It all started with a simple tag on the photo-sharing social network Instagram. I didn’t know “thelittlebugger” but was nonetheless intrigued by the username. A quick click led to a page, “little divas belong,” with one image after another of adorable young girls dressed to the nines in lace, petticoats and princess pinks.
It didn’t take long for me to find a dress for my own little princess; pretty soon The Little Bugger (TLB) was making a regular appearance on my Instagram feed.
Later on I noticed that, unlike other retailers who focused solely on their products, TLB regularly uploaded meaningful parenting tips and personal photos or, at other times, humorous situations which many moms could relate to.
Seeing those posts made me realize that behind the brand was a real person (a mother at that!), who was passionate not just about her work but her family as well. I’ve often thought that social media makes friends out of strangers and, sometimes, strangers out of friends, but that’s another story. Fortunately, this was a case of the former—despite never having had the chance to meet one another, Shiela “Shel” Baluyot, the woman behind TLB, and I kept in touch and updated one another through likes, comments and tags.
I knew when she had her baby, just as she knew when I had mine. As we continued to communicate, I remained intrigued but this time, no longer just by the brand but by the woman herself.
And so it was that I found myself meeting Shel for breakfast. We fell into conversation easily, shifting from one topic to another— work, family, children, past experiences and life lessons as well as faith and how it works in our lives.
Then, of course, we talked about our babies. Shel is mother to three children: 6-year-old Keaton, 4-year-old Kaela and 1-year-old Casey.
But she has one more “baby” that she has been taking care of for the last four years: her clothing line for girls, The Little Bugger.
Listening to her stories, I was inspired to share them with you, dear readers. It’s not always easy to balance motherhood and work, but here is a “mompreneur” who has been able to happily do it.
Aside from that, I was struck by how familiar her situation sounded. I know many amazing mothers who have shared the same sentiments that Shel had in the beginning. For many, the thought of putting up a business is daunting and strictly for the corporate-type woman.
But here is someone who is just like any of us. Yet, despite having no experience or background in entrepreneurship, she managed to work with what she knew and, through baby steps, is making her dream come true.
In 2011, upon discovering she will go through a delicate pregnancy with her second child, Shel resigned from her job in a telecommunications company. She knew she had to do it for the safety of her unborn child, but once the reality of her decision set in, she felt restless.
As the second of eight children, Shel had to start working immediately after college to help send her younger siblings to school. Since then, she had been working her whole life. What was she supposed to do at home now? She wasn’t used to her new situation.
“After giving birth, I knew that I needed to do something. I didn’t want to simply stay at home so I prayed over it. I asked for something that would be truly mine, something I could be passionate about,” she recalled.
One day, while coming up with creative outfits and accessories for her daughter Kaela, she had an idea: “Why not make more of these accessories and sell them online?” And since Kaela was fond of waking up at midnight to “bug” her parents, a name, “The Little Bugger,” was born.
Shel began by creating hair bands herself, which she would post online. Soon she discovered that there was a market for more unique items for young girls and she decided to provide clothing as well.
She scoured the Internet for unique products; in the first two years she attended expositions abroad in order to find products and meet suppliers because she “wanted to find items that would be unique and unlike everything you find in the malls. That’s why I source my products from abroad.”
But things weren’t as simple as she thought they would be. There were times that items were misrepresented, and when her orders would arrive, they would be disappointing in terms of quality.
Undaunted, she persevered. She learned which suppliers to trust and developed a more discerning sense of judgment.
At home, it wasn’t always easy to get work done either. Shel said that one of the difficulties of being a “work-at-home mom” is that the children constantly seek her out. “Putol-putol ang trabaho! Unlike when you are in the office, you can concentrate,” she pointed out.
But where there is a will, there is a way, and Shel has since learned to schedule things and make time for everything. She dedicates her mornings to the children, has lunch with her husband, and once the kids take their afternoon naps, goes to a room-turned-office where she can focus on her work—ordering stocks, packing, sending out orders or doing her accounting. “Ako lahat ’yan! Hindi ako napapagod kahit ako pa ang nagpapack, ako tagasagot, lahat!” she said, laughing.
But soon it got to a point where her children had to tell her to put her phone down and, at times, hide it from her. This taught her a valuable lesson.
“When I am with my kids, I make sure to leave my phone outside the room or put it away because it is always ringing because of work. Of course I am not complaining but, as I said, there is a time for everything and when it is time for my children, it’s time for them only. I’m a work-at-home mom, but I’m a mom first and foremost. I chose this so I can be close to my kids and bond with them even while working, so they will always be my priority,” Shel said.
Sometimes, Shel’s daughter helps out by going through the stocks with her mother. It’s easy to imagine a little girl with a closet filled to the brim with the latest styles and orders of her mother, but Shel is quick to correct this notion. “I make it clear that she can’t have everything. I tell her these are for the store. Because of this, she appreciates the things that she has even more.”
Shel credits her loving family and supportive husband for her success and joy; throughout our conversation, she repeatedly mentioned how blessed she feels.
Her prayers are constantly answered and she always senses the guidance of God in everything she does. She also has a husband who has always stood by her and encouraged her to make her dreams come true.
She is likewise grateful for her customers, many of whom have become her friends. “I feel fulfilled when [customers] send me photos of their kids wearing TLB clothes and tell me things like, ‘Sis, my daughter won’t take it off now!’ or ‘It’s nicer than the photo!’ Those things keep me going.”
That is why, just two years later, TLB made the leap from being a cybershop to a real physical store. It’s been two years as well since she opened the store in Shoppesville, Greenhills. She is still in awe of how everything has fallen into place for her.
As Shel talked about the path that got her to where she is, she also discussed the things she has learned along the way: “Don’t let anyone put you down. You can’t please everyone, but make sure to keep your family happy because they’re the most important, especially your husband. I’ve always said that the secret ingredient of a happy family is a good and loving husband kasi ’pag magulo kayo, you can’t work properly or give yourself to the kids because your mind is also troubled.”
I’ve always been a romantic. I’m always glad to see a real-life happily ever after. Listening to Shel, I couldn’t help but smile.
She reminded me that, indeed, the happiest people are not those who have the most but, rather, those who are the most grateful.
“At first, I thought that when I became a mom, it ends here. I’ll just take care of my kids, but no, hindi porke’t mommy ka na, tapos ka na. It actually is just the beginning. Just keep yourself open to opportunities and you’ll have even more—so much more!”
The Little Bugger is at the third level of Shoppesville, Greenhills, and online at facebook.com/thelittlebugger or Instagram @thelittlebugger.