husband in the week is sometimes isolating for me, but I think women are really resourceful

I had my children in 2010 and 2012, and the first time round I found it difficult. I had been so independent, and this tiny person didn’t let me any more. It was a big adjustment. I had great girls working for me who took on loads of the practical everyday stuff of running a shop, while I worked weekends and evenings. When I had my second child, I think the shock was more in terms of time. You can work around one, but two? (I’m wondering how it works with three: maybe there will always be one unsupervised… hopefully I’ll be more relaxed this time). While I didn’t take any maternity leave with the first, I took six weeks with my daughter, and I’m hoping to have a couple of months with this one. I’d love to enjoy the precious moments, and am excited about having a transportable non-talking non-moving baby. It would be great to enjoy this stage before getting back into things. I can’t take the kind of time off that I would in a different job, but fingers crossed.

Being apart from my husband in the week is sometimes isolating for me, but I think women are really resourceful. It’s been a real learning curve for us both. The good thing is that we’d done it before kids, and so had already been in the habit of maximising the fun in the times we were together. I’m lucky to have wonderful caring friends with children of similar ages to mine. Before I had children, I didn’t realise the unbelievable amount of support that other women who are mums give – from listening to me moan, to all the little things you need, especially if your husband isn’t around or you’re on your own.

I think the children really benefit from having them around too. Everyone’s lives are so busy, that if it’s a snow day or the holidays, I love having other children in the house – the more kids the better: it takes them out of the equation! I don’t care if it looks like a disaster zone, because I think they’ll remember the fun, and other people being there. I feel better knowing if my children got lost, there are probably about 50 people who would take them home.

Our home was a random happy occurrence. My husband’s mum was living in their beautiful family home on a hill overlooking Belfast Lough, but when his father died, she decided she would sell. It is such an unusual place: he was an architect, and it was beautifully landscaped, too. We were living with the children in a small house, and although it was a bit of a stretch, none of the family wanted it to be sold on, so we bought it. It is so beautiful and different that it’s very easy to love it and make it feel comfortable. Anything goes, so it doesn’t have to be perfect. It is 100 percent a home forever.

I think during difficult times, I haven’t wanted to admit it was so hard, so I kept trying and working

When we have money and time, we’ll do more. For now, it’s filled with bits and pieces we’ve collected from our travels – rubbishy junk we like, chairs we got from a street on New York that we upholstered, Dave’s parents’ furniture that we’ve up-cycled… I’ve definitely had moments where it looks like a disaster, but I’m not good living in chaos, so at the end of the day I always tidy up. I love our home and I’m happy when it’s nice and clean and tidy – saying that, never look under the sofa.

The most frustrating thing about life now is, I’d say, time. It’s hard when I feel I’m not being able to prioritise work when I need to. But then, I always felt overwhelmed in my old job, and you get used to managing lots of tasks and feeling OK about it. The most difficult bit about having your own business is that it’s hard to feel you’re making the right decisions all the time. If there are moments of doubt and you’re doing it yourself, it’s hard to manage your own expectations of your success or failure.

I think during difficult times, I haven’t wanted to admit it was so hard, so I kept trying and working. Thank goodness that’s how humans are, or we’d get nothing done – like having kids: how do you manage those first six months? What I love about all of this is that we’ve created something from nothing. It feels so positive when I get lovely feedback from a customer. It’s great seeing it grow from something small into a something people know and trust: like having another baby, really.

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