Brandi Lilly McLean, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, spent most of her career working in the home textile industry, but eventually, she realized the long hours doing a job she loved wasn’t compatible with her growing family. So when her daughter India showed a level of enthusiasm in fabrics and design that matched her own, Brandi decided the timing was right to launch a business akin to what she’d been doing for years. With Brandi as the founder and India Chief Kidpreneur, they started Chez Bebe, an eco-friendly, premium children’s bedding company, and recently, My Sleepover Party, luxury rentals and planning for the ultimate sleepover. We caught up with this busy West Orange mom of three to tell us how India’s choice of bedding sparked her initial business idea, why the pandemic made her pivot and add a second brand to her roster, and the local coffee shop where she’s hooked on their pistachio whipped coffee (yes, it’s a thing).
Tell us a little about your family. My husband, Patrick, and I have been married for 13 years and have three children, Cuba (13), India (11), and Morocco (9), named so because travel and a sense of adventure have always been important to me. Before our first child was born, we had an opportunity to visit Cuba and loved everything about the culture, so it seemed like the perfect name to give him. And once we did that for one child, we did it for the others too.
My husband and I are both New Yorkers — I grew up in Manhattan, and he grew up in Queens — and we started our family in Harlem, but once we had India, we moved to West Orange so we could have more space for our growing family, and we’re happy we did. It’s still close enough to the city, has wonderful outdoor space, and has a lot of diversity.
What is your career background, and how has it helped you in your business? I spent most of my career working with multi-million dollar brands for major retailers helping them bring their textile visions to life from start to finish. I had to travel to many different countries, so I made connections worldwide, including China, India, Pakistan, Italy, and Portugal. Throughout my career, I had my hand in each part of the process, from the idea inception to the finished product, so my job was very entrepreneurial in spirit, and because of that, I knew I’d be able to go out on my own.
Chez Bebe’s Paris Dreams Collection, Paris-themed bedding, and decor designed by India.
What was your aha moment? I had been thinking about how I could manage my work life with growing children and their busy schedules, and I realized it would necessitate me to do something on my own out of a corporate environment. With this in mind, it was time to switch up India’s room, and she had her eye on bedding with a Disney character. I just couldn’t see buying polyester bedding with characters that didn’t reflect our family’s diversity. I’m a big believer that kids should also have good quality things. I asked India to come up with something she’d love, and we could have it made together. She’d been studying at a French school and decided she wanted something with a French theme. I had her look through the Pantone Book of Color to choose shades, and she expressed that she also wanted some stars and hearts on it. She even came with me overseas to work with me on it and meet the people making the bedding in the factory. And I knew we had a business in the making.
How do you determine age-appropriate work responsibilities for India? When she was really young, and we first started, it was more about getting her input and opinion on things like ideas and colors. As she’s gotten older and can take on more responsibilities, she’s also been able to help with patterns because she’s very artistic. In general, she’s very entrepreneurial-spirited. She also started an icee cart business, and it’s very easy for her to get into “boss mode” and take charge of what needs to be done. Different organizations have also had India come and talk about her business experiences, and she’s very comfortable in speaking engagements, too.
Supply chain issues forced Brandi to pivot and launch My Sleepover Party, a sleepover and glamping tent and accessories rental business, and sister brand to Chez Bebe.
Has the pandemic forced you to pivot at all? We ran into some supply chain challenges which forced me to pivot. My Sleepover Party, a sleepover and glamping tent and accessories rental business cofounded with Jenay Guillford is a sister brand to Chez Bebe. I wanted to make sure I could keep my business going and grow a side business simultaneously. My Sleepover Party is an indoor and outdoor teepee party business that includes air mattresses, bedding, and décor, to go along with the teepees. And though this business was initially geared towards younger children, we’ve been expanding it to include tweens, teens, and adults, too—wanting to hang out with your friends doesn’t have an age limit!
What motivates you to keep going through any obstacles you encounter along the way? I want to be a role model for my children and build a legacy. For the most part, I was raised by a single mother, though my grandfather also played a really pivotal role in my life. He didn’t have education opportunities, but he worked very hard to provide for his family. He passed away right after I graduated college, so a big motivating factor for me is knowing how much the people who came before me sacrificed for me. Also, My husband is 1000 percent supportive and a great go-to for support when I’m facing obstacles. I’m very creative, and he’s very practical, so when I get excited about an idea, he asks the right questions and opens up a more analytical discussion of how I can make things happen. And my mother lives with us and is super helpful with the kids or chipping in with packing up orders. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by so much support.
Are there any organizations that you support or are involved in? Being involved and giving back have always been important to me, which is why we’re members of Jack and Jill. It’s an amazing organization dedicated to nurturing future African American leaders, and there are many volunteer opportunities, service projects, and programs we can partake in. The organization pushes the importance of academics and education and focuses on understanding identity, culture, and voice.
What are some of your favorite local shops in NJ? Source of Knowledge Bookstore is a space for black literature, culture, and community. It’s very special and in the part of Newark where there’s so much fun development happening right now. I’m also hooked on Harper’s Café, where I absolutely love the pistachio whipped coffee—one taste, and you’ll know why whipped coffee is the latest thing. And for a night out with the girls, I go to the Millburn Standard, which has a great selection of cocktails, good food, and desserts.
What are your favorite things to do or places to visit in NJ with your family? We’re a family that loves being outdoors hiking, biking, walking, and playing all 12 months out of the year. The Waterfront at South Mountain Reservation Complex has a nice walking path, paddleboat rides, and a playground. We also hike at Eagle Rock Reservation and South Mountain Reservation near the Turtle Back Zoo. And for biking, Saddle River County Park and the Hudson River Waterfront are two of our go-tos.
What is your best advice for a MOMpreneur just starting? Running your own business can be overwhelming at times, but don’t let it stop you from moving forward—know that it’s not necessary to get it all done at once. Build your business slowly and continue to go on from there.
For more information on Brandi Lilly McLean, Chez Bebe, and My Sleepover Party, please see their websites (Chez Bebe and My Sleepover Party), Instagram (Chez Bebe and My Sleepover Party), and Facebook (Chez Bebe) pages.