Gena Mann and Carissa Tozzi are the founders of WOLF + FRIENDS, an informative, imaginative + inclusive shopping and lifestyle platform. Their goal is to educate families about shopping for specialized toys, decor, furniture, and clothes for children, especially those with sensory sensitivities, learning differences, developmental delays or other diagnoses with intention and compassion. Carissa is a brand consultant, trend forecaster and special projects director with 15 years of experience. Gena spent 10 years working as a photo editor in New York City. This Saturday WOLF + FRIENDS is hosting an inclusive, sensory-friendly pre-thanksgiving dinning experience at Michelin-starred restaurant Ai Fiori. To sign up and learn more about the event click here! In the interview below Gena and Carissa take turns telling us about how they are challenging the Instagram fantasy of motherhood, why this cause is important to them and more!
What makes you a Beyond Mom?
Gena: For 10 years I lived in New York and worked as a Photo Editor at Elle, O, The Oprah Magazine, and CosmoGIRL! When my first son was diagnosed with autism just before his second birthday, my whole world changed and suddenly my glamorous career no longer seemed important. I quit the next day and dove into getting him the best therapies, doctors, and diets I could find. That was 12 years ago- last year, when Carissa, my childhood friend, and former CosmoGIRL! colleague (whose experience includes editorial development, celebrity casting, and public relations, working with companies such as Refinery29, Seventeen, YouTube, and MTV) approached me with her idea for a lifestyle and e-commerce platform aimed at moms like me, who have children with unique developmental needs. She wanted to incorporate specialized decor and toys (think cool swings for sensory seekers, cute beanbag chairs for a sensory break, and fun toys to work on a child’s social, emotional, sensory, language, motor, and cognitive development ) into their homes (with tips from child development specialists) in a stylish and thoughtful way. I jumped at the chance to get on board.
What are the parts of you that have grown and expanded since becoming a Mom?
Carissa: Compassion. I quickly realized how challenging that new role can be for so many mothers. There is this Instagram fantasy that when you become a mom, you will have a child that fits into your life seamlessly- you can dress them up in cute outfits, take them everywhere and they are perfectly behaved, your house is completely Pinterest-worthy and you obviously look + feel amazing too. What really goes on behind the scenes is way more complex. There is all this pressure immediately when your child is born that they hit every milestone but the fact is that 1 in 6 of children aged 3 through 17 years have one or more developmental disabilities according to the CDC, which can include speech + language delays, fine motor delays, and gross motors delays. Even though the statistics state how common this is, many of these moms have a hard time sharing that their child has any delays with their friends because suddenly the life they imagined is going to be different. These are the moms that need their friends, family and the world to understand their situation and also have a place to go that they feel are not alone because so many children will face a whole range of challenges that may not be easily visible through a beautiful Instagram feed. So we wanted to create a lifestyle site that was understanding, inclusive and compassionate but also satisfied a mother’s needs for nice things for their family.
Can you share a collaboration/success story with another woman; what helped the collaboration become successful?
Gena: Carissa and I launched Wolf+Friends in beta a little over a year ago. We are beginning to reach an enormous community of moms that nobody has addressed. So many parents are trying to navigate the complicated world of their children’s developmental needs, be it sensory processing problems, attentional issues, speech delays, etc, these moms still want to purchase toys, decor, and clothes for their kids that they feel excited about. We are curating those things for them. This summer we were featured in the NY Times Styles Section, and this Saturday we are holding our first event with Nibble+Squeak at Ai Fiori in NYC. It is a judgment-free, sensory friendly lunch at a Michelin star restaurant where families can enjoy a delicious meal without having to worry about how their children may behave.
What relationships help you stay connected to yourself?
Gena and Carissa: Family is everything.
Do you have a ‘Beyond’ dream that you are pursuing?
Carissa: I never thought I would launch my own lifestyle business that was inspirational and helpful to so many families. And Wolf + Friends is the Beyond Dream realized.
What wellness activity can you not live without? What is one thing you do daily that balances you?
Gena: I must go for a walk outside every day until it goes below 30 degrees. At least 30 minutes of fresh air keeps me sane.
How does style influence the way you stay feeling ‘Beyond’? Who is currently your favorite designer?
Carissa: Not going into the office every day has changed the way I dress day to day, but when I do need to see people, my go-to is still Isabel Marant.
Favorite Local Spots that Embody The Beyond Mom:
Beyond Cocktails and/or Food:
Carissa and Gena: Kawa Ni in Westport has the best cocktails and food around.
Gena: Walking at the beach, I live 15 min from Compo beach and it is enormously healing to be there about 10 months of the year (I hibernate in January and February).