We sat down with Yoko Shimada, founder of Mitera Collection, to talk about her philosophy, inspiration, background and more! Here's an exclusive offer for Bundle Organics customers: Use code MITERA20 to receive 20% off all orders at Miteracollection.com (offer ends 11/23/15).
1. How did you become inspired to found the Mitera Collection? Tell us about Mitera’s philosophy when it comes to pregnant and new moms.
Mitera was directly inspired by my own experience of becoming a mother. When I became pregnant with my first child, I was working as a global public health specialist at the World Bank’s Africa Region. I saw firsthand the reality of maternal mortality due to complications from pregnancy and childbirth as well as the power of breastfeeding in improving maternal and child health in resource-limited settings. A lot of what I knew from my academic and professional work drove my decisions during my first pregnancy and childbirth. For me, it was my decision to give birth naturally and to breastfeed. Fortunately, I was able to have an all-natural birth assisted by a doula, which was an enormously empowering experience but breastfeeding was another story.
Though I came to really enjoy it after having initial problems, I found breastfeeding in public awkward and pumping at work really challenging after I went back to work after a short maternity leave. Though I was a strong advocate of breastfeeding, I realized how difficult and stressful it can be and that while the pregnancy and postpartum periods of women’s lives are often the most special times, they are also the times women feel most vulnerable. While mothers are told “breast is best,” and they are encouraged to do their “best” by breastfeeding their babies, there is little acceptance or support for public breastfeeding and pumping at workplaces after mothers return to work. Issues surrounding motherhood are complex and often highly politicized but I came to believe that women, regardless of their personal choices as mothers, need to be supported, period. I feel there is still a huge gap between the societal expectations of mothers – ‘doing it all’ like superwomen at home and at work - and the policies, resources and tools available to support them as they embark on and navigate through their motherhood journey. Maternity and postpartum wardrobe is one of those factors- it can either hinder or support women’s ability to successfully and happily transition into and navigate through motherhood. People might dismiss fashion as vanity but it actually has an important place in people’s lives not only as a means of self-expression but also as an important factor in instilling confidence and empowerment. This is where the story of Mitera began.
At Mitera, we believe in ‘Happy Mom = Happy Baby”. Our philosophy when it comes to pregnant and new moms is supporting each mom’s unique motherhood journey from pregnancy, nursing, going back to work and beyond. Our core mission is to make women and mothers feel beautiful, confident, inspired and empowered and we do this through fashion – by creating beautiful and contemporary but functional and versatile clothing that provides practical luxury to modern mothers experiencing pregnancy, nursing, returning to work and raising toddlers while holding down jobs and progressing in their careers!
Through our brand, we want to return the spotlight to those gorgeous, intelligent and successful women who are experiencing the magic of motherhood. For Mitera women, who they are as individuals feeds positively into who they are as mothers and vice versa, enriching their experience of motherhood with their own interests, passions and goals.
We design all the dresses from the point of view of a woman who is a mother. In fact, I designed the first prototypes to use myself, out of personal need- as a breastfeeding mom who could not find anything that worked for my style and functionality needs. Our dresses are designed to be first and foremost beautiful and then functional and practical. Our designs are chic, timeless and elegant and we want women to feel like they are done the minute they put on our dresses (as moms, we are always short on time, right?). It was also especially important to me to design dresses that women would want to wear even if they are not pregnant or nursing.
All of our pieces are designed to be versatile – from day to night, brunch to dinner, playdate to cocktail, office to evening, and kids birthday parties to weddings. All of our dresses have the patent-pending hidden zipper system, which allows for discreet feeding and pumping. Three out of the six dresses have what we call a modesty bra, which is a thin lining or a loose sports bra offering extra protection when the zippers are open. The finishes on the dresses are impeccable. We don’t compromise on quality because our dresses need to survive all that moms endure daily while making them look fabulous. All of our dresses are machine-washable and several come with huge pockets for essential mom items like keys, phones and pacifiers. I know how messy ‘mommying’ can get, so I envisioned those days when I might be nursing a baby while dealing with a toddler covered in Nutella or some other sticky substance! Our pieces are meant to be worn through pregnancy, nursing and well beyond, through the joys and challenges of motherhood.
2. Prior to founding Mitera, what is your background?
Prior to founding Mitera, I worked in the field of global public health. During my career as a global public health specialist, I have lived and worked in India and all over Africa. I worked on infectious disease control projects, maternal and child health projects, health systems reconstruction projects in places like Liberia and health financing projects in places like Lesotho and Swaziland. I worked at the Clinton Foundation Health Access Initiative brokering deals with international diagnostics companies on behalf of the developing nations to lower the prices of key diagnostics technologies in order to improve access to critical medical care. I have over 15 years of experience in implementing health programs worldwide focused on Public-Private Partnerships, health systems and financing, and program monitoring and evaluation working with a wide variety of governments, private sector enterprises, NGOs, and major donors and foundations. I feel extremely fortunate that my work in Africa, South Asia, North America, and Europe has provided me with a unique global perspective.
3. What have you learned so far as a female founder/CEO?
I can never personally experience the difference between being a male CEO and female CEO because I don’t plan to have a sex change operation (lol!) but historical trends and statistics point out some of the stark differences between the genders. There are simply many more male CEOs than female CEO. A fraction of board seats are occupied by women and even less when it comes to the leadership seats. Start-ups founded by men and led by male CEOs get much more funding than companies with female founders, just to name a few examples. My experience so far as a female founder/CEO has been positive. As a start-up, the title CEO means little because I do everything from design, marketing and PR to arranging my own travel to cleaning up my office. What matters though is that as the company’s founder and CEO, I am ultimately responsible for everything. I think being a mother definitely influences how I run my business. I was surprised but being a mother has been a great preparation for running your own business and I truly believe that we as women possess so many unique qualities that can make us great leaders. Here are some examples - as mothers, we are used to running on a tight schedule. [Efficiency and productivity] We are therefore, super efficient and productive with our tasks. [Prioritization and Delegation] This also makes us great at prioritizing and delegating tasks. [Decision-making] As mothers, we often have to make important decisions in nano seconds due to extreme time pressure. We often go with our gut feelings but many are grounded in hours, days and months of research that rivals FBI investigations. We not only have superb research skills (what is the best stroller to buy, what pre-school?) but also dedication needed to dig deep into an issue (parenting style, sleep training). [HR and Team Building] Experience with hiring and managing a caretaker(s) for our kids is a great skill to apply to growing a team that can support your growing business. Giving praise, rewards, constructive criticism, managing tense (aka tantrums?) situations – been there and done that.
I think what I have learned about being a female CEO so far, I am fortunate to be learning from being a mother. In addition to all the elements I mentioned already, love, passion, sacrifice, sleepless nights, managing multiple deadlines, multi-tasking (as a mother you have no choice), persistence, grit, tenaciousness (you would do anything for your kids), coping with stressful situations, dealing with Murphy’s law (just to name a few) are all important things I learned through motherhood. Motherhood also taught me the importance of surrounding yourself with a community of likeminded people, women/moms, of asking for help, and of being resourceful which I apply to running my business daily.
4. How do you juggle being a mother, CEO?
That is the right word – juggle. There are so many elements to my life as a mother and a business owner. And with being a wife, a daughter, a friend, a triathlete, etc. thrown in there, my life is full and extremely busy and can often seem chaotic and overwhelming. Just like juggling, it is normal that sometimes I drop one ball – like this morning my daughter woke up with a high fever - that throws off our ‘balance’ and our juggling act. I don’t believe in having a ‘balance’ but believe that it is truly a juggling act. You sometimes have more balls in the air, you sometimes drop one or more balls and you have to pick them up while trying to keep the others in the air. It is a constant adjustment, refinement, dealing with the unexpected as well as questioning, motivating, doubting and inspiring myself again and again to move forward as a mother and a CEO each day.
My husband is a true partner in parenting and I have help at home so that I can maximize my time when I am with my kids. It is never perfect and it is difficult not to have any guilt but I make it work, survive and try my best to make the most of what I have and I have been given. I feel so fortunate and grateful.
5. What’s next for Mitera?
We are currently busy designing our next pieces, which are due to debut early next year! We are also designing accessories, which should come out before the holiday. We are refining the designs of our current collection based on customer feedback and might be adding colors to our best sellers and much much more!
6. A message to readers:
I know most of you who are reading this are either pregnant or a new mom so I feel like I am preaching to the choir but I absolutely love being a mother to my two children and there is nothing that is more rewarding than being a parent. However, as I talked about before, the pregnancy and postpartum periods of women’s lives are far from easy physically and emotionally. In addition to sharing happy moments of parenthood (like thousands of pictures on Instagram!), it is also absolutely ok to admit that you have no idea what you are doing, share your feelings, complain and cry and ask for help. You just need to build a loving community of families and like-minded people – your husband/partner, other family members, mom friends and others who can truly be there for you without passing judgment.
At Mitera, we are here to support each mom’s unique motherhood journey. I feel so fortunate to be able to work in this industry where I get to dream up and actuality make into reality things that can improve the lives of moms and kids. So, please reach out! I would love to hear from you all.
1. What's your guilty pleasure? Oreos – my absolute weakness!
2. What's your go to outfit? – All my Mitera dresses. Though I don’t have to wear a suit everyday to the office anymore, I still want to look professional and feel confident.
Mitera dresses are beautiful, versatile and practical. I love that our dresses are machine-washable. With our dresses, I don’t have to worry about my kids’ hands full of Nutella hugging me when I kiss them good bye in the morning. I don’t have to worry about sweating in the sun when I go to watch my son’s soccer practice in the afternoon. I love that our dresses have pockets, too! Running around town from office to meetings to kid duties, I always have at least my keys and iPhone! I feel selfish but I did design all the dresses for me J My current favorites are our Katie Dress which I like to pair with booties and the Elif paired with tights and long boots!
3. What's your favorite game to play with your kids? Hide and tickle. They love hiding under the sheets in our bedroom and they want us to sneak up on them and tickle them! We end up laughing so much rolling on our bed and we get lots of hugs and kisses after words!