When Erica Rothkoff, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, was a new mom to twin girls, she wanted to do something creative, so she bought herself a sewing machine, taught herself to sew, and started appliquéing clothes and accessories for them. Little did she know it would be the jumping-off point for her business, but when people were stopping her in the street to ask where they could buy the things she made, she knew she was on to something. That something became Silly Pickles Kids, a handmade children’s accessories line with personalized bibs, bags, burp cloths, towel sets, and robes where the customer chooses the fabrics and patterns to make a one of a kind item. We caught up with this Cherry Hill mom of five (with two sets of twins!) to talk about the reason she decided to do personalization (hint: her name), what it was like to grow her business while raising her kids, and where to get the most delicious cookie cake in South Jersey.
Can you tell me a little bit about your family? My husband, Jerry, and I have been married for 25 years, and we have five children, twin daughters Liza and Julia (23), twin sons Evan and Greg (20), and another son, Aitan (11). I grew up in Cherry Hill and have always loved it. When Jerry and I first got married, we lived somewhere else for about a year but then moved here because it’s a great place to raise a family. We found a home right around the corner from where my mom lives. I’ve always loved living in New Jersey–you have all four seasons, are in close enough proximity to lots of beautiful farms, and can get to Philly in 20 minutes and NYC in a little over an hour.
How did you start Silly Pickles Kids? I have my Masters in Elementary Education and was a teacher for a few years, but when I got pregnant with my daughters, I had to go on bed rest and decided to stay home with them once they arrived. Soon afterward, I felt like I needed to do something for myself, so I bought a sewing machine and learned the basics. I started appliquéing things for my girls, and people would stop me and ask where I bought those things. When I would share I had made them myself, they’d always ask if I sold them, and it planted the seed that this could be a business. I hadn’t been doing names or initials on the items I made for my daughters, but when I started my business, I thought back to when I was a kid. I could never find anything with my name on it like my sister, Pam (with a more popular name), could. I knew that custom personalization would be very appealing to parents who put a lot of thought into choosing their children’s names and would want to celebrate it. It also would be a unique and personalized gift for others to give and put the child’s name out in the universe in a positive way.
Erica Rothkoff of Silly Pickles Kids, with her husband, Jerry, and their five children.
Have you always been creative? I think my creativity comes from my Grandma Evelyn, who worked in NYC’s garment district, was an incredible knitter, and excelled at all sorts of crafts. When I was young, I built a dollhouse out of small pieces of wood that my dad had in our garage. I’d often disappear for hours dreaming up and working on different creative endeavors.
Does your family ever get involved in your business? My entire family has always been supportive, and having my own “thing” is very important to me. Since my kids always knew me as a working mom, they’d hang tight while I took an order over the phone or worked on my merchandise when they were young. Even when we’d go on vacation, I’d always take work with me, and they never had a problem with me having to focus on it at times. Both of my daughters help me with certain creative decisions—Liza will still help me with the website’s upkeep, even though she’s now quite busy getting her master’s degree.
Erica’s son, Aiton, shows off his personalized pillowcase. Sweet dreams ahead! Photo: Studio K Photography
What do you wish you had known before starting your business that would have made the journey a little easier for you? Understanding the business side of things would have been helpful in the beginning. Initially, it was about me nurturing my creative spirit and being satisfied in knowing people loved the product. Still, once it started to grow, I recognized this was a real business, and I knew that I needed to set things up properly. I had an accountant organize Quickbooks, and I eventually built my website for online purchases. Both of these things were game-changers.
How has the pandemic affected your business? So many storefronts had to shut down temporarily, and even when you could purchase from them, people weren’t comfortable doing so in person anymore. Because of that, the pandemic funneled a lot of business my way. I ended up with many new clients because of it, and it’s been a period of growth for Silly Pickle Kids.
What’s your No. 1 seller? People love the towel because it will grow with the child, but the burp cloths are a fan favorite. They’re super useful, have a name on them, and there are so many different fabrics to personalize them. I also think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the buyers feel they have a hand in creating something unique for their friends. They can choose the actual color of the cloth, the fabric for the name, and other details, and it’s all chosen with love.
What are some of your favorite NJ businesses? Mixellaneous is a very special boutique with a perfect mix of merchandise, where you’ll find everything from clothing to jewelry to kid’s items to gifts. I’m also a big fan of Trendy Treat House. It’s where I get all my cakes and cupcakes, and everything is so good, but my favorite thing is the cookie cake—it’s over the top! And The Farm and Fisherman Tavern is a great restaurant owned by a lovely family. It’s always packed, which tells you how delicious the food is, and the farm-to-table menu is seasonal, so it’s switched up often enough to try something new.
What are some of your favorite things to do in NJ with your family? We love going to craft festivals—Haddonfield and Collingswood have great ones. Also, we’re big fans of visiting different farms to pick whatever is in season, and both Mood’s Farm and Johnson’s Corner Farm are two we enjoy. We were going a little stir crazy during the heart of the pandemic, so we got in the car, found ourselves in front of a farm, and spent the whole afternoon outdoors picking blueberries—it was the most cathartic thing ever. And when the fall colors are changing, we make it a point to hop in the car and go on the hunt for beautiful foliage, often choosing Route 33.
What is your best advice for a MOMpreneur just starting? Reach out and connect with as many people in your field as possible to pick their brains. Check out what’s around near and far, and you’ll find that most people will generously share advice and be happy to guide you.