Utah mom makes successful entrepreneurial leap

Published: Sunday, May 12 2013 2:35 p.m. MDT

Elena Leppard, left, and Elisa Op't Hof, right, are co-owners of Undercover Mama. The Undercover Mama looks like any other shirt, allowing moms to dress stylishly.

Angie Monson, Simplicity Photography

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SPANISH FORK — A Utah County woman has gone from frustrated mom to successful businesswoman after taking a chance to solve a longtime problem for nursing mothers.

Annoyed with the lack of modest yet fashionable clothing for nursing moms, Utah entrepreneur Elisa Op’t Hof, 34, decided to create her own solution. With less than $1,000, she along with childhood friend and business partner Elena Leppard launched a line of clothing designed to make it easier for moms to breastfeed their babies.

Op’t Hof, a mother of six, said the idea for her line of nursing shirts and bras was born from her own experience and dissatisfaction with styles available to nursing moms.

“Shortly after I just had my fourth baby, it was still just an awkward thing (to nurse),” she explained.

There was no clothing made specifically for nursing women, Op’t Hof said, which made feeding her baby cumbersome and frustrating.

After extensive research, the woman with admittedly “no business background whatsoever” went to work on building her own company.

“There are so many sources of knowledge out there,” she said. “There are libraries, there are mentors — business people who are willing to help.”

Op’t Hof reached out “everywhere I could” and starting learning everything she could on nursing products and clothing.

Established in 2008, Undercover Mama has gone from an in-home business that lost money its first two years to a growing enterprise whose products are now sold in retail stores throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Last year, the company was named one of Utah Valley Entrepreneur Forum’s Top 25 under 5 (years).

Prior to launching the business, Op't Hof conducted product research and sought input from other nursing moms to develop a product that met their needs.

Op’t Hof, who is expecting her seventh child in July, resides in Utah County, while Leppard lives near Salt Lake City. They run Undercover Mama from their homes. They also have two moms who are part-time employees working from their homes in Herriman and Park City, respectively.

When the company first started, Op’t Hof's husband, Max, worked and she focused on growing the business. They struggled mightily to make ends meet and take care of their growing family.

Today, the business has grown sufficiently that it is their sole income source, and Max has taken over as manager of the household while she manages the company.

“He makes it possible for me to work on the business so that I don’t have to worry about what’s happening with the house and the kids,” Op’t Hof said.

Her kids range in age from 12 to 1, with one on the way. The family's current situation is far cry from where they were just a short time ago.

Op’t Hof said what drove her to become an entrepreneur was the longing for something more for her family.

“Initially I felt like I had a great idea that was worth pursuing,” she explained. “Another part of it was the desire to make our lives better. We were very financially strapped … (with no) extra money for anything.”

The company’s revenue for the past two years has grown about 20 percent annually, with that trend continuing through the first quarter of 2013, Op’t Hof said. They live a comfortable, debt-free lifestyle, but nothing extravagant, she said.

Among the biggest perks of having a home-run business is the ability to “make our own hours” and spend more time with their children, Op’t Hof said. With the business prospering, she is grateful to be able to provide security for her family and offer a useful product for mothers like her who want to nurse their babies.

Email: jlee@deseretnews.com

Twitter: JasenLee1

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