Wells Nathan and Veronique Vicari Barnes were friends first before they decided to launch their adorably whimsical kids' clothing line Ice Cream Castles, a name they credit to a Joni Mitchell song.
"Wells and I have known each other for years," Barnes (pictured far left) tells Mom.me via email. "We had each found success in previous lines. Mine was jewelry, and hers was a popular women's brand, Primp."
But it was when they became mothers—Nathan has a 4-year-old son, and Barnes has 3-year-old twins—that inspiration struck.
"I remember we were at a 3-year-old's party and our kids were blowing bubbles and playing with the fun party favors, and we just looked at each other like, 'We're moms now. This is what we need to do,'" Barnes continues. "The original idea was to just do rock tees, but as we started fleshing it out, it hit us that it should be about kids journeying to these magical make-believe places."
"From the time [my son] was a few months old, I became obsessed with hunting down cool clothes for him," Nathan tells Mom.me. "With our kids at more independent ages, we decided to apply all of the knowledge our shopping had provided and start our own line."
So, last year, the pair launched Ice Cream Castles, featuring everything from unicorn to boombox designs. They decided on the name after listening to Mitchell's "Both Sides Now," and as Barnes remembers, "It felt like magic."
What is the work dynamic like between you two?
Wells: We are truly yin and yang. We balance each other. And we had a foundation of true friendship built before husbands and kids. There is a base of love and understanding that softens the blows of defeats and makes the triumphs even sweeter.
Veronique: Our friendship is almost 10 years strong, and it gets stronger every day. Of the two of us, [Wells] is definitely the more optimistic and positive one. We could be in a situation that I see as a major crisis, and she always finds a way to see the solution and spin it into a positive thing. I tend to get stuck sometimes, dwelling in the problem, so she has really helped me to see that living in the solution is the way through. I tend to be all over the place in my designs, and she helps to reel me in. Our taste, and our vision for the line, is the same, which helps us to trust each other completely. I'm grateful that we balance each other out.
When did you first feel successful?
Wells: I first felt successful with my women's line when I would walk into stores that I loved and see my designs displayed prominently.
Veronique: I think the first time I ever felt successful was when I was cast in the school talent show at 7 years old. I had auditioned for a few years in a row and kept getting turned down. I remember feeling so proud that I had done it and hadn't given up. I sang Jiminy Cricket's song “Give a Little Whistle” with a top hat and cane in a tuxedo. I'm pretty sure it was amazing. With Ice Cream Castles, we have so much more we want to accomplish, so I can't say I feel 100 percent successful yet. There are definitely moments, like when my living room walls are stacked to the ceiling with orders, or our favorite children's stores and blogs are featuring our line. Those are moments that I feel like Jiminy Cricket again.
As successful female entrepreneurs, what are some ways that you want to teach your kids about "girl power”?
Wells: I think it's important to empower girls, giving them the confidence to be leaders from a young age. Really instilling in them that the sky is the limit. Dream big, be disciplined and build your tribe.
Veronique: I was raised by an incredibly passionate and creative mother. She worked a lot, as a costume designer, when I was a child. I spent a lot of time watching her create these beautiful things, and she would always find something for me to make alongside her. My father was a sound mixer/recording engineer. So growing up around art, design and music really nurtured my creativity and imagination.
That’s what I strive for with my twins—that they will grow up with the same kind of creative awareness. I like to include them as much as possible in the whole Ice Cream Castles world. They know they are a part of what I make in a very big way. I would like my children to grow up knowing they can do or be anything they want. That they are capable of anything they put their minds to, and I think having a mother who works hard and leads a creative life teaches them that. I want them to understand what a woman is capable of and how powerful we are when we commit to our dreams: We can be nurturing homemakers and also successful artists and entrepreneurs. "Girl power" to me is independence, confidence, strength, compassion, kindness, creativity ... life.
Has there been anything about starting Ice Cream Castles that surprised you or inspired you in a way you didn't expect?
Wells: The support from the community of moms has been so inspiring.
Veronique: I’m an actress, and that career has always been my dream. I studied and auditioned for many years. I love storytelling, so that’s what I’ve always been drawn to. I really believed I would never love doing anything else. I didn’t realize that I could tell stories in another way. Ice Cream Castles has changed my perspective. It’s been a creative outlet for me that I didn’t expect would be there. I’ve learned now that whether I’m acting or designing clothes, painting or writing, it’s all self-expression and a form of storytelling that feeds my spirit. I have found so much joy in creating these collections. Discovering that there’s not one way to be an artist has inspired me and given me a lot of confidence.
What's your advice for moms who are looking to start their own business?
Veronique: Go for it! Push away that self-doubt and take action. That’s the secret. Action. Take the idea and act on it. Whether that means research, writing, sketching, asking questions, just jump in. It’s not going to be a perfect situation. There will be setbacks. There will be fears about how to sustain it and provide for your family, but I do believe that takes care of itself in the long run. Don’t listen to the outside noise of other people’s negative opinions or worries for you. That’s their own self-doubt creeping in. Tune it out and stay true to your vision. Also, and this is totally natural and will absolutely happen, try not to feel guilty about working on your own business in those moments when you have to give a little less to your children. A successful mom breeds successful children. I believe that.
What sacrifices have you made as moms and business owners to keep everything in balance?
Wells: It is a delicate balancing act to make sure that every area of your life is flourishing. I have definitely gotten significantly less sleep since launching Ice Cream Castles. I try to give everything I have to both my family and my business. They come first, so an abundance of sleep has become secondary.
Veronique: I don’t sleep much. I have definitely sacrificed sleep. Most of my work is at night after my kids go to sleep, so sometimes it can be trying. I have also sacrificed going on vacations. I haven’t gone away much since I have started the line, because there just isn’t time. I have to make a conscious effort to even carve out time for myself, or alone time with my husband. Wells sent me this quote one night while I was complaining about the lack of sleep: "Entrepreneurship is living a few years of your life like most people won't so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can't." I love that. So when its 2 a.m. and I still have to pack two lunches and have no idea how I am going to cope at 7 a.m. when my twins wake up, I often remind myself of this quote and hope that the sleepless nights will lead to something great.
What would you say are the most important skills and experiences you've brought from previous positions to Ice Cream Castles?
Wells: Before Ice Cream Castles, I owned a contemporary women's line called Primp. Like Ice Cream Castles, it was knit- and print-driven. So there are a lot of similarities in development and production. It's been fun getting to walk down memory lane a bit.
Veronique: When I look back at everything I’ve created, what stands out the most is producing theater. All those years of building and painting sets has made creating the look books so much easier to visualize and a lot more fun. I worked in public relations for a bit, and that has really helped our business in terms of marketing and branding. My slight obsession with social media has been a huge asset, thankfully. Becoming a mom has grounded me and given me strength and self-awareness. I can say with confidence that my vision for Ice Cream Castles comes from this place of strength. Trusting myself and experiencing self-love has been the greatest gift that has come with age.
If you could have lunch with any business person/mogul/entrepreneur/nonprofit founder living or dead, who would it be and why?
Wells: A long lunch with Sheryl Sandberg, Oprah, Gloria Steinem, Beyoncé and Maria Grazia Chiuri. I wouldn't be able to eat, but I would definitely leave nourished.
Veronique: I would love to have lunch with Oprah. She slays.