February Cover Mom Sophie Demenge Founder of Oeuf: A New York Love Story
For many New Yorkers, when one hears any conversation regarding the brand Oeuf (oeufnyc.com), the line French born Sophie Demenge started over 20 years ago with her husband, Michael Ryan, many have the same reaction, mostly of Ahhh. Memories may toggle somewhere from nostalgia to aspirational home goals. For us parents who now have kids in their tween and teenage years, we have memories of that dreamy baby stage where we chose a unique item or two (or three!) and placed it delicately in our baby’s room or carefully hung in the closet. Then we recall with a warmth how each room, each closet, was eventually upgraded to reflect a new stage with Oeuf’s beautiful pieces.
Which is the point. Oeuf was created to design their daughters’ room with a modern and high quality (non-existent at the time) that evolved into a brand renowned for its modern, sustainable, and durable furniture and clothing. This further expanded when their son was born, and they haven’t looked back.
Over the years, their Prospect Park home – particularly the kids’ rooms – became the backdrop of many photoshoots (where we recently enjoyed spending time during this cover shoot!).
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Today, Sophie, Michael, and their small team (which is a family affair as it sometimes includes help from their kids: Mae, now 21, and Marius, now 19) continue to be strongly rooted in their values of craftsmanship and quality. Much of Sophie’s design and focus on sustainability comes from her background growing up in France, surrounded by quality products that weren’t thrown away.
Oeuf and family are still growing as the brand and Sophie, now an empty nester, evolve into new designs and new adventures. Read on to learn more about this seasoned mom and entrepreneur who embraces life – and her business – with heart, love, and a mission to always stay true to herself.
New York Family: Tell us about the history of Oeuf and how you and your husband, Michael Ryan, created it 21 years ago?
Sophie Demenge: We kind of created it by necessity because in 2002, there was really nothing. It was a very different landscape in the kids’ design space, especially in furniture.
At the time, we actually had another design business for grownups where we were creating ceramics wood, one-of-a-kind pieces, and metal pieces. Since we had that business, we already had a design studio in Brooklyn. So, when I was expecting, Michael and I started looking around for furniture where we realized that there was this giant gap. So, we decided to make everything for my daughter in the studio, and it took off. At first, we actually didn’t plan on making it a business. The pieces were just for her.
We curated and made her rugs, the bedding, the crib, all the furniture, and the toys. It was really, really fun to do. When they went to the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in NYC where we presented some of our kids’ stuff. A few weeks later, we were in The New York Times! It was incredible, but I think people saw that there were items out there that weren’t made well or clunky. Plus, they weren’t a variety of great design and kids were not kind of honored that way. We kept designing things for the kids and continued to expand. Two-and-a-half years later, I had my son, Maus and then we made a toddler bed. We then made a desk, a bunk bed, and expanded to clothing. While we did still have the other business, we realized that what we were creating at Oeuf was a lot more fun and went for it.
New York Family: That’s incredible! Were you also doing the photography, setting up the website, and all of the nitty-gritty behind-the-scenes stuff?
Sophie Demenge: Oh, yes and I’m still doing all the photography. We’re a very small team. People think that we’re like a much bigger company, and they’re always surprised that I answer some of the DMs from Instagram.
New York Family: What has been the experience like working with your husband? How has that evolved over the years?
Sophie Demenge: We do very different things that compliment each other. We have a division of labor and tasks. It has changed and evolved over the years. Sometimes it does feel like we are in a never-ending round of couples therapy and other times it’s exhilarating. I think it’s important to be able to separate marriage and our work relationship a little bit. We also know each other so well and know when we need to leave when one of us needs a bit more space. We’re also both goofballs and laugh a lot. I think that’s the super glue in the relationship.
I also still feel like we’re in this 20-year-old startup where we’re still learning. We’ve had to adapt together really quickly, and even when we feel like we have a handle on things, something else happens. This is very similar to parenting and nice to know that Michael is the one I can bounce ideas off of and connect with about everything from parenting to business.
New York Family: Your brand is so classic and timeless. Have you ever felt the need to change your products over the years to conform to trends/ the ever-changing baby/kid marketplace?
Sophie Demenge: We believe in staying true to ourselves and I don’t think we are influenced by the outside world. We try to do what makes sense and we’re not trying to please anyone or even guess what people want. As with our history, we created what was best for our own children and it resonated. We only launch a new product when we’re excited about something or when we feel like it is missing in the market.
New York Family: Oeuf is such a special brand. Do you feel that being from France and Brooklyn influences your designs?
Sophie Demenge: I’ve been influenced by my designs and approach to life from my mother. She always valued quality, playfulness, and humor in everything. She was an American living in Paris. I think I had the best of both worlds.
New York Family: Why do so many French people move to NYC?
Sophie Demenge: NYC is a wonderful place to live that gives you wings. There is that undercurrent of optimism – and as cliche as it sounds– there is the omnipresent sense that everything is possible. I always felt as if there’s a stigma of no failure, which is not the case in France. If someone has an entrepreneurial spirit and thinks outside of the box in NYC and you are willing to work hard and take risks, it can be a giant playground.
New York Family: Tell us how your now-grown children are involved in Oeuf.
Sophie Demenge: It’s wonderful! They’ve done really everything from the behind the scenes styling to modeling when they were newborn to helping out at photo shoots or selling at sample sales! They’ve also grown up in this world since a lot of our photo shoots are held at home. They’re used to seeing stylists, photographers,and people come in and out of their rooms with equipment. The business has become a part of our creative family adventure. However, they do have their own lives- and I welcome them back to help whenever they are around.
New York Family: What was it like raising Mae and Marius in Brooklyn? How was it different from your experience growing up in Paris?
Sophie Demenge: I started out as a mom in the East Village. When May was two, two years old, we moved to Brooklyn. I wanted her to have a community and roots. I find Brooklyn very similar to Paris in that way. When I grew up in Paris, I always walked to school, which is similar to how they grew up in Park Slope. We used to walk everywhere. When they were younger, the kids would walk to the orthodontist or to their friends’ house or for sleepovers. Brooklyn feels like a village (like Paris) that I love. I also love having access to Prospect Park, which is similar to my walks to the Luxembourg Garden.
Now, it is also beautiful to see my kids’ connection to France. We all go all the time. My daughter actually lived there last year and wants to move back when she graduates. My son is there now, too!
New York Family: What do you think influences your design sensibility?
Sophie Demenge: I think design and creativity is very personal. We’re not really a big consumer type of family so I think there’s this French sensibility from how I grew up about quality and not quality.
When we first started, we would tell people to buy less, really buy less. Especially young mothers who are inundated with products. I actually think you don’t need much. For example, in France we don’t throw things away. In our line, we encourage people to resell items, use them on other kids, or give them a friend. This is our sustainable model, which is rooted in our design and mission.
New York Family: Tell us about what it’s like now that your kids are older and you are in the empty nester phase – what are you excited about?
Sophie Demenge: I’m really excited when they come home but I also love seeing them out in the world and becoming their own people. I actually like being in the background (of their lives) where I almost become irrelevant. I think a great testament to my parenting is to let them shine and be their own people.
In terms of my day-to-day, it freed up some time, including my mental time. Women and mothers take on so much that we don’t even realize. I feel like I was wearing these different backpacks – like what’s for dinner or appointments – that I don’t have to be burdened with.
I’m also a new empty nester cause my son just graduated from high school so I haven’t even really figured out how I want to use this newfound energy. Especially, as a mom, I think we always put ourselves last. I don’t even know what I would love to be doing yet, because I’m so used to doing everything for everybody else. It’s also shocking (in a good way) to have this time. I think having more time with friends, and even reading a book is going to be amazing.
There’s this French comedian who says that being an empty nester is kind of like being a teenager with a credit card. I resonate with that a lot in this stage.
New York Family: How do you like to spend time with your kids when you’re not working?
Sophie Demenge: I love to do one-on-one activities with them. Like for Christmas, I wanted a date night with Marius. I even went to the Polar Plunge (in Coney Island) with Mae. She loves trying new things and we had a nice time together. I love these shared moments (with them). We have also tried Brooklyn Glass where you can enjoy glass blowing. We also love walks to the Botanic Garden or visiting the Brooklyn Museum and BAM.
Over the years, I realized that they don’t talk where we are sitting across from each other. When we do things together, they open up in unexpected ways. During these experiences, I have had the deepest conversations with my son who opens up and shares something unexpected. I think this has been really helpful, especially when they were teenagers where I tried to give them experience and listen. Even when I wanted to scream with excitement when they opened up.
New York Family: Do you have a favorite Brooklyn memory of your kids?
Sophie Demenge: There have been so many! It has been as simple as going to our favorite pizza joint that we used to go after Halloween. We also love our visits to the Park Slope Food Co-op. My absolute favorite was walking the kids to school and holding their little hands. I loved dropping them off and picking them up and seeing their little faces light up. I live five blocks from that school and I still remember those precious moments.
New York Family: Is there anything about the brand you’d like to share that people might not be familiar with.
Sophie Demenge: Consistency and quality is important to us where all of the furniture is made in Europe for the past 20 years. Michael often goes to Latvia where the products are made as well as Bolivia where our knitters live. We even invited the five original knitters to spend a week with us in Brooklyn. At the end of the day, our family (and the people who work for us) are interwoven in the business. At the end of the day that’s what really matters.
New York Family: What is your advice for someone who wants to start their own business?
Sophie Demenge: Be open to feedback. It’s a great adventure (to start your own business) where you will learn so much about yourself. However, it’s not for the faint of heart but every minute is worth it if you find your passion.