MONCTON – At the age of 22, Larissa Flanagan was a single mother who didn’t qualify for maternity benefits. She launched Close to the Heart, an online store for handmade goods, to make a bit of extra money. Five years later, her business has been recognized as the Best Babywearing Store in Canada by Babywearing in Canada.
“I wanted to stay at home with my daughter for as long as I could,” she said. “I was living out of savings and I realized that wasn’t going to last as long as I thought. So, I started a handmade business just to make a couple of extra bucks here and there, but it just kind of blew up and I’ve been doing it ever since.”
The award is for small and medium-sized stores in Canada and is based on customers’ votes between May 18-26.
“I only started into the babywearing world last year. So, to win that award after a year with this journey has been really overwhelming, just to know that I’m making a difference in our community with the parents and caregivers around here,” she said.
Close to the Heart won against four other finalists with around 3,000 to 4,000 votes.
“I’m surprised, really. It’s amazing how our community [in Moncton] really pulled together to show their support for small business,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan makes custom items, from baby onesies to dishwasher-safe mugs and puzzles out of her home. Her store also carries retail goods like Tula baby carriers and RePlay recycled dishware – all of which can be shipped Canada-wide. In addition, the Certified Babywearing Educator hosts monthly meetups and workshops on safe baby carrying practices.
“Once I had my second child, I found a need for babywear to continue working and be with both my daughters,” she said. “It’s kind of been a passion project for me.”
Five years ago, Flanagan invested $400 to launch her company. Now, she’s working to expand her business and turn it into a social enterprise.
She’s partnering with the Moncton YWCA to roll out a program in the fall that would train other single mothers to produce items they can sell through her store. They will be paid for each item they make. The project is also part of her studies at McKenzie College’s Social Enterprise program.
“I’ve been fortunate to have success in my company and I would love to return the favour and help some other [single parents] to have the confidence and skills they need to get back out there,” she said. “I want to help out these women by supplying them with the materials that they need, so they don’t have to worry so much about the overhead of everything.”
She said it’s difficult for single parents to return to work not only due to high daycare costs but also the high cost of living. Now her oldest daughter is five and a half years old and her youngest is three. For the first two and a half years of motherhood, Flanagan stayed home to take care of her daughter.
“Me being able to work from home and take care of her was a very big deal for me at the time,” she said. “If [single mothers are] going to leave their child, then they have to do something that they really love and that gives them a sense of fulfillment.”