By Bailey Beckett
Lyss Stern is on a tight schedule, but you’d never know it. As she sits comfortably, looking almost languid in a nook at the cozy Java Girl Café on New York’s tony Upper East Side, her mind is keeping track of the many balls she has thrown in the air. The multi-tasking doesn’t frazzle her, though; behind the busy is a broad smile and sweet nature, both of which have helped her build her company, DivaMoms, into a real world and online community of parents who don’t think motherhood is an express ticket to stretch pants.
“A DivaMom is a woman who feels even sexier, stronger and more gorgeous after she has a baby,” explains Stern, who prefers going by just Lyss. “She is a woman who understands that loving your child doesn’t mean losing yourself, and that being a mom is the most fabulous time of your life.”
MOMS’ MOTHER HEN
The idea came to her after giving birth to her first child, son Jackson, now 14, and fearing the surrender of her pre-parenting life—feeling glamorous, sexy and always a woman, not just a mom. “Who said I have to put away my stilettos and become a hermit?” asks Lyss. “Sippy cups fit just as well in a fashionable handbag as a dowdy floral tapestry diaper bag.”
Recognizing a huge and previously untapped market, she called on her own experience as a publicist and preschool teacher and started a blog, DivaMoms.com, to share those thoughts. Before long, an audience had grown mom by mom. And it continues, as more women are inducted into the unparalleled ranks of motherhood.
As fall begins, and the smell of freshly-sharpened No. 2 pencils with their new pink erasers permeates the air, New York Lifestyles caught up with the mom-preneur to get a firsthand account of her journey.
“I felt so isolated and alone after having my first,” Lyss remembers. “I was disconnected from the person I had always been. I thought that woman and my new persona of mother couldn’t co-exist, much less be two parts of a whole. I didn’t know where to turn for guidance—there weren’t any books, online discussions, new mothers support groups that spoke to this experience. The closest thing I found was a group meeting, held in the back of a dark and dingy restaurant on the Upper East Side, with the leader advising, ‘This is how to breastfeed.’ I hightailed it out of there,” she laughs.
If necessity is the mother of invention, for this mother, sharing her experiences was a necessity—for her sanity. “When I started the blog, it was a personal diary detailing my experiences navigating the new and strange waters of motherhood, and my refusal to lose myself simply because I’d taken on an additional role, not a replacement one,” she says. “There wasn’t any reason I couldn’t still be vibrant and FabULyss.” (Another trademark: She loves using word plays on her name, and her friends and followers have followed, too. Just call them the LyssTeners.)
Now raising three kids (Jackson has since been joined by Oliver, 11 and daughter Blake, 4), Lyss continues to grow DivaMoms organically by engaging with her followers, who in turn invite their friends. That business savvy has caught the attention of companies and brands looking to reach the mom audience, from retailers selling baby clothes to high fashion designers. One of the first entrepreneurs to monetize the lucrative demographic (which Benchmark, a research firm, estimates at a $1.3 trillion market), Lyss has attracted a wide range of sponsors for events, store openings, book launches, product reviews and a multitude of other packages.
HER GREATEST JOY
Her secret? Good old fashion reality. “I don’t portray my life as perfect and I don’t want anyone to think it is, because it’s not. To claim otherwise wouldn’t be fair to the other moms who work hard to keep it all together,” she says. “What’s important is happy children, a family whose members know they’re loved and valued. I’ve been married to my husband, Brian, for 17 years and we’ve been together for 20. He, my three kids (and our dog, too!) are my greatest joys. Everything else is gravy.”
That doesn’t mean she isn’t having fun. Lyss has written two books about her experiences, including the well-received Motherhood Is A B#TCH, 10 Steps to Regaining Your Sanity, Sexiness and Inner Diva and co-authored by Sheryl Berk, which won accolades from critics and readers alike. “Finally, a book that doesn’t sugarcoat the idea of what it is to be a mother. Basically, we are warriors,” exclaimed handbag designer Rebecca Minkoff, while Gossip Girl alum Kelly Rutherford quipped, “Lyss tells it like it is while making us laugh at all the craziness and chaos that is motherhood. Her message is empowering—go forth and be fierce!”
THE BALANCING ACT
Through social media, email blasts (she is quick to note she has never bought a list, follower or fan, and never will), sponsored events, speaking engagements and highly-sought TV appearances (Today show, anyone?), Stern’s audience reach counts in the millions. Her signature event, the “Mom Moguls” breakfast held every year before Mother’s Day, is a must-attend for well-heeled New Yorkers. Earlier this year, more than 200 women filled Lord & Taylor to hear entrepreneurial advice from speakers like jeweler Jennifer Fisher, celebrity stylist June Ambrose, model-turned-entrepreneur Veronica Webb, Baked by Melissa founder Melissa Ben-Ishay, and Flywheel Sports creator Ruth Zukerman, to name a few.
Balancing family and her brand isn’t an easy task, but the joy of doing what she loves is infectious, and what keeps her going. And she finds inspiration from other parents in the process. “Moms in my network know we are here for each other,” she says.
They know how to be FabULyss!