Before her daughter was born, Cassie Huckabay had no plans to start a business or leave her full-time nursing job at Women’s and Children’s Hospital.
But life rarely adheres to a plan.
It started when she was put on bed rest around the 32-week mark. That was kind of a problem for Huckabay, as she only had six weeks of paid maternity leave, all of which would be used before the baby arrived if she carried to term.
“I was already really upset about that and I knew there was going to come a point when I was going to stop making money while on maternity leave,” Huckabay said. “And then our sewer line collapsed in our yard, at 35 weeks pregnant.”
The sewer line was going to cost $5,000 to fix. The Huckabays were in a bind.
“The same week, my son had swim lessons and it was only like $60 but I didn’t have it. My husband and I did not have $60,” she said. “This is a real problem.”
She knew she couldn’t work, and her husband couldn’t work more than he already was. So she thought about making something. Huckabay started making a few hair bows for her soon-to-arrive daughter, mostly, as she said, out of necessity, “knowing I wasn’t going to be able to afford to buy them.” But she continued to make them and began to sell them. She started to see a little bit of money … not much, but something.
“Obviously, I did not raise enough money to do a sewer line, but it made me feel better about myself,” Huckabay said. “It was a huge wakeup call.”
And things moved forward. The sewer line was repaired. Her daughter was born. Huckabay went back to work.
By this time, it was around the Fourth of July and Huckabay said she had decided that she wanted a patriotic badge reel, something more festive to be attached to what held up her ID badge at work. So, she treated herself to one.
But then Fourth of July was over.
“I thought it would be so cool if you could find (a badge reel) that you could change the top out on,” Huckabay said. “So I did. I created this badge reel where you could pull one top off and put another top on.”
Then, the other nurses saw it. They all wanted one, some requesting specific designs. One nurse even used the term “badge buddy,” Huckabay said, which is what she now uses to call the decorative toppers she sells at her shop.
And My Fair Ellie was born. Taking the first part of the street her home at the time was on, Fairmount, and her daughter’s name, Eleanor, Huckabay created My Fair Ellie, starting first on Etsy and by word of mouth locally.
“I attribute so much of the shop to nursing, cause nobody talks like nurses,” Huckabay said.
The shop specializes in the badge buddies, as well as hair bows, clips, magnets, keychains and even magnets, with differing designs and creations for all seasons, holidays and personalities, including custom orders. She even provides a guarantee on the badge reels themselves — she’ll replace the reels for life, so customers can continue purchasing badge buddies.
Making the items themselves, took a lot of trial and error, she said. It took time to figure out the right materials and what process was best.
Huckabay said she never imagined running a business like this and at first, it was something she thought could help bring in money for projects around the house or fun vacations with the family. But as the shop took off, she realized it could be so much more.
“Last year, I really realized that I had the opportunity to be more than that,” she said. “I realized I had this huge opportunity to stay at home with my kids and be available for everything they were doing.”
That’s when she decided to leave her nursing job. As a pediatric and transport nurse, Huckabay said she saw a lot of tragic situations where people simply wished they had more time. That led her to ask herself how she wanted to spend her time and what her priorities should be. The answer was clear — family.
Now, it’s been three years since Huckabay started her shop, and the growth has been incredible. She’s hired four other moms who take on some of the stitching and other work, and as of early fall, was doing a trial run with three other moms. Huckabay still makes all the bows, with help from her husband.
Huckabay said she receives orders from all over the world, noting that she once received 500 orders in a four-hour period. Last year alone, she said, the shop did about $150,000 in sales.
“It has just been beyond my expectations, way beyond my expectations,” Huckabay said. “I’ve built a team of women that I 110% trust and who have the same goal as I do for the success of the shop.”
But no matter how successful her business gets, Huckabay said the focus will always be on her family, and the same goes for the other women on the team. It’s important to her that the priority is on a well-balanced life, even if that means an order goes out late or they put a pause on taking orders completely.
At times, if you visit the shop’s website, you may see a message stating that they’re taking a break from getting new orders in order to fulfill the ones they have, while still allowing time for family and other work, if needed. Huckabay said she’s very upfront with customers about that and has no issue telling them that may need to go somewhere else for their needs.
Huckabay’s not sure where the shop will go from here, but she’s excited to see how it goes. Given the growth over the last three years, it’s no wonder why.
“If you had asked me two years ago what my goals were for the shop, it never would have been this,” Huckabay said. “We’ll just see how it goes.”
Check out Huckabay’s shop at MyFairEllie.com.