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Spreading Bliss

Barbara Bensoussan

Whether creating upscale layette sets in Peru, fundraising for an international nonprofit organization, or smoothing the process for kallos, Sury Lauber gives 100 percent

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

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LIFE LESSONS “Being a kallah is so exciting, but so stressful,” Sury says. “We’re taught how to drive. We’re taught how to swim. We’re taught how to prepare our taxes. But few people are taught how to be a wife and mother”

A t first glance, Sury Lauber looks like a Satmar version of the Girl Next Door, with her brown stockings, shoulder-length brown sheitel topped with a band, and Yiddish at the ready. Her face wreathes quickly into smiles, and she looks younger than her 30-odd years.

But Sury isn’t typical by any means. While she enjoyed a traditional chassidic upbringing in Boro Park, attending Satmar schools and growing up in a loving family, her spunk and spirit are overflowing. She doesn’t move; she bustles. She’s not tall, but has a presence you feel the minute she walks into the room. Obstacles in her path seem to just melt away, vaporized by the force of her belief in whatever cause she’s decided to throw herself into.

Sury’s dynamism has led her to rack up a list of accomplishments that would be the envy of many a woman with fancy university credentials. A successful entrepreneur and exceptional fundraiser, most recently she founded a nonprofit whose goal is the successful launching and maintenance of Jewish marriages.

A mover and shaker from early childhood, Sury was the girl who’d bring fresh popcorn to class for everyone, the most leibedik camp counselor. “I was always giving and doing and trying to make people happy,” she says. “Now I have a two-year-old daughter who’s a carbon copy of the happy little girl I used to be. My family and I laugh at the resemblance!”

Blastoff into Business

When she got married, Sury thought she’d start a baby clothing business with her husband. She had a little money saved up and a vision of the type of clothing she wanted to manufacture. While attending a trade show to learn about the business, she chanced upon a baby clothing manufacturer who was looking for a sales representative. “It wasn’t an expensive line, but they made beautiful knits you’d see for sale in big department stores,” Sury recounts.

She accepted the job, attacking it with such drive and enthusiasm that she sold $50,000 in merchandise within the first three weeks! “My boss didn’t know how to react — she wasn’t even ready to handle such a large volume of orders!” Sury says with a grin. “I figured she wanted me to sell, so I just went out and sold as best I could!”

Her success propelled her to eventually get serious about her own baby clothing business. “I spent days and days in front of the computer, researching,” she says. “I didn’t have any contacts in the business, but I’d call up companies and ask for samples and leads.”

She set her sights on doing layette sets — “a package with an outfit, hat, sweater, and blanket” — that would sell for around $300. A self-confessed aficionado of high-end baby clothes, she wanted to use top-quality fabric, which meant pima cotton, usually sourced from Peru.

A little more research and some phone calls later, Sury and her husband found babysitting for their children and hopped on a plane to Peru.

“We stayed at the Chabad House. It was amazing!” she recalls. “We met so many different types of people, including many baalei teshuvah who inspired us with their sincerity and connection to Hashem.” The trip was a success: the Laubers found a factory willing and able to produce their designs. (They later learned this factory also produced clothing for high-end companies like Kissy Kissy.) “The clothing we manufactured was gorgeous,” she declares. “We used mercerized pima cotton, with beautiful stitching and hand-crocheted decoration. Each item was a masterpiece!”

Between the quality of the merchandise and Sury’s talent for sales, the company had a spectacular first season, with products placed in just about every local heimish children’s clothing store, as well as with non-Jewish clients. The Laubers hired sales reps and leased a booth for the annual children’s clothing trade show at the Javits Center. “We built a stunning booth, designed to look like a playhouse,” Sury recalls. 

 

Unfortunately, the recession of 2008 dealt a blow to businesspeople everywhere — the Laubers included. People stopped buying much of anything, and there were limits to how low the Laubers could slash their pricing.

For a while, they tried working with Chinese factories, and Sury’s husband would make the trip to China to oversee production. “We’d Skype each other from the factories,” Sury relates. “It was round the clock work! We did manage to drum up some business. One store even commissioned some private label clothing from us."

Reset Button

The Laubers were working very, very hard — perhaps too hard. During Sury’s third pregnancy, she went through a series of traumatic complications that finally resulted in a miscarriage in her fifth month. “It was a nightmare,” she recalls. “I went through 36 hours of labor to deliver a little girl who hadn’t survived. After that, our business ground to a halt.”

Despite this ordeal, she found herself pregnant again shortly afterward, but by then even the indomitable Sury acknowledged that she needed a break. “After my son was born I wanted to tune out, to just live,” she says. “I needed more time for myself and my family.”

Sury’s husband went to work with his father in the family manufacturing business, still flying to China when necessary, while she took some months off and began to reevaluate. Continuing to run a business of her own would be too demanding… maybe she should take a part-time job, one that would allow her to leave at 3:00 p.m. and be home for her children?

When Sury heard that Ezer Mizion, an Eretz Yisrael-based charity fund, had an opening in the New York office for a project coordinator, she decided to apply. “I’d never applied for such a high-end job before,” she confesses. “But I told them, ‘Here’s my experience. And I really want to work from nine to three and be a mom afterward.’ ”

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