7 AM to 7 PM: How John Petersen Parents His 11-Year-Old Instagram Star

John Petersen and his daughter Riley Kinnane-Petersen

John Petersen

Parents don’t work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.—we work 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., from the moment our kids wake up until they go to sleep. This is an unfiltered look at a few days in the life of Gunner & Lux owner John Petersen and his boss, his daughter Riley.

It all started in 2015 when Riley Kinnane-Petersen, then 5 years old, began selling handmade jewelry at her summer lemonade stand in Atlanta, GA. What began as a casual hobby eventually blossomed into fashion and accessories brand Gunner & Lux, which is now sold at nationwide retailers, including J.Crew and Maisonette. While Riley is the creative mind and Instagram star of the brand, she could not have done it without the support of her business partner: her father, John Petersen.

Petersen has been involved with Gunner & Lux from the beginning. He helped Riley, now 11, collect the vintage jewelry she used to make her first pieces for the lemonade stand. Before launching the business, he wore a lot of hats. Petersen was a Target executive, opened a luxury car wash, and even worked in real estate.

About two and a half years after Riley started her business, he quit his job to run Gunner & Lux full-time with the support of his husband, William. The two married in 2015 when same-sex marriage was legalized; Riley served as their flower girl at their City Hall wedding in New York City.

The Petersen duo's big break came when department store Barney’s New York discovered the Gunner & Lux Instagram page. As a brand with a Gen Z face, it makes sense that social media played an important role in the growth of the business. (You can find them at @gunnerandlux on Instagram.)

Instagram, especially, is central to the brand’s marketing, sales, and point of view. Plus, it allows Petersen and Riley to connect with Gunner & Lux's 113,000 followers (at press time). “Instagram has been the most valuable real-time tool to talk with our customers, and find out what is selling and what is working,” says Petersen.

The brand's Instagram posts range from featuring fellow kid fashion icons sporting Gunner & Lux to parenting views and DIY projects. The content they share on Instagram shows how much fun the two of them have—and how many times a week Riley tries to “fire” her dad. But it also shows how running a serious, thriving business can be integrated into family life.

While Petersen controls the Instagram account, Riley is the star and creative director, overseeing every aspect of Gunner & Lux. “It’s her business,” says Petersen. “She comes up with a list of ideas for new items. Sometimes her dads get to add a few."

Together, the pair work on designing, pricing, and posting the jewelry on social media. Petersen’s job is everything else—website sales, customer service, manufacturing. “I just try and keep my boss happy,” he jokes. Though Petersen does handle much of the actual posting, since Riley is only 11.

John Petersen

We want you to wear our jewelry and feel like you can do anything: take on a tough day, start your own business, or take down the patriarchy. As a kids’ brand, we are in such an amazing place to help build the future.

— John Petersen

Petersen is not afraid to take a stand on social media or with the business. He posts in support of LGBTQ+ issues, adoption, supporting minority-owned businesses, and more. “We want our jewelry to make you smile,” he says. “We want you to wear our jewelry and feel like you can do anything: take on a tough day, start your own business, or take down the patriarchy. As a kids’ brand, we are in such an amazing place to help build the future.”

Gunner & Lux has regular business demands, like requiring advanced planning for posts and launches, photoshoots, meetings, shipping, and assembling. But there’s a ping pong table in the middle of their office for when the two of them need a break. And when they are not working, they are exploring Atlanta, doing backyard movie nights, or trying out new ice cream flavors.

Working with family is not always easy, especially with a middle schooler with emotional highs and lows. Petersen does his best to juggle it all. “We sometimes butt heads at work and at home,” he says. “I am a dad and a coworker at different times. I don’t always succeed.” Managing parenting and business is always a work in progress for Petersen. 

The two have learned to work together and talk things out first and foremost. "We both try our best and try to communicate," he says.

Despite the ups and downs, the business is here to stay in their family—with one caveat. “I have loved watching her grow, taking the initiative, deciding what works for her and what does not,” Petersen says. “[My husband and I] have always said,  [we’ll keep the business going] as long as [Riley] is having fun.”

Here’s how the two of them handle a few days of work (and play) over the summer.

John Petersen and his daughter Riley Kinnane-Petersen

John Petersen

Monday

7:30 a.m. My alarm goes off and I curse the world. I then hit snooze until 8 a.m. and that drives my husband crazy! I don’t really eat breakfast, but I try to drink tons of water and Powerade Zero. I take a quick shower and then head all the way upstairs to our Gunner & Lux office! We took over the entire top floor of our home for the business. It's 1,500 square feet and we use every inch.

8:30 a.m. I check and send emails and go through Instagram. My husband and Riley both say I spend way too much time on Instagram. My husband is off the grid and doesn’t do social media. I will say that Riley and I have met so many incredible people through social media. Entrepreneurs, customers, friends, retailers; we’ve made so many great connections.

9:30 a.m. Riley and I decide what we are posting on Instagram the night before. So around this time, I usually post and interact.  I then look at my schedule and see what calls and meetings I have for the day. We are in summer mode, so Riley sleeps in a bit. 

10 a.m. I am usually packing all the orders that have come in over the night for necklaces, bracelets, rings, T-shirts, or hats. All packed with love! For almost five years, Riley would handwrite a thank you note in every single order. Now, she tries to sign as many thank you notes as she can. 

John Petersen

For almost five years, Riley would handwrite a thank you note in every single order. Now, she tries to sign as many thank you notes as she can. 

— John Petersen

10:30 a.m. Riley and I have a quick meeting about how many online orders we have today, how many wholesale orders we have, and we plan a photoshoot for a new necklace for fall. We also need to take photos of a dress she was given. She says she will get back to me with some ideas for the photoshoot. 

12 p.m. We get a package of a new sample. Riley is not happy with the way it looks. Together we write an email to the manufacturer with very detailed notes on what we would like to have fixed. We send a photo with the same notes marked on the photo, too, so there is no miscommunication.

1 p.m. We make lunch together and I ask Riley all kinds of questions about life. I can tell she’s a tired kid who would rather be on her iPad. She only gets one hour on her iPad a day, so when that hour is over, it’s done. 

2 p.m. I try to get Riley to run around the house so her bones don't turn into mush.

2:45 p.m. We leave for the post office. I am wearing shorts and a T-shirt and Riley looks like she is going to a dinner party on a boat. I ask her in the nicest way possible if she could lose one accessory. (Obviously not one of ours!) I get the eye roll she has down so well. But the high heels come off, which she’s not allowed to wear out of the house anyway. 

3 p.m. We make it to the post office. Riley goes in every time and says hello to our favorite postal workers, asks how they are doing, and sometimes brings them treats. 

6 p.m. We all eat as a family. Her dads are not great cooks. We sent Riley to some cooking camps and they basically taught her how to make desserts and cupcakes. I asked if they could teach her how to make full meals. Instead, we have a full-time pastry chef as a daughter, who makes meringues and cakes all the time. Super healthy.

7 p.m. We take a walk as a family. It is sooo hot here in Georgia that Riley manages to get out of our family walks sometimes.  I try all the same excuses and I am still forced to go.

8:30 p.m. We pick a movie to watch. The running joke is that I always try and pick an ‘80s movie from my youth. After watching "Goonies" and getting just an “OK” review from Riley, my picks are no longer valid.

I fall asleep on the sofa. I am either woken up by my husband and told it’s 1 a.m., or I am left for dead.

Tuesday

7:30 a.m. Up again.

8:30 a.m. I start drinking my water and take all of my morning pills because I just turned 44 in June. 

9:30 a.m. Riley is still sleeping after movie night. A little secret here: Over the summer, after my husband has gone to sleep, Riley and I have been staying up late and having a summer movie night. We have been watching movies that are on the "no" list. It has been pretty exciting. We recently watched "Jaws." We were scared to death of the shark and also of Papa coming around the corner and catching us!

10:30 a.m. Riley is up. This summer she went to horseback riding camp and went to her first sleepaway camp for a week. This week, it’s all about work and playing at home.

1 p.m. Lunch again. Her other dad also works from home. He has an office on the other side of the house. He is on calls all day, and Riley and I have been in trouble many times for being too loud. Her other dad was officially named #joykiller a long time ago. We love him so much. Everyone needs a realist. Riley and I dream big. Some of our ideas are often dangerous, or our parties are too loud, or our business ideas aren't profitable, and he needs to bring us back down to reality...often. 

John Petersen

Riley and I dream big. Some of our ideas are often dangerous, or our parties are too loud, or our business ideas aren't profitable, and [her other dad] needs to bring us back down to reality...often. 

— John Petersen

2 p.m. I spend some time sending out wholesale emails to new stores that we really love and would love to have our goods in. 

3 p.m. We have a dentist’s appointment. Riley is so independent and always has been. I remember when we had our first babysitter when she was 4 years old. Riley looked us in the eyes and said, "You guys can go!” She walks into the dentist’s office, checks in, and tells me, "You really can wait in the car, Dad.” I check Instagram and catch up on emails while she’s there. 

4:15 p.m. We stop for a smoothie. I have no idea if that's bad after seeing the dentist but she asked in the nicest way and I’m the worst.

4:45 p.m. We are home. I go to finish up any outstanding stuff. Riley goes to play with her evil cat who hates me.

6 p.m. Dinner as a family, followed by a walk. 

Wednesday

7:30 a.m. My eyes will not open.

8:30 a.m. I walk upstairs to find Riley asleep on the sofa by the upstairs TV.  It’s going to be a long day.

9:30 a.m. I let Riley sleep. We have a lot of wholesale orders that need to go out. Many of our wholesale stores are restocking for back to school, so it is keeping us busy. Our jewelry is really fun for school outfits and those class photos! 

11 a.m. Riley is up, but also a zombie. Getting back into the school routine and waking up early every morning is not going to be easy. 

11:30 a.m. We have an early lunch meeting discussing her upcoming collaborations. Riley is so excited to try new things. The opportunities that she has and the trust these companies put in her is really amazing. 

12:30 p.m. We play a quick round of ping pong.

1 p.m. Back to orders.

3:45 p.m. We have a call with one of her collaboration companies; Riley has a few questions. She has her questions written down so she will not forget them. It is something we have talked about many times while on calls and Zoom meetings. Riley had some really great points, and we think our customers are going to just love what we have made.

4:30 p.m.  We shoot a few product shots and some video content. Riley is officially done for the day and jumps on her iPad.

5 p.m. I have not checked in on Instagram, and we have tons of direct messages that I need to respond to. We try to do two posts a day; once in the morning and once in the evening. Instagram takes up a lot of time but we really want to engage and it is a platform that is ever-changing. 

8 p.m. No walk tonight or family dinner for me. (I can smell pizza downstairs.) I am packing wholesale and online orders into the night. I hope my boss will notice how hard I am working!

John Petersen

John Petersen

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