The baby shirt couple. The urban farm couple. The couple with the really adorable kids.
Brian and Keri Fosse epitomize the idea of walking by faith in a strong and natural way. Founders of their own business, Lalabu, and developers of their own products, Brian and Keri have faithfully sacrificed, celebrated, mourned, and rejoiced with God throughout their lives, but particularly the last several years. Their entire business model from beginning to end is a love story of God’s steadfastness and truths.
Both Brian and Keri were brought to Atlanta to study industrial engineering at Georgia Tech, where they shared the same GPA and both worked for Disney, they confided, each with a commiserating grin. Brian received his MBA as Keri began working for Delta, allowing them the opportunity to travel easily and often. One of those trips fulfilled a long-standing dream of Keri’s to go to the small village in the bush country of Africa where her aunt had been a missionary for many years. As a child, Keri had always treasured visits from her aunt and the presents and stories that came with it. On one of those visits, her aunt was able to bring a friend from the village along with her to the States. That friend was named Lalabu, the original inspiration and namesake for the Lalabu business. She taught Keri and her family about the idea and techniques of babywearing, a common practice where she comes from that allows mothers to wrap their newborn babies in a cloth and around themselves to them to cradle, soothe, carry, and bond with their babies. This also allows the mother to be more hands-free while also tending to her baby and nursing. This method was deeply influential for Keri, so upon their visit to Africa many years later, she and Brian learned even more about it and an inspiration was born. “When I worked for Delta I would see these people traveling with all of their baby gear and I thought it was kind of crazy. In Africa, all they use is one cloth and the babies are so happy,” Keri says of the origins of the idea behind Lalabu. “Brian is such an entrepreneur so he thought we should come up with a product to solve that problem.”
That solution was found in the Soothe shirt. After returning to the States, Brian and Keri worked with Keri’s mom to design and produce several prototypes of their idea- a shirt that would allow mothers to wear their baby, feel more confident and connected to their baby, and nurse more easily. It started as a nights-and-weekends project, but soon God made it clear that it was meant to be more. Brian and Keri discussed their work and family situation, already having one son, Levi, and wanting to continue having children. Brian recalls one morning in particular. “ I was reading in Matthew eleven (come to me all who are heavy laden). I prayed and asked God to do it for me if he wanted me to. That same day, my boss told me he thought I should leave the company. I had been working there for four years and was on the leadership team, but it was clearly an answered prayer. I quit my job the next day, January 31, 2013. Kerri had just left her job three weeks prior. We just felt like God was leading us and we had no idea how it was going to work out. It is probably good that we didn’t know how it was going to go, because we wound up going without income for two years instead of the four months we had thought it would be.”
Taking that mysterious step forward led them to selling their recently renovated home in Grant Park. They sold it not in the context of finances, but in that of following and trusting God to move them forward and reveal His plan, which included moving in with Keri’s mom for eight months before moving into an apartment in the Old Fourth Ward. That time of transition gave their family the opportunity to understand how to live with less, making a pattern out of ridding themselves of both wanted and unwanted accumulation. They told their son Levi that he could take half of his toys to their next home and donated the rest. “The biggest change for me was the condition of my heart,” Keri confides. “Before I was feeling like my income was my security. I feel like everything is going to be fine because I make a lot of money. I don’t feel that way anymore. God is the one that gives us what we need and provides for us. This transition has broken me of that idol. We got rid of so much during that transition and it has been so freeing. We moved 8 times over the course of the years. Each time we donated more and more and more and realized how little we actually need.” Part of the inspiration of this practice was from Jeff Shinabarger, author of More or Less and the founder of Plywood People. He also was a catalyst in Brian’s decision to leave his job for the pursuit of Lalabu.
Now, with son Levi and daughter Flora, Brian and Keri are back in Grant Park just blocks away from their old house. They felt God’s pull towards that neighborhood again, which led to the purchase of three empty lots where they built their current house and are in the process of establishing an urban garden. As with any trusting step forward in God’s plan, though, there were still many obstacles to maneuver around in the process. Between trouble with city permits and loan stipulations, the process was extended much longer than was comfortable, but they stayed the course and are happily settled in the neighborhood they mourned to leave years ago. A long period of learning to trust God to provide a place to settle, something we at City Church know quite well.
As their cup of gratitude overflows, they have decided to give two percent of all Lalabu purchases to mothers in Africa who take out loans to pay for their children’s school or their own businesses. These mothers are given access to funds that would otherwise never be available to them. By partnering with Kiva, a loan facilitator, loans are given and paid back by groups, providing accountability and a cycle of money that benefits multiple mothers who participate in the program.
Keri and Brian have plenty of plans for Lalabu moving forward. A new, updated version of the Soothe shirt will be released in August alongside the debut of the Soothe shirt for dads. Their mission of encouraging moms and dads to bond and connect more with their babies through babywearing will continue to be their first priority, hoping to establish a more open and receptive culture of parenthood that takes full advantage of this sweet time with new babies.
City Folk is a monthly series featuring the people of City Church Eastside and what they are up to! Story and photos by Catherine Godek.