A Winning Career Shift: From Independent Filmmaker to Kid’s Clothing Designer

I truly love being around my kids and make most decisions based on that, but I also know that a career and creative fulfillment are vitally important to me and my happiness.

Emily McMaster
Emily McMasters

Emily McMaster is the owner and designer of Mabo after a significant career shift. Mabo is a children’s clothing line which features pieces created with special attention to quality and detail, and are meant to be passed down as heirloom items.

Though Emily received her masters in cinema studies at NYU and has worked in independent film, she fell in love with well-made classic children’s clothes when her first daughter was born.

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Armed with the sewing skills and inspiration passed down from her mom, Emily began her career shift and started sewing clothes for her own daughter which eventually led to the creation of Mabo.

Now Emily’s designs are sold in stores across the country and online retailers worldwide. Emily lives in Salt Lake City with her husband and two daughters.

How did you get into children’s fashion? Was it before or after you had kids?

After I had my first daughter, Ruby, who is now 7, we were living in New York. Partly through discovering beautiful children’s shops like Acorn Toy Shop in Brooklyn, and partly through my mom opening up an old cedar chest where she’d saved some of my most special clothes from childhood, I started falling in love with well-made and classic kids’ items.

We didn’t have a lot of money to spend on them, so after I quit my job in film when she was 1, I started spending a lot of my free time making little dresses for Ruby and for the first time thought that would be something I’d be interested in doing as a job. After I had my second daughter, Mabel, I didn’t have as much time, but then we moved to Utah and, with the help of now-nearby family, I decided to pursue it.

I found a manufacturer since I’m not a skilled enough (or interested enough) seamstress to make things on any kind of scale, and just started. It’s been so fun!

little girl with red shoes career shift
little girl with cape

I had read that you did that your formal training is in Film studies. How did you learn the skills to run a clothing line?

I did, I got my Masters degree in Cinema Studies from NYU and worked in the film industry for quite a few years in independent film. I had always known how to sew and knit and make things with my hands – growing up my mom had taught me and encouraged me to make gifts for family members for holidays – but I hadn’t really used that skill at all as an adult.

But I retaught myself! As for the business end, it’s been a constant learning process! Also, my first job as an assistant in the film industry really taught me that you just have to figure things out on your own and be resourceful – you’re expected to come up with answers and make arrangements without bothering your bosses!

child jumping
three kids standing

Where do you find the inspiration for the designs for Mabo kids?

I tend to come up with a “theme” in my head every season – an era, an area, a film, even one photograph. The collection may never look like that to someone else after it’s complete, but it’s really helpful to me as a starting point. I also like to look at children’s clothing from the past, as well as classic adult styles.

striped outfit on little girl career shift
kids cotton essentials
2 kids tops

How did you come up with the name “Mabo” for your company?

I spent so much time trying to come up with a name! I wanted something that wasn’t cutesy or kid-oriented at all, and also that sort of didn’t evoke much of anything, so the branding and the products could speak for themselves. My older daughter, Ruby, called her baby sister, Mabel, “Mabo” when she was little, so that’s where it ended up coming from!

4 girls with buckets
dress for girl career shift

What’s your own personal style like?

Very casual and unfortunately not very stylish! Mostly I like natural fibers, neutral colors, and comfort! Most days involve jeans, a flannel button-down, and a cardigan.

How did your career shift when you had children? Did you have to make any sacrifices?

They changed so much. I was so ambitious in my young career in the film industry and never thought that would change – but that ambition almost came to a screeching halt when Ruby was born (although it has slowly regenerated in a different way). I thought for a minute that I’d be able to be a stay at home mom for a while, but that didn’t fit either.

I truly love being around my kids and make most decisions based on that, but I also know that a career and creative fulfillment are vitally important to me and my happiness. I also feel strongly that the kids see me happily, and sometimes even frustratingly, working.

At the moment I feel like I’m balancing that pretty well, they’re both at school all week, which gives me time to work, but I pretty much stop working when I pick them up, with the exception of returning emails and doing bits and pieces of work. For a while I felt like I had sacrificed my career in film and was jealous of women who were able to work without any agony or guilt, but now I”m so happy with the choices I made!

baby with striped pants
baby with pumpkins career shift

What would you say is the single most important/useful tool you use to help you get your work done despite the rigors of motherhood?

Structured schedules for the kids. Every summer when they’re out of school I think that we’ll be able to do it all, but I always realize a few weeks in that I’m wrong!

2 girls with capes career shift
girl in yellow dress

Fill In The Blanks!

If I had an extra 2 hours in the day, I would: exercise more.
The people who are my best source of inspiration is both of my kids.
The superpower I wish I had to keep my house clean.
My current pet peeve is paperwork.
An article of clothing I can’t live without my hobes shoes.

Thanks so much, Emily, for sharing your lovely photos and inspiring story with us. We’re looking forward to seeing more of your beautiful work!