How 'Wunderkin' Creator Grew Her Etsy Shop From Her Kitchen to Employ Moms Across the U.S.

Sarah Lindenfeld Hall

Hillary Denham's multi-million dollar business got its start in a tiny rental house where the only available workspace was the kitchen table. Today, the 33-year-old mom of three—to Adeline, 8, Aria, 6, and Emery, 5—in Denver, Colorado, is the founder and creative director of Wunderkin Co., the wildly popular hair bow and accessories company that earned $2.4 million in 2019 and employs moms around the country.

Wunderkin started in 2013 as a hobby for Denham after the birth of her second daughter. She'd scheduled a newborn photoshoot and made matching bows for her girls. Curious if they'd sell, she threw them up on Instagram and Etsy. They did, and they kept selling and never stopped.

"The best thing I ever did was just take imperfect actions toward something that would be really meaningful," she says. "Because, in the day-to-day, you don't notice all the small things you're doing. But five years later, you look back and you're like, 'Oh my gosh, what if I had never tried that?'"

A Push to Follow Her Passion

At the time, Denham was no stranger to entrepreneurship. For six years, she'd worked with her then-husband in his carpet cleaning company, soaking up knowledge about business management through books and podcasts. A Tony Robbins video where the self-help author focused on how to use your passions and talents to make a living made an impression.

"I remember when I listened to that specific seminar being super clear that I hadn't found it, that I truly didn't enjoy doing the carpet cleaning business," she says. Denham, who studied ballet and piano in college, had always been creative. Once the bows took off, she realized that she'd landed on the kind of venture Robbins was talking about.

$45,000 in 12 Hours

In February 2015, Denham committed to Wunderkin in earnest after hiring her replacement at the carpet cleaning business. In the beginning, she had limited sales, taking orders, closing up the shop, and reopening after the bows were made. Six months after opening, to determine the true demand for her products, she launched an unlimited sale—and sold a whopping $45,000 in bows in 12 hours. "That's when we knew that this could literally have legs," she says, "and it could grow and be a business."

Denham knew she needed more help beyond the handful of seamstresses she'd brought on, so she made bow patterns and instructional videos and reached out to her social media following to make hires. "We were having a really hard time finding seamstresses because [what I need blends] seamstress skill with just this ability to be a Pinterest craft mom," says Denham. So she started seeking out creative moms instead of professionals and hires as many as 40 virtual workers at one time. Today, she has 20 seamstresses working around the country, along with a staff of seven, including three more seamstresses, in her Colorado office.

There have been ups and downs—personal and professional—including Denham's divorce, a downsize to smaller headquarters, and the need to restructure the business as it became more difficult to sell the bows by simply posting on Instagram. Now, she's finding new ways to reach customers, including leveraging a 6,000-member private Facebook group. "The numbers are definitely exciting," she says of her total revenue, "but the bigger you get, the weightier the problems."

4 Lessons Learned Along the Way

Five years into business ownership, Denham says these lessons have helped her shape her business.

Find Your Why

Wunderkin isn't just about bows for Denham. It's about encouraging girls to be brave and adventurous. To survive hard times, entrepreneurs must understand their own purpose for the business beyond the product and the money. "What does it mean for your family? What does the brand mean for you? What does it create for your kids?," she says. "Those things are so important to get through the ups and downs."

Never Stop Innovating

For Denham, that means coming up with new products, but also finding opportunities to connect with her customers. "The moment you get too obsessed with your product or you, that's the moment you become irrelevant and die as a business," she says.

Seek out Experts

Know where you excel—and where you need help. "I could spend so much time building out a website, or I could just find someone and pay them," she says. "The biggest lesson when you're growing something is knowing who to bring in and who to seek out help and advice from."

Blend Work and Family When Possible

Life can get busy for Denham as a business owner, but, when she built her company, she also considered the life she wanted for her family. That's one reason why, four times a year, the family travels to destinations that are highlighted in Wunderkin's collections. "When I look back at a quarter of the year," she says, "it feels good because each area had their moments of intensity, but it all blended together in the way that I wanted the business to work for my family."