Last we checked in with Needham’s Marissa Goldstein in 2016, she and her husband, Adam, were new parents of twins and running Timroon, a global manufacturing firm. (The couple met at Alexander Muss High School in Israel and later got engaged atop Masada.)
The world is different now, for them and for us. They’re now the parents of two sets of twins, ages 4 and 2. A year ago, they launched Rafi Nova, selling handcrafted diaper mats and vegan leather, recycled-fiber travel bags for adventurous families, made in Vietnam. (The family spends half the year in Asia and half the year here.)
But life took a detour with COVID-19. The family had to relocate from Vietnam in a hurry and settle back into Needham; they also had to reframe their travel-bag business, since, well, nobody’s going anywhere right now. The good news: They’re making and giving away super-cute masks to first responders throughout the Boston area, as well as supplying them for purchase. (They’ve already donated 10,000 masks!)
We chatted with Goldstein while our kids were yelping in the background.
Why did you start Rafi Nova?
It’s the culmination of our expertise in manufacturing while parenting and traveling. We didn’t have a perfect bag for all our exploration and adventure. We had the manufacturing experience, so we said, “Let’s create our own brand.” We spent six months in Vietnam developing the product from village to village, collecting textiles from women artisans to incorporate into our products. We launched in 2020.
But then COVID-19 happened, right?
We had all this inventory, all this branding, all this stuff we wanted to go with, and it was just stopped. We sat around for two weeks: What are we going to do? We had no sales. But we’re familiar with masks due to air pollution in Vietnam. We were literally sitting on the couch saying, “Let’s manufacture masks and donate them.” They’re manufactured in Vietnam and stored in our garage-slash-warehouse.
Marissa Goldstein and her two sets of twins (Courtesy photo)
How do you work with your spouse during quarantine with four children under 5 without killing each other?
My husband and I are really good at working together and splitting the roles. I get up at 6 a.m. to get emails out before the kids get up. I’m with them for breakfast. Then my husband takes over. I leave the house and work from my parents’ house in Needham. I’m not allowed in their house, so I work from their garage. We’re getting an office in Newton this week.
My husband starts his work at 8 p.m. and works until 4 a.m. He’s one of those people who doesn’t need sleep.
I was training for a half-marathon in Vietnam, but I stopped exercising over the last six weeks, because if I have an hour, I should spend it with my kids and I should be doing work. I’m wearing running clothes today. I was going to do 30 minutes of exercise!
My 4-year-olds have 30 minutes of online school in the mornings, and the toddlers join the online school for those 30 minutes. Besides that, we spend a lot of time outside when weather is decent. When I’m in charge, the kids are watching TV. When my husband is in charge, they don’t. I think we’re just in a stage of survival, and if your kid watches TV for a few hours, it’s OK. We don’t have time to be mad at each other. We’re in survival mode.
Without people traveling, how will you sell travel bags?
We want to continue creating family-centric products. People will start traveling again, sooner rather than later. Adventure will have a new meaning, but adventures don’t have to stop because we have a travel ban. You can get out and do adventures in a respectful way.
How has Judaism affected your business?
We have a wonderful Jewish community in Vietnam. We rent a full-service apartment by the month, where we have a Shabbat dinner every Friday. And, of course, tikkun olam. A lot of people are making good masks. We have a commitment to our community and to having a positive impact. We’ll give masks to everyone who needs them, around the country. (Request a donation here.)