A woman in a black turtleneck seated on a stool

“Real Women, Real Work” is a Darling series about everyday women who work in various fields including business, entertainment, science and education. We want to get to know the WHY behind their WHAT and get an inside look into different industries.

Licensed marriage and family therapist, mom of three, CEO, entrepreneur and wife to nine-time NBA All-Star Russell Westbrook, Nina Westbrook knows a thing or two about juggling multiple hats. When the uncertainty of 2020 began to unfold, Nina was in the midst of launching her newest business venture, kids’ apparel line Minibrook

Inspired by her childrenher eldest, Noah, and her twins, Jordyn and SkyeNina’s vision for the brand was to create an elevated kids’ line with stylish designs that are comfortable, versatile and responsibly made. The upheaval of 2020 didn’t deter Nina’s launch. Luckily, she had previous business experience as the founder and CEO of Little Ark, an Oklahoma City-based boutique based that offers not only baby and kids’ clothes but a community space for parents and littles to come together for classes and constructive play time. 

Darling got to chat with Nina about her experience launching her kids’ apparel line in the midst of a pandemic while also balancing marriage and motherhood. She shared with us details about the newest Minibrook collection, launching just in time for holiday shopping!

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Honestly, as a young child, I don’t know that I remember wanting to do anything particular. Growing up, I was always the caregiver. I had three brothers. I wasn’t the oldest. I have two older brothers, but I was very much the bossy sister and the extension of mom in all ways. Perhaps, I was aspiring to be a mom by “moming” my brothers.

Was there an “aha” moment when you knew you wanted to become a therapist? How did you transition into becoming a business owner as well?

I think because of my natural ability to support otherswhether it’s family, friends, parents and my brothers. I was always the friend who people wanted to talk to about what is going on in their lives. I was always a really good listener and really empathetic. I think I naturally was living that lifestyle even without any training as a therapist. My first year at UCLA, I decided I wanted to take some courses in psychology to see if it was something I wanted to study. 

Because my husband’s work requires us to move, we lived in multiple states throughout the year and practicing as a therapist in a traditional sense became very difficult. We were in the small town environment of OKC, and I couldn’t have the same therapeutic relationship with my clients because of my husband’s popularity. I decided to shift gears and took that as an opportunity to explore other interests. 

I decided to shift gears and took that as an opportunity to explore other interests. 

The outside of a children's apparel store
Image via Zach Beeker

Since I could not keep practicing, that birthed the idea for The Little Ark. At the time of launching the store, I was pregnant with my twins. I was inspired by my oldest son, Noah, the life of a new mom and just trying to figure out all the things you think you need as a mom. I got really interested in kids’ retail, and I thought that starting a children’s apparel store would be a good learning experience.

I wanted to open The Little Ark because there weren’t places that were offering the things I wanted to get for my kids. The Little Ark was focused on trendy fashion for kids, whereas a lot of stores in OKC were very traditional. 

Another distinguisher about The Little Ark is the community aspect. I wanted to figure out a way to incorporate a social aspect because it is so important for personal growth. I incorporated a room where we do Mommy and Me classes. I partnered with a local hospital to offer milk bars where pregnant women can see lactation specialists for free. We also offer CPR certifications and First Aid certifications, all the things that families with small children need to keep the family safe.

What does a typical day look like as a psychologist, entrepreneur, mom of three and wife to NBA All-Star Russell Westbrook?

I have had to shift my approach to being connected with the mental health world. Right now, I am doing a lot of self-help stuff on my website. I am partnering with other peopleyoga instructors, physicians and life coachesto share information about mental wellness and information for mental and physical health.

These days life looks a lot like me trying to be organized and not always being successful at it. It’s about asking for help when I need it and using my resources. My time is so limited right now. So it’s almost easier to do it myself than to explain what I want or need to someone else. Every single day is a balance and a struggle to get what I need done.

I have learned that you have to wake up with a positive attitude. I probably went to bed at 5 a.m., but I am up and excited for all the things happening today, which is a lot! I’ve learned to tackle things one thing at a time. I am always scurrying along, but it’s fun.

I’ve learned to tackle things one thing at a time. I am always scurrying along, but it’s fun.

A photo of a children's apparel store
Image via Zach Beeker

You launched Minibrook in the middle of a pandemic! What was that process like? 

Launching Minibrook was a challenge. We were set to launch right before COVID-19, right at the start of March. We got completely derailed. All of the manufacturers and factories were closing down since they are all in L.A. 

It became a really long process to launch the line. It required a lot of patiencewaiting, waiting and waiting and channeling my energy elsewhere. It was definitely different. I don’t know what it would look like to launch a line in a normal market or normal world. I don’t think it took away from the process, but it left me with time to think it through more and be more thorough. 

Collection 2 launched Nov. 19! The process between Collection 1 and 2 was a lot more pleasant because there were no shut downs, and it was going as planned by production standards. I had a lot of fun this time around!

I love everything about Collection 2. I love accessories. For Collection 2, we have kids’ bibs and beanies. We also have non-medical face masks for kids. This line has a lot of oversized, big hoodies and the old school gym sweatpants. The fabric is more heavyweight and fleece on the inside for cooler weather. It’s snuggly, soft and cozy. My favorite thing is the Drop Crotch Pant because I love anything relaxed, edgy and cool looking. 

What is it like to juggle motherhood and your career as a therapist and business owner all while being in the public eye?

It’s kind of weird because I don’t see myself as being in the public eye. Maybe that’s because I like to be pretty private most of the time. As a family, we kind of just do business as usual. We share what we want to share with the world. Most of our lives we keep to ourselves. That might also be because we are so obsessed with each other and enjoy our time together. We are always hanging out inside our home. 

However, being in the public eye comes with its challenges sometimes. When it’s time for the kids to have Back to School Night, some activity or a doctor’s appointment, sometimes, to Russell, I’m like, “Can you just not come to this one so we can just be normal and people not care so much?” Sometimes, I just want to be normal and chill and that is not always possible when Russell is around, but we make it work!

A husband and wife seated on a sofa chairThe Little Ark is a unique business model in that it offers gifts for everyone, baby apparel, as well as a range of classes and events. What hole did you see in the market that you wanted Little Ark to fill?

There were not a ton of places where people could go with their kids and do interactive activities. We had Gymboree, but I wanted to do a modern take on that and cater to young families. I wanted to have everything on trend and keep up with what new moms are looking for. 

I wanted to bring a modern feel and touch to the community. I felt like there was so much tradition. Apparel for kids was very classic. It was pink, frills, ruffles and lace. I’m such a chill, non-frilly person, and I wanted to make sure to fill that gap in with something a little more edgy for that modern family.

I’m such a chill, non-frilly person, and I wanted to make sure to fill that gap in with something a little more edgy for that modern family.

That’s how we came up with the idea with Minibrook too. We are a big fashion family. My husband is very involved in the fashion industry, and he has his own line. He takes fashion very seriously. I like functionality and comfort so that you dress it up, dress it down and just go. Shopping for my twins, it was the hardest thing to find clothes for them. I wanted to create clothes that can be passed between brothers and sisters, that are good quality and can keep being passed down, over and over again.

What do you enjoy most about being a mom? 

Just my kids. They’re so funny. They brighten me up and they inspire me, even when they are driving me up the wall. It’s unconditional love. It’s unexplainable. I wasn’t really sure what that was before having kids. It’s been cool to discover.

It’s unconditional love. It’s unexplainable. I wasn’t really sure what that was before having kids.

A mom sitting on a couch with her three kidsDo you have anything exciting coming up for the holiday or end of year with Minibrook or The Little Ark?

So I really like grey, black and whiteneutral colors. When I was designing the new Minibrook collection, a friend said I needed to add something red. In my opinion, that’s just so bright. She explained because the holiday season is coming up, and people like red for Christmas. I took her advice, and we have lots of red items in Collection 2rompers and fun stuff for Christmas. We did a holiday nod!

I also recently got to collaborate with Simple Modern on a line of really cute and modern water bottles for kids and adults. They offer everything from backpacks to lunch boxes. We collaborated to create with the Minibrook prints and patterns. I love that anyone can use the water bottles. It’s not just for kids! It launched on Black Friday. You can purchase that on either Minbrook’s or Simple Modern’s website.

What advice would you give to moms who are feeling the pressure of WFH while juggling a lot on their plates?

Be patient with yourself. If you’re anything like me, you want things to happen very quickly and you want all of your hard work to come to fruition quickly. Homeschooling and being a mom is a job. Be patient with yourself and have grace for yourself. Giving yourself time to recover and refill your cup is going to be key. 

Giving yourself  time to recover and refill your cup is going to be key. 

Also, just keep your focus on what your goals are—no matter how long that takes. It’s definitely worth it to stay the course. It took me a long time to get my license in therapy because of my husband’s career, constantly moving states and changing jobs. It took five years when most people are done in two. Looking back, I am glad I accomplished it. I am happy I stayed the course.

Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to your younger self about life and career?

Slow down. I would just say to slow down and to stay the course. I think being patient and letting life work for you. 

To keep up to date with Nina, follow her on Instagram and her store The Little Ark. To shop her newest collection for Minibrook, shop here!

Lead Image via Nina Westbrook

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