From MS to GQ: How a South Jersey Family Business Was Made
Williamstown resident Kristen Sitarski-Munoz channeled years of turmoil—including her husband's diagnosis of multiple sclerosis—into a t-shirt company that's starting to take off.
A few years ago, Kristen Sitarski-Munoz was living a classic love story. She had met the man of her dreams, fallen in love and married him, all inside of a year. She quickly became pregnant with a daughter.
Then, the obstacles started piling up. Both were laid off within a month of each other, and it took them a year to find work again. Then her husband, Ryan Munoz, started to experience troubling health difficulties.
He dismissed the symptoms initially as reminders of an old back injury from his baseball playing days. But it soon became apparent something else was in play.
At first, doctors were stumped.
“They were saying cancer, they were naming other diseases," Sitarski-Munoz recalls. "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 offer a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) as the cause of Ryan’s troubles. MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the nervous system, affecting everything from speech to balance, hearing and vision.
Just a month later, the couple’s second daughter was born—and then both parents once again lost their jobs.
“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."
The unfairness of those years of struggle couldn’t all be for nothing, Sitarski-Munoz thought. An idea that had been kicking around in her head started to take 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 profits, why not build a business that could help others? Her company would benefit entire families, just as the collective strength of her family helped it endure the past few years.
“I decided I wanted to focus on T-shirts the whole family could wear," she says. "A lot of what I saw on the market wasn’t contemporary; we wanted to do something more modern and cool.”
And so Eva & Estela Wear Ur Love was born.
Sitarski-Munoz designs the shirts herself from drawings she made when the company was just a vague notion. She makes styles for every member of the family, from parents to infants, and everyone in her family, including daughters Eva, now 4, and Estela, 2, models the shirts on the website.
Five percent of all proceeds are donated to the national Multiple Sclerosis Society.
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, so do Sitarski-Munoz's plans. She wants to incorporate more T-shirt designs, 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 continues to struggle every day with MS, she 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.
Although the challenges 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,” she 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.