I met Milena in 2010 when we both pursued our degrees in literary journalism at the University of California, Irvine, School of Humanities. We’ve been storytellers for life, and we spent our college years immersed in the world of Joan Didion and Jon Krakauer—-dreaming of writing stories that challenged the world around us and built positive connections with others. Milena has a very warm personality and I’ve always been inspired by her strength and compassion for others. She is a fierce mama, mom boss, and believer, and I am SO proud to feature her on my blog!
Becoming a mother to two lovebugs has been the greatest blessing for Milena Enguidanos Gonzalez, owner and founder of boutique apparel shop, Lady & Little.
“I knew since childhood that I wanted a family. I wanted to fall in love with someone and create this beautiful life with them,” said Milena.
But there was a time in Milena’s life when she wondered if she would ever get to be a mom after experiencing miscarriages.
“Both Bendelle and Everett are rainbow babies and I could not be more thankful for them in our lives. Motherhood is not easy, but they have been my biggest blessings,” she said.
“I prayed every day for Bendelle and then prayed that we would one day give her a sibling. Looking back on all the pain and loss, they were worth it all. They are so different from each other, but they are so good together. They love each other so much. And it’s funny because everyone says how much they resemble each other (they look more like each other than they do like us). Bendelle is so loving and didactic with her brother. Everett is the happiest little boy and admires her so much,” she added.
Growing up in Long Beach, California, Milena says she has always been a bit of a hopeless romantic. When she met the love of her life Aaron, “the boy across the street,” she knew there was something very special. Aaron and Milena noticed each other right away. Milena recalls doing some homework under a big tree in her front yard, while Aaron was washing his car. One day, Aaron mustered the courage to ask Milena for her number and the rest was history.
“We are both big dreamers and he’s my best friend. We love to be outdoors, explore, cook, try new things, and have deep conversations together after the kids are asleep. We love surprising our kids with fun activities and just enjoying the simple things, like a lazy Sunday at home with our family. I am most importantly a mother, wife, and believer,” she added.
When Milena moved to Idyllwild, California, in 2013 with her husband and pups, she had the itch to launch a creative small business that would allow her to both express her creativity and be a stay-at-home mom for her firstborn child, Bendelle, and later, her baby boy, Everett.
“It wasn’t an easy decision. We sacrificed a lot to make it happen, but in the back of my mind, I wanted to still have my ‘contribution’ and something that was my own. I was always thinking of ways I could do something while still being at home with our baby,” said Milena.
The idea for her shop, “Lady & Little,” was inspired by her little girl, Bendelle, and her fierce spirit and love for the outdoors. Milena knew she wanted to create a “mama and me” clothing line that would document the rollercoaster journey of motherhood and childhood. She also wanted to create a line that would “grow and bloom” as Bendelle grew and reached her milestone childhood years. A month prior to Bendelle’s first birthday, Milena decided to officially launch her small business in September of 2015. She initially launched it on Etsy and then her Instagram, Lady & Little.
“I’ve always been a creative person, so designing my own clothing seemed like a dream. I kept thinking about this business as a tiny seed – something that could grow and flourish alongside my own children,” said Milena.
Milena says throughout her motherhood journey, she has learned a lot about patience, humility, and determination. She wanted to create a positive clothing line that inspired “ladies” and their “little” ones to explore and reach for the stars. She wanted mamas and littles to know that the opportunities are endless, and that imagination should always be nourished.
“I wanted to spread these little snippets of motivation and inspiration with other ladies and mamas. I want to create apparel with simple yet meaningful messages to lift you up and keep you going even things get tough and your patience is wearing thin. My hope is to instill the goodness of courage, kindness, hard work and fun into your little ones as well,” Milena wrote on her blog.
The concept of launching a small handmade shop kept calling to Milena. During her brainstorming sessions, she contemplated making natural candles or experimenting with beauty products. But she kept coming back to the idea of learning how to screenprint clothing. She had to learn how to teach herself to screen print, which was initially very difficult.
“I didn’t have a teacher to show me what to do or tell me when I was doing something wrong. I learned through trial and lots of errors. There have been lots of mistakes and frustrations–even times where I wanted to quit. So many moments where I second-guessed myself,” said Milena, who shared that over the years of managing her own business, she learned a lot about problem saving and patience.
Through all the various challenges and milestones, Milena recently celebrated three years as a small shop owner and is very happy she followed her dreams and carved her own path–even if she had a few doubts and setbacks along the way.
“The stats are against us but I think perseverance is such an important quality. I don’t want to be that person who quits when things get difficult. I’ve learned so much about perseverance through my husband who is such a hard worker and inspires me so much.”
Milena has always had a deep admiration and love for the outdoors. She’s a hiking enthusiast and would often spend her time living that “mountain life” in her former home in Idyllwild, California.
Though she has now moved to a cul-de-sac in the suburbs, Milena has fond memories of Idyllwild and the isolated yet daring spirit of mountain life. It’s the place where she became a homeowner for the first time, a mother of two, and also an entrepreneur. She is forever grateful for the connections she made in Idyllwild and the time spent in nature, away from the busy city life. It helped ground her and create a space for her to explore her power as a mama, wife, writer, and entrepreneur. It also inspired her to take her mountain life experience and create positive and inspiring handscreen-printed tees.
“It’s such a small town known for its love of art, music, and exercise (hiking and rock climbing, primarily). There are a lot of creative individuals there but because it’s such a small town a lot of times I did feel a bit isolated (we were 5,000 feet up on top of a mountain). I loved the people I met there, the beautiful nature that surrounded us.”
In the virtual space, Milena grew a massive following on her Instagram page, Lady & Little, and was humbled and inspired by all of the positive feedback and interactions she had with mompreneurs. “I didn’t have a ton of mom friends when I lived in Idyllwild, so a lot of my mom friends were people I met via my shop on Instagram.”
“The Instagram community of small shop moms is incredible. I have befriended so many talented women who inspire me on a daily basis and show me what is possible if I keep working on this dream of mine. We work together and help keep each other’s heads up in moments of doubt,” she added.
Today, Milena is happy with the feedback she’s received from customers and has learned a lot about what it takes to run a solo business even though at times it can be isolating and challenging because she is a “one-mom-shop” business, she explained.
“I was so afraid that people would complain about the processing time but my customers have been so incredible and supportive and I love that they understand that I am a one-mom-shop.”
One of Milena’s personal favorite classic Lady & Little tees is the “stay humble + hustle” design because it was one of the very first designs she came up with when she opened the shop. Other designs include the “Here’s to strong women” and “motherhood” designs. Since launching her line, she’s always thought about branching out and putting her designs on different things or wondering if she should be doing more to promote her business or stand out. But that’s when she takes a step back and realizes that she has to look within to find herself again.
“There’s beauty in finding your niche. Maybe one day I’ll add mugs or hats or something else. I did wood signs for a while but my heart is with my clothes. Creating uplifiting pieces that people are eager to dress themselves and their kids in – that’s what it’s all about for me.”
Milena hand screenprints and designs each and every piece, which makes her line unique.
“I put so much of myself in all of my pieces. I hope people see the heart and passion I put in my brand. I want them to take away all the messages about hard work, kindness, bravery, strength and what beauty really looks like. I want them to be inspired by my fun and positive designs.”
Handwritten cards and packaging each order individually is one of the most exciting parts of Milena’s business. But it’s also the people she’s met along the way, that inspire her to keep going, she says. “The other small shop owners I’ve met and befriended are people I now talk to on a daily basis. My customers are the sweetest too. I love building connections with people and talking about motherhood.”
When she’s not screenprinting or sending out final orders with beautiful handwritten cards to her customers, Milena always loves “winding down” with a glass of wine with her husband and soulmate, Aaron.
“I love hanging out with friends and family. We just became members at a vineyard down the road from us and I love spending an evening at the vineyard and playing with our kids outside while trying new wines.”
Most recently, Milena has also been very much interested in the healing power of essential oils and their therapeutic benefits. She decided to launch a separate Lady & Little essential oils Instagram account where she talks about the natural power of essential oils and holistic health, and how they help her and her family on a daily basis.
“They [essential oils] have helped me become more control over my emotions and have balanced out my hormones, which was such a blessing I didn’t realize I needed. They help with my kids sleep and my anxiety. I was suffering from a lot of anxiety right before I joined Young Living and I feel like I have a lot more control now.
Milena also loves doing different outdoor activities and even though she doesn’t go hiking as much as she did before kids, she knows she is always a “mountain gal” and an outdoor enthusiast for life. Running has always been a huge part of her life. Whenever she makes time to run, she is so grateful and appreciative for it.
“I crave solo runs where I can work my body and clear my head when things get stressful. I enjoy a suspenseful romantic read and would love to be an author one day. It’s one of my dreams.”
With her love for motherhood and entrepreneurship, Milena is grateful for the life she is living and is always trying to find a way to engage in self-care during moments of deep solitude and solace.
“I am obsessed with my kids and so in love with my husband and our family – even our three crazy dogs!! I love essential oils and use them for everything. I am very into natural living. We are always playing music – all different kinds – from pop to country to freestyle worship music. I love creating a fun positive space for my family, our guests, and myself. I really appreciate a relaxing bath, salted dark chocolate, dry, bold red wines, being by the ocean, a unique cocktail, an addicting series on Netflix, a satisfying book, and any kind of physical challenge where I know I am improving myself.”
-Written by Monica Luhar for Mornings with Moni