Larry LaRue

Larry LaRue: Puyallup single mother (and daughter) have unconventional success story

Desiree Burgess sews a head wrap Wednesday while her daughter, Hartley, 3, watches the work from behind.  Burgess has her own clothing business, Harts & Pearls, which she operates out of her Puyallup condo. It began in 2012 when she became a single mother and wanted to work from home.
Desiree Burgess sews a head wrap Wednesday while her daughter, Hartley, 3, watches the work from behind. Burgess has her own clothing business, Harts & Pearls, which she operates out of her Puyallup condo. It began in 2012 when she became a single mother and wanted to work from home. Staff photographer

Not all success stories are the same.

Desiree Burgess, who began a clothing accessory business in 2012 at her Puyallup kitchen table, has made success appear easy.

It wasn’t.

She once dreamed how her life would unfold — a wedding, children, her own business — and watched as it all seemed to come undone.

Still, at 33, Burgess is a success story, albeit an unconventional one.

“I have pride in Harts and Pearls, I’m proud of my life,” Burgess said. “I’m chasing after dreams and providing for my daughter. I’m passionate about others chasing their dream.”

A single mother when she gave birth to daughter Hartley in 2011, Burgess has a business model that appeared accidentally.

“I always had interest in fashion, and I have a certain style,” said Burgess, who grew up in Grays Harbor, then attended the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. “I wanted to create something that couldn’t be found, and I didn’t have much money to do that with.

“I started making headbands for Harley. She’s gorgeous anyway, so she didn’t need a headband to be beautiful. But every time we went out, women would ask me where I’d gotten Hartley’s headband.”

Burgess was on a three-month maternity leave from a medical spa job in Kirklan, and thought she might be able to extend that by making and selling what she was creating.

She got a business license in February 2012 and began selling on Facebook. Six months later, she had a website.

Today, Harts and Pearls has six employees and sells women’s, children’s and babies’ accessories at more than 25 Western Washington retailers. It ships orders around the country, and recently filled requests in Thailand and France.

“So many people have passions but don’t pursue them,” Burgess said. “It’s important to feel fulfilled. I’m grateful I have that in my life.”

Just another small-business success story?

Burgess knows better. Everything she has — from Harts and Pearls to its inspiration, Hartley — once balanced on the razor’s edge of an agonizing decision.

“Getting pregnant out of wedlock, I was my own biggest critic. I thought I’d ruined all my plans,” she said. “I was going to be a single mother, and I didn’t see how I could take care of a baby or where I could find much help. My parents were going through a difficult time financially.

“I made an appointment to have an abortion.”

She recalls feeling “75 per cent sure” of her decision, but nonetheless reached out to friends, family, a counselor.

“The day before my appointment, I realized there wasn’t complete peace.”

She went to her parents’ Hood Canal cabin to spend time alone, only to find a couple she’d never met. They were acquaintances of her parents, they told her, and they were there to share a story.

“They told me shortly after they’d been married, they were expecting a baby and didn’t think they could support it,” Burgess said. “They chose to have an abortion. The only way they could heal from that decision was to share their story with others.”

Burgess canceled her appointment.

“It was scheduled Feb. 14,” Burgess. “Can you imagine what that would have been like on every Valentine’s Day the rest of my life?”

One thing Burgess knows: She is completely delighted by motherhood, single or otherwise.

“It could have been so very different. My daughter? I can’t explain the love I experience every day,” Burgess said. “She’s my miracle, and she's taught me more than I’ve taught her.”

Hartley is a savvy business partner, with a few quirks. If her mom creates a new accessory, Hartley will notice and render judgment.

“Hartley tries them on. We’ve gone to events where she sells headbands and mittens, scarves and bow ties. She loves getting the money. She doesn’t quite grasp the concept that once she takes it, she doesn’t get to keep the item she’s just sold.”

Hartley will turn 4 soon, and though Burgess remains a full-time single parent, she tries to keep an open heart. Of Hartley’s father, she says: “I look forward to the day he wants to be in Hartley’s life.”

Meanwhile, there’s another dream brewing for Burgess. She wants to establish a nonprofit organization to help local women start their own small businesses. She wants to nourish other success stories, more aware than most people that not all will be alike.

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