I was really excited to talk with Maia McDonald Smith, the “daughter half” of the mother-daughter duo that founded Bitte Shop, a collection of children’s goods that are carefully selected for their combination of being responsibly-made, plus well designed. Aside from running her own business, she is a busy mom to a young daughter and the Art Director of Rue Magazine, one of my favorite publications of all time that beautifully highlights impeccable interiors, entertaining and more. Continue reading to learn more about this amazing woman, the business she is building, and what is special to her about Oakland.
24 East: What is your background?
Maia McDonald: I went to school for graphic design and I worked for Shopbop.com and Williams-Sonoma for years. Around that time I got on Pinterest and I started to get a lot of follows, and I started getting freelance jobs through Pinterest. I quit my day job and was doing freelance work, and that’s when I got approached by Rue. They were looking for a part-time Art Director at that time.
24E: What inspired you to start Bitte Shop?
MM: I started it with my Mom, and my Mom started her own children’s toy business when I was a toddler that she built up throughout the 80’s and 90’s, and sold in the mid-90’s. It also was focused on all natural materials and had a lot of European brands. At that time, she was really into organic and natural materials but in the 80’s and 90’s when she had little kids, there wasn’t a lot of that in the United States. We’ve always kind of talked throughout the years and thought, it would be so fun to start something. What should we start? It would be cool to do something in the children’s space again because that’s what my Mom’s background is in.
We’ve always kind of bounced ideas around. It wasn’t really until I had my daughter when I started to more seriously think, “Yeah I would really like to do this.” I was shopping for myself and for my daughter at that time. As a new mom, I started to really hone what it was that I wanted as a shopper. I don’t really have time to be going out searching for these tiny little brands everywhere. I really want a trusted source where I can go and I’ll know these are responsibly made or manufactured, and they’re well designed.
24E: What is a typical day like for you?
MM: I try and get a bunch of work done in the morning. My husband is a stay at home dad so he is with her in the morning. She now goes to preschool one morning a week so that helps. I try and get a bunch of work done in the morning, and then in the afternoons I try to spend some time with her but also do stuff that’s maybe away from the desk. Where I can still work but be doing stuff with her.
24E: How do you fit in your work with Rue Magazine?
MM: With Rue, at this point I am just doing the online magazine. We also have Rue Daily, and we brought on another graphic designer to help out with that. I’m just working on the issues now. Those come only 4 times a year. We used to publish more but now it’s 4 times a year so I work my schedule around those times of the year, so I have extra time to just work on that.
24E: What is it like to work with your mom?
MM: It’s nice to work with someone that you know so well. Our talents really complement each other and she had done this in the past. She knows what she is doing and she knows more of the business side of stuff. With my background in design and marketing, with Pinterest and social media, it really is a good marriage.
24E: You lived in Oakland, what did you like about it?
MM: I come from the Midwest and I really like the Bay Area in general, but Oakland has a special feeling about it. People are always doing really interesting things. I found that really inspiring. I feel like there’s this energy where it’s just like, “Yeah I can do anything. I’m going to start this restaurant or I’m going to start this project.” I just thought that was so great. It was just always about people going for what they wanted, which was cool.
24E: What is the best part of your job?
MM: I think that I get to do a bunch of different things. I’m not just doing one thing for the site. It’s small and you kind of have to do everything. You can’t just be like, “Oh I’m going to stick with one thing and then someone else can do this.” There isn’t anyone else. I get to do photography, and I get to do marketing and I get to do graphic design. I get to be a buyer. Pick out the products. I think that is what I really like.
To visit Bitte Shop, go here.
To see Maia’s amazing Pinterest account, go here.