Karina Miller, mom of two and a former professor, wanted to take a chance on art.
Miller quit her job in 2014 and, with her friend and fellow mom Viviana Elinger, created TOI Art Gallery, an online destination based in Southern California, geared toward both adults and kids, with the idea of "bringing art home."
Featuring whimsical, limited-edition prints that often spotlight bright colors, friendly menageries and dream-like landscapes, TOI connects international artists with families, especially children who are still forming their ideas about what art is and what they would like in their own environment.
"We wanted to instill in our kids a sensibility toward books and art, an appreciation for beauty made manifest in art," Miller tells mom.me.
"We want our children to have memories of home as a place where art and books are important. Where beauty is fostered," she says. "TOI was born from that conversation."
Miller tells mom.me about the challenges of starting a business, her advice for mom entrepreneurs and what she would tell her younger self.
Your business is powered by women. What are some ways you're teaching your kids about "girl power"?
Before Toi, I was a college professor for many years. I had my daughter when I was finishing my master's and my son when I was writing my dissertation. My kids saw firsthand how a woman balances a profession and a family. I shared with them my decision to leave academia, which was a very difficult one to make, and they helped me to feel empowered by my decision.
In my new venture, Toi, I also share every step of my experience: the excitement of acquiring a new artist, the beauty of art, the challenge of starting a business, etc. I do not pretend that such actions are easy because I believe that being powerful requires also being vulnerable, and I believe the best way to teach my kids about girl power is showing them how to have the courage to follow your passion in life, even when it seems really hard.
Describe the moment when you first felt successful.
Every time a new artist tells me they love the gallery and they want to participate, every time a person tells me they love the artwork and they want a piece in their home, I feel successful. We share the same sensibility! It’s wonderful.
What’s your advice for moms who are looking to start their own business?
Starting a business is hard, and the challenge is not just about financial matters. It is emotionally complicated, too. You want people to love what you have to offer, and it takes time to grow. I am telling you this, as I often tell myself: "Be strong and be patient." It is a very “zen” combination, to keep doing what you love even if you don’t see the results you want right away. After all, starting a business is very similar to raising kids—and making art. You have to be strong and patient.
Every change is a negotiation—new babies and new jobs, new projects and new parts of your life. It’s not about sacrifice; it’s about life.
What sacrifices have you made as a mom and an entrepreneur to keep everything in balance?
Well, there is something about the word “sacrifice” that I feel ambivalent about. It supposes the idea of “giving up” something, and I really think it’s all about negotiating, not relenting. The day I had my daughter, I had to say goodbye to one part of myself—the one who didn’t have to worry about having enough sleep and time for herself—and welcome other, new parts of me. Every change is a negotiation—new babies and new jobs, new projects and new parts of your life. It’s not about sacrifice; it’s about life.
What were your goals for your first year of business?
I wish instead of a question, you would be a genie who wanted to grant me a wish! But seriously, I would like more people to discover Toi and to think, “Wow, this is so cool! I want this on my wall. I want this artwork to be part of my life!”
What surprised you most when you were coming up with your business or business plan?
The fact that we could actually do it, that this idea we loved and had dreamed about for years could actually become something real.
What would you say are the most important skills and experiences you've brought from previous positions to your position at Toi?
Definitely my writing and creative skills, and my ability to conduct research projects—which takes patience, discipline and attention to detail—are skills from my academic job are especially useful at TOI. I love to do research on new topics for our blog, to find new artists, and also write and think about new ways to communicate with our audience.
What advice would you give your younger self—experienced businesswoman to rookie businesswoman?
I would tell her, “Just wait. You wouldn’t believe I exist. Be patient, and you’ll see that it will all work out!”