Lessons in Survival with Julie Aigner-Clark | by Kristen Bason

Julie Aigner-Clark, Baby Einstein

Posted on Fri, Feb 1, 2013

Best known for her creation of Baby Einstein, Julie Aigner-Clark is sometimes called the original “mompreneur.” In 2001, exactly five years, 30 children’s books, 10 videos, and six music albums later, Clark sold Baby Einstein to The Walt Disney Company. The sale allowed her to regroup and move on to her next venture—creating new brands that combined her love of the creative process and charitable giving.

Julie Aigner-ClarkThe first project, The Safe Side, was launched in May 2005, and it benefits The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (www.missingkids.com). The Safe Side’s first home video, Stranger Safety, was awarded three Emmys and even featured a cameo with John Walsh, the host of America’s Most Wanted.

Over the years, Aigner-Clark has found herself wearing a number of hats—entrepreneur, mother, wife, creative director, teacher, writer, and cancer survivor. Health & Wellness recently had the opportunity to catch up with her at her Arapahoe County home to talk about mompreneurs, cancer, the recent Baby Einstein controversy, and most importantly—survival.

We always hear that the most successful entrepreneurs create products or services simply because they personally recognize the need for it in the marketplace. What inspired you to create the first Baby Einstein video?

Julie Aigner-Clark: You’re exactly right—I made the product that I wanted for myself and that I couldn’t find in the marketplace. When you’re your own customer, you understand just what’s right for the product. And in my case, the product wasn’t just for me—it was for my babies too. I had taught English and art and had a love of classical music, so I wanted something pure and of high quality.

What’s your advice to aspiring mompreneurs who might be hesitant to make that first move?

Aigner-Clark: You can do something, or you can do nothing. Ideas are lovely, but unless you act on them, they’re vapor.

Once an entrepreneur, always an entrepreneur: Tell us about your latest project?

Aigner-Clark: I’ve just completed a children’s picture book, to be published in October (2010) by Harper Collins, called Your Love is the Best Medicine. I’ve survived breast cancer twice in the past five years, and last year went through chemo. I saw the need for a book that would help moms tell their children about what to expect while mom is in cancer treatment and how important a child’s love is in mom’s healing. It’ll be released for breast cancer awareness month, and all of my proceeds are going to cancer research.

Cancer is not a gift because I wouldn’t give it to anyone. But it’s a teacher. I’ve learned a lot.

Baby EinsteinTell us a little more about writing Your Love is the Best Medicine.

Aigner-Clark: I wrote the book after being diagnosed with breast cancer for a second time. I was 42 years old, and I knew I’d be going through chemotherapy. Like so many moms, I struggled with a way to tell my daughters that I had cancer. And it occurred to me that while I was reassuring my children that I was going to be okay, they would be watching me go through treatment and looking worse and worse. While I was telling them that I wasn’t going to die, I was looking and acting sicker and sicker—losing my hair, feeling tired, staying in bed—looking like I was going to die. I wanted to write a book for children that would let them know what to expect while their mom was going through treatment and also make them feel that they could help her—by participating in her life and loving her. My kids were definitely what gave me the strength to fight as hard as I did and still do.

How old were your daughters when you were first diagnosed with cancer? How do they feel about the book?

Aigner-Clark: I was 37 the first time I was diagnosed, and my kids were 6 and 9. I was 42 the second time. I think they’re proud of the book and realize how important it is.

Can you share a little about your breast cancer experience?

Aigner-Clark: Both times, I found the lump myself. Both times it was smaller than a centimeter. I’ve lost a lot: breasts, ovaries, hair, even some friends. Cancer is not a gift because I wouldn’t give it to anyone. But it’s a teacher. I’ve learned a lot.

Cancer makes you think about words like legacy

Has cancer changed your perspective?

Aigner-Clark: It’s given me the knowledge that I’m so lucky. It’s caused me to reflect on my success and helped me realize how proud I am to have made businesses that have had a positive effect on others’ lives. I’ve brought classical music to babies (Baby Einstein), safety to children (The Safe Side), and hope to cancer survivors and their kids.

Speaking of perspective and pride, Baby Einstein has recently come under some scrutiny by a small group of researchers. Even though you no longer own Baby Einstein, how has this controversy affected you?

Aigner-Clark: I didn’t really want to fight. I’ve spent the past six years fighting for my life, and now I find myself fighting for my reputation. But cancer makes you think about words like legacy.

What do you want people to know about the Baby Einstein legacy?

Aigner-Clark: Baby Einstein does not hurt babies. It exposes them to classical music and poetry and art. I never claimed that putting a child in front of a video for hours on end would make them smarter, and any parent who would believe such a thing should not be a parent at all. As you probably know, some researchers have said that any television viewing by babies or young children is harmful; and because of this, my reputation has suffered. I made videos and wrote books that exposed babies to Mozart and Shakespeare and Van Gogh; and because of that, I’m being accused of harming children.

I think most people would agree that the premise of the claims is ridiculous. It seems that most children are exposed to TV, whether they are watching Baby Einstein, Sesame Street, Thomas the Train, or Dora the Explorer.

Aigner-Clark: Exactly. Welcome to the 21st century. Most people have televisions and computers and cell phones with screens, and most babies are exposed to them. I think most parents would agree that a child is better off listening to Beethoven while watching images of a puppet dance or a flower bloom than seeing any reality show that I can think of.

Julie Aigner Clark, Baby EinsteinHow are you dealing with this?

Aigner-Clark: Even though I don’t own Baby Einstein anymore, my husband has filed an open-records complaint in Washington state court against the University of Washington. The researchers who conducted the studies have apparently lost all the records for one study, and refuse to share the raw data for their other study. I believe it’s because their claims that my videos harm children are invalid. I want to clear my name. I’m proud of what I made.

After surviving cancer twice, you are clearly a fighter when the cause is worthy. What’s your advice to other women who may be fighting against a chronic illness, disease, or simply find themselves in the position of defending something they believe in?

Aigner-Clark: Don’t give up. Fight. Believe. Advocate.

Learn more about Julie and her new book, Love is the Best Medicine, at www.aignerclarkcreative.com

 

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Comments
  1. Sherry Lawrance says:

    I raised both my children on all of Julie’s amazing Baby Einstien products. At 10, my son is still able to name any Mozart or Beethoven piece he hears. As for it hurting children, I have 3 degrees in early childhood education and I would recommend them to everyone.

    Julie, I commend you for succedding with both your battles with cancer. I battled it myself last year, so I feel a connection with you.

    Best wishes, Sherry Lawrance

  2. Maureen Marron says:

    In my opinion anyone with common sense will disregard the negative reviews about Baby Einstine videos. They speak for themselves. My little grandsons love them and are perfectly normal intelligent children.

  3. […] shares her wisdom about overcoming struggles as a female entrepreneur with Colorado Health and Wellness. She states that not giving up, fighting, believing and advocating for yourself is important. […]

  4. Katrina Webb says:

    Hi Julie!! I happened upon thus article, and I wanted you to know what legacy you have left…
    I am an elementary/special education teacher. My sons were born in 1999, 2001, and 2004. Newdless to say, I wanted the best, most educationlly sound, as well as inellectually stimulatING and fun environment for my boys. We realized though physically hitting milestones, their language was delayed. My first two, Noah and Patrick were diagnosed with Autism by age 3. They were involved in Early Intervention, went to therapies, etc. At home, Baby Einstein and it’s successors were an amazing vehicle for conversation prompting and play with my little guys. They were rapt with the music, poetey, foreign languages, etc. They both adored the alphabet and numbers at an early age…we bought EVERYTHING Baby Einstein had to offer- Patrick loved the Baby Shakespeare dragon the best:) The videos were calming, as I think about that time when we were working so hard to help them through sensory dysfunction, verbal delay, making eye contact, etc al.there was Mozart, beethoven, Bach playing the soundtrack in our home:)
    Fast forward about ten years or so…Noah is 16 and enrolled in all honors classes, in Marching Band, and plays piano with aplomb. He is highly verbal and has many friends. He has won awards and praise for his original poetry. Patrick is 14, has progressed slower, but has improved dramatically in his adolesence, far more spontaneous in his conversation, loves school, and is a very talented artist. They both still have Baby Einstein lullabies on their favorite playlists. Something about that orchestration is soothing for them. And me!
    My youngest is almost 12, and he too, though typically developing and far more active in group sports and skiing, skateboarding- basically it’s hard to keep him inside!!- has always adored the Baby Einstein series too:) I betcha if I put on a DVD today, all.of a sudden everyone would be in the room!!
    All in all, I think Baby Einstein was a very positive influence to our boys appreciation of classical music, and are all, in their own way, young renaissance men;) Thank you, Julie, for your gift to us mamas who appreciated a lovely way to introduce fine music and visuals in a way that our little ones would love and remember for years to come. A wonderful legacy indeed. <3
    Best,
    Katrina Webb

  5. Robin Sills says:

    I am rewatching all of the wonderful videos that I shared with my now 13 and 9 year old granddaughters with my 8 month old grandson. Each video brings back the emotions I felt when watching them so many years before. I always tear up at the end of baby macdonald and get goosebumps when the baby laughs at the silly puppet antics. We are a family of musicians and I am positive that watching and listening to all of these amazing videos had a major impact on my grandchildren. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for creating these memories that will live on for years to come.

  6. […] what it was like growing up with one of the country’s most-acknowledged “mompreneurs” ̶ Julie Aigner Clark, creator of Baby Einstein. While the girls were too old for their mom’s line of videotapes and […]

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