Joanne Ma | Local Love Business Feature
I met local Mom and entrepreneur Joanne Ma just recently at the healthy family expo. I had heard of her company, Modern Fort because they were selling these beautiful totes from Raw Beauty Talks, “less is more” campaign, and I knew I had to have one! I got to talking with Joanne and right away, I fell in love with her and her business. She has created a company that partners-up local designers of various products with local charities and organizations to help raise funds for different social causes. Each month Modern Fort launches a new campaign, selling a new specially designed product that raises awareness and funds for a local cause. It’s such an amazing business model, I love it and support Joanne wholeheartedly. I was so excited when she decided to come out in support of Cause We Care last month with her adorable little girl. And, I was thrilled to see her beautiful baby bump.
I asked Joanne to answer a few questions, read her story below:
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My background is in behavioural sciences. I just recently took a leave from a clinical position where I provided behavioural consultation to children and families living with Autism Spectrum Disorder. I’ve been working in the autism field for over 12 years and it rapidly came to a halt when my daughter was experiencing some significant medical issues. This required me to be at home more often, be at doctor’s visits more frequently, and be a mom 110% of the time. Finally, I wasn’t able to commit my time at the job I loved and had to make a decision that a leave was necessary at this time. During a very low moment of my life, I really needed a creative outlet. Something that I had control of so that I wouldn’t dig myself into a deeper, darker hole. As a career driven women, it was very difficult for me not to be working. This is when the idea of Modern Fort came to be. I would set up an online shop and sell things that I had designed and doodled in my notepad. I love gender-neutral clothing and this is where I thought I would start. This then would allow me to stay at home to be with my daughter, take her to visits, and still be involved in the adult world some how.
Tell us a bit about your business.
So, when Modern Fort started, I knew it would be a cause-based business. This meant that I would commit to giving back to the community every month based on the profits that were made. However, I saw even more potential for this as I started connecting with moms on social media. There is an incredible community of mompreneurs on Instagram and immediately I was drawn to their strength, vision, and passion. I thought to myself, if I was to create a business, I want it to mean something. Especially with what was happening with our little family, I wanted to make sure there was good in the world so that despite whatever my daughter was going through – she knew there were good people doing good things. This is why every month, Modern Fort dedicates its time and resources to building awareness and involvement in community causes/projects that are worth talking about. Along with my background in social-emotional development, I really wanted to ensure that we were able to shine light on causes that really helps build one’s social-emotional and mental well-being. The goal is to create designs and products that are essentially conversation starters. We want to create a platform where small businesses would collaborate to benefit the community on a personal level. We want to create a modern way of positive social change.
What’s the most exciting thing you are working on right now?
There are two things that are extremely exciting at the moment.
1) Not only are we a social venture that aims to give back to the community, we want to help create opportunities for young children and adults to participate and get involved with building positive social change both individually and as a group. We are working on a school series where we’ll be challenging elementary and secondary schools to design products that they wish to sell to help raise funds for a particular cause. We’ll provide mentorship and guidance with every step from design to production to sales. The objective of this is to create an environment where students are working together towards a common goal – that actually benefits other people in the community.
2) The second component that’s really exciting for Modern Fort is providing vocational experience and job coaching for adolescents and young adults with special needs in a working environment. We’re aiming to set a platform to help integrate individuals with disabilities into the workforce. This requires a lot planning with key stakeholders but we are optimistic that this opportunity will help kickstart the idea of inclusion in the work force.
Where would you be if you hadn’t started your own business?
I honestly don’t know where I’d be without Modern Fort. I’d hate to think about the what ifs… but I truly believe I’d be lost without this passion project.
What do like most about having your own business?
What I like most about having my own business is the flexibility. It really does allow me the opportunity to be with my child and continue to be actively involved with the community in a meaningful way. The other thing is meeting incredible people that are like-minded and willing to help in any way. I’ve met so many extraordinary moms and entrepreneurs that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t start my own business.
I know that work-life balance is a myth, but tell us what you do to keep things fair between your business and your family.
It IS a myth. There isn’t a balance. One is always being compromised while the other takes focus. You cannot do it both at the same time. But, you can most definitely try. Family always comes first. I try my best to do all my packaging after my daughter goes to bed. But there are days when I cannot even begin “work” due to pure exhaustion. So I try and balance my week. With doctors visits and other commitments, I try and schedule everything I need to do with my daughter every Mon/Wed/Fri. I’ll then do all my “work” on Tues/Thurs. Saturdays we try and work as a family (packaging, emailing, shipping if needed). And on Sunday, we rest.
Do you have family photographs in your home? If yes, what value do they hold?
Absolutely! We have a gallery wall that showcases our marriage and pictures of our daughter. We’re expecting our second in August so we’re also excited about filling the space up with some new pictures. There’s something about capturing a moment in time and displaying it as a constant reminder of the love we have. Not only does it remind us of the love we have, but also the things/people we could easily lose. This then serves as a gentle reminder not to take anything for granted – especially those around you.
What advice do you have for Moms out there who are thinking of starting their own business?
Jump. You need to just jump. It will be scary and it will be unfamiliar – but you’ll only regret the things you don’t try. Surround yourself with positive people that will help make your vision come true. We can’t do it all, but chances are, we’ll meet people that can help us get there. So don’t be afraid to ask.
Outside of business and family life what would you say is your most meaningful pursuit?
I guess outside of business and family, my most meaningful pursuit would have been obtaining my Masters degree in Educational Pscychology and Special Education. This really allowed me the tools needed to truly understand inclusion and how to achieve this to help improve an individual’s quality of life.
What do you daydream about?
Right now. Mostly food. I think about food a lot. Must be the pregnancy (at least that’s my excuse)… but right after that, I often daydream about what the kids would be like when they’re grown up. The kind of person they’ll be and what they’ll do.
I’m a monochrome kind of gal. Blacks, whites… with a hint of gold, of course.