From the Ravages of MS, a Family Business Is Born
Kristen Sitarski-Munoz turned years of turmoil, culminating in a multiple sclerosis diagnosis for her husband, into a positive with her new T-shirt company, Eva & Estela Wear Ur Love.
The founding of a new South Jersey T-shirt company is as much a love story as a story of sheer perseverance. Looking back now, Kristen Sitarski-Munoz can scarcely believe the magnitude of what she and her family had to overcome to establish Eva & Estela Wear Ur Love.
It all started just a few years ago, when Kristen Sitarski and Ryan Munoz were on their way to a classic love story. They met, fell in love and married in a year. Sitarski-Munoz quickly became pregnant with their first daughter.
Then, the obstacles started piling up. Both were laid off within a month of each other. Nothing they couldn’t overcome, though; the Williamstown couple were back at work in a year.
“Then my husband started to have health issues,” Sitarski-Munoz recalls. Munoz attributed the problems to an old baseball back injury, but it soon became apparent something else was at play. At first, doctors were stumped.
“They were saying cancer, they were naming other diseases. They were saying he had three months to live. At one point, we were begging for MS just so there was a chance Ryan had more time.”
Doctors did finally pinpoint MS—multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that can lead to everything from balance issues to hearing and vision loss to slurred speech—as the cause of Munoz’s troubles.
Just a month later, the couple’s second daughter was born. And both were unemployed once more.
“In times of struggle, it’s so common for couples to turn away from each other,” Sitarski-Munoz says. “But my husband and I turned toward each other. I’m really embarrassed to say that during that time, he was the rock. Even though he was the one with the disease, I was leaning on him during this.”
These tumultuous years couldn’t be for nothing, Sitarski-Munoz thought. An idea kicking around in her head started to take clearer shape. Instead of being at the whim of a company’s bottom line, why not start her own business? And instead of looking only at pure profits, why not make sure that business would help others?
Sitarski-Munoz also knew her company should involve entire families, as the collective strength of her family unit help them overcome the past few years.
“I decided I wanted to focus on T-shirts the whole family could wear. A lot of what I saw on the market wasn’t contemporary,” she says. “We wanted to do something more modern and cool.”
Eva & Estela Wear Ur Love was born.
The T-shirt company offers styles the entire family, including infants, can wear. Sitarski-Munoz designs the shirts herself, pulling from drawings she made when the company was just a vague notion. The family, including Eva, now 4, and Estela, 2, models the shirts on the website.
“We wanted to give back with the company, too. Five percent of our proceeds go to the National MS Society,” Sitarski-Munoz notes.
Since launching in February, it’s been a whirlwind of finding vendors, building the Eva & Estela website and, slowly but surely, watching her idea come to life.
As sales grow, Sitarski-Munoz has plans. She wants to incorporate more T-shirt designs, plus expand to other apparel items. And she wants the company’s donations to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to keep growing in the hopes of a cure for the disease.
Ryan Munoz continues to struggle every day with MS, his wife notes.
“He’s doing great, and if you looked at him, you’d have no idea anything is wrong,” Sitarski-Munoz says. “But he has to work twice as hard to appear that way. He’ll get up two or three hours earlier to start getting ready for work.”
Eva and Estela know their daddy is sick. They also know that mom’s company helps people like their father who have MS.
While MS looms large for the family, it’s not something they discuss every day, Sitarski-Munoz says. They try to remain focused on the future, keeping Ryan healthy and creating a happy home for the girls.
“Every family has their cross to bear and yes, the last few years were rough,” Sitarski-Munoz says. “We got through it day by day and, honestly, anything else almost feels like easy street now.”
Visit evaandestela.com to see the designs for sale and click on the video, above, to hear Eva talk about her dad, Ryan Munoz.