'Refinery 29' featuring Mitera
"An alumna of the World Bank and the Clinton Foundation, Yoko Shimada has spent her career working to improve public health outcomes. After giving birth to two children, she shifted gears and launched a clothing line dedicated to supporting expecting and new moms.
You started your business right after having your second child. What made you take the leap?
“Before I became a mom, I had this kind of utopian idea of motherhood. Yes, as a new mom, I was really, really happy, but I also saw how difficult it was for me, and that made me think about how incredibly difficult it is for people who are not as privileged as me. It opened my eyes to the fact that we, especially in this country, don’t do a very good job of supporting working mothers. For example, if breastfeeding is recommended by the World Health Organization, why is it that it’s frowned upon in public? Why are there are no facilities at most workplaces that actually support women breastfeeding there?”
So you did a bit of a career 180.
“While I did change direction, I don’t feel like I left my public-health career. When you look at the health system of any country, you first look at the health of the mothers. That’s because the decisions that mothers make directly impact the health of their children and the greater family. Plus, while I didn’t really realize it at the time, a lot of the skills I learned, like being able to communicate clearly, network, and make presentations, were very much transferable.”
Running a business is hard, period. Do you face any unique challenges as a woman and a mother?
“There are definitely misconceptions about female entrepreneurs who are moms. No one calls dads ‘dadpreneurs,’ but they do call moms ‘mompreneurs,’ and it makes me cringe. It sends the message, Oh, she’s doing this for some time while the kids are in school; she’s left her career and started this little business. How cute! People either seem to think I’m crazy for having left my old career or that I’m sitting at home having tons of time with my kids. Actually, I have less time with my kids, because this is my business, and that means I’m on 24 hours a day.”
Given that, what’s your best advice for entrepreneurs, mothers or not?
“Entrepreneurship is like having a third kid for me; it’s very hard. So have an underlying passion that carries you through and wakes you up in the morning. When I’ve made decisions based on making a profit, it’s led to not-so-good results. When I go with my heart, it works. Always focus on what you want to achieve, on your ‘why.’”