From a Side Hustle to a “Piece of Heaven”
How one woman turned a dream into a mission to inspire kindness.
It all started with some sticky notes. In 2012, M.J. Kocovski started the blog Pars Caeli (pronounced “pars kiley,” which means “piece of heaven”) to bring joy and cultivate a community of people. A few years later—and thanks to those sticky notes—that creative adventure has grown into the online shop Good in Store with a mission to encourage kindness.
Good in Store offers apparel, prints, printables and more that are all designed by M.J. with encouraging messages. “My business is founded on hope and an experience that goodness inspires goodness,” she said.
So, how did this designer with a full-time job, three children and a husband find the time to do it all? Let’s have M.J. explain:
What inspired you to start Pars Caeli?
I began as an avid reader of blogs. I would bookmark my favorites and return daily to soak up projects, quality conversations, beautiful photography. But the more I read, the more I felt my own voice in the stories of these women who were working and mothering and creating and sharing. It’s the sharing part that finally tipped the scales for me. Four years later, in 2012, I hit publish on my own blog. And I ran hard, posting three to five times a week for the first few years.
How did you go from a blog to an online shop?
I asked myself “What problems can I help solve for my audience?” I began taking pictures of the sticky note jokes that I packed in my daughter’s lunch. I was already finding and drawing them for her, and I wondered if these jokes could be helpful for other parents to see something simple they could add to their children’s lunches. Parents commented and used them! I’d get tagged in their versions of the jokes. One of those parents was the creative director at The Land of Nod, a children’s store headquartered in Chicago.
I took a gigantic leap and emailed her, pitching the idea for 180 (total school days in the year) illustrated lunchbox jokes that Land of Nod could sell. I wasn’t in the practice of emailing corporate executives, and I knew this is not how products are officially developed, but my gut said try it. Fifteen minutes later, she said yes! Her willingness to take a chance on me pushed the best kind of snowball effect into motion.
You were working a full-time job and you have three kids. How did you make time to start your own business?
At a stage of life when I’d had infants and toddlers move to a more independent preschool/school age, I felt a new sense of energy. What I found as I nourished my own creative pursuits—first as DIY blogger and photographer, and then illustrator and product designer—is that I brought more excitement and skill to my job and more joy to my family. Truthfully, after a series of six years where I was either pregnant or nursing, I had grown used to little sleep, so I would write, craft, style or photograph at 10:00 p.m., and keep to my infant sleeping schedule, often working until 3:00 a.m. I’d also use my weekends to bank a lot of great content with my children. I was often tired, but incredibly energized, so I was committed to keep going.
Why the focus on encouraging messages and kindness?
I want to find ways to draw attention to the good happening all around us and to keep that desire for a kinder, gentler world. As a mom, I wondered if my children would benefit more from shirts that read Do Good or Choose Kind Over Cool over some of the more sarcastic designs available. And I wondered how wearing a Be Kind shirt might affect middle school. Taking it further, how would we as adults act differently wearing advertisements for kindness all day long?
Will wearing a shirt that says Always Be Kinder Than You Feel in pretty gold foil change the world? No, or maybe not. But it might cause you to pause and consider how you’ll approach the next person you encounter or cause the people in your life to reflect.
How have your kids been part of your inspiration?
My oldest was in kindergarten when I kicked off the blog and she saw me move it from family projects to brand collaborations to product development, and I noticed how it affected her. She started talking about what she wanted to create with such a light in her eyes. I knew that I wanted any business I run to support that light. She would help me develop products and tweak designs, think about packaging and messaging. We had great conversations over mailing orders and counting inventory.
As her siblings grew up, they too wanted to see what this was about, and as I heard them talk about inventions they wanted to bring to life and businesses they wanted to create and books they wanted to write, my heart just burst. I want all of my children to have a sense that they can and should change the world with their gifts. In a special way, I want my daughters to see that women can and do lead, create and move the world.
Pars Caeli and Good in Store are much more of a family business than my own side hustle. And I feel really blessed to be able to open up the process to my children as a learning experience.
Take a look at M.J.’s blog and store at ParsCaeli.com. Some of her apparel can also be found at Ali on the Boulevard in South Bend.