As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about empowering women who are encouraging and doing incredible things with their ideas in society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mitchella Gilbert.
She is a Black woman entrepreneur who recently launched her activewear company to introduce a healthier alternative to leggings and crop tops that hold moisture against the body – and compromise women’s health in the process. While other leggings trap bacteria and moisture, increasing the risk of health issues such as vaginosis, yeast infections, and skin ailments, OYA’s innovative Goddess leggings have a provisional patent for their innovative leak absorbent and ventilated design. They are hypoallergenic and antibacterial, as well as machine washable. OYA has also introduced ventilated crop tops. As activewear for women, the clothing is also designed to be comfortable, cellulite smoothing, and flattering.
Many thanks for doing this for us; please let our users know about yourself and your activewear brand?
I’m Mitchella Gilbert: an MBA, former Nike employee, elite athlete, and inclusive product designer. My startup OYA Femtech Apparel is building a multi-million-dollar business with high-tech apparel designs that create happy, healthy bodies by using natural ventilation to help prevent bacteria growth and skin irritation. OYA’s signature legging with a removable insert is the first gynecologist-approved legging for all kinds of moisture and leakages (provisional patent and trademark filed). We are also prototyping patentable tops that will provide industry-leading ventilation and moisture absorption. We are empowering women to be healthy because healthy women are powerful women.
How did you come up with a business idea? What challenges did you face at the start of your business?
I was a state-ranking rugby player in college and still loved working out, but frequent yeast infections led me to visit OB/GYNs far more than I would like. My OB/GYN mentioned many other women who loved working out had the same issues as me. She believed her patients’ leggings were causing the issue by creating damp environments for pathogens to thrive. My team did some research, and we realized that she was right and that no leggings company was addressing this issue. So we created a new legging that had a breathable, replaceable insert and panels that promoted ventilation around the inner thigh. We are now getting ready to launch our second version along with new tops.
My biggest issue at the start was getting enough money to make the first batch. Manufacturers aren’t interested in making only a dozen leggings, so I had to shop around and haggle to get one to accept an order of 300. Even then, all my teammates had to chip in to help pay for the order, but afterward, we easily sold out. Now, we’re making 1,000 for the fall!
If not this, then what other career option would you have preferred?
I love fashion and apparel, so I may have continued my work with Nike. I also love business, though, so I may have gone into private equity.
After the pandemic, it has seen an urge among people to stay fit and healthy; what’s your take on it?
It’s great that people feel an urge to stay healthy! The pandemic had billions of people stuck inside, which isn’t great for either physical or mental health. Anything that gets the heart rate up will help people in every part of their body.
How do you keep yourself motivated and humble throughout the day?
I stay motivated by thinking about how much I’ll be able to give back after I retire. I know there are many girls of color who have never seen someone who looked like them find success in the startup world. I want to give those girls a head start by setting up programs to help them in the future. My teammates and advisors keep me humble. My teammates help me frame where I’m at now, and my advisors show me how far I have to go.
Share your five best exercises for beginners?
Walking is honestly the best exercise for anything. It’s good for your heart and your joints, and it’s free. Hiking is the second-best exercise because it’s also good for your glutes and to get you out into nature. Pilates is awesome because it connects you with your breath and develops core strength. Yoga is great because it teaches you patience with your body and your spirit. Lastly, as a former athlete, I love sprints and pull-ups!
Do you think working women somewhere neglect their health?
I would hate to say that someone out there is consciously “neglecting” their health. If a woman is neglecting their health, we can’t shame them, or else they may retreat into the habits that got them into that rough spot in the first place. OYA is all about erasing stigma and making sure women feel unashamed and empowered while taking care of themselves.
However, I will say that it is easy as a working woman not to prioritize yourself and your health. For me personally, I spend a lot of time proving that I deserve a seat at the table or even building my own table. And sometimes, my health takes a back seat. When this happens, I try to be empathetic with myself and remind myself that I am building generational wealth and that this is a new process for me, and that success is not always about being perfect in every area of my life. I also try to schedule more activities with friends that involve being active.
How can someone get the motivation to start exercising?
Forget motivation and focus on momentum! Just do something, anything that you could call exercise. Set a real low goal for the day and crush it just to feel the joy of accomplishing that goal. Once it becomes a habit, increase the goals until you’re where you want to be.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
I keep things enjoyable by focusing on the process instead of the results. I chose this career because it’s what I want to do every day, so I spend my time working on things until I’m proud of them. Yes, I know I need to make sales, but I also know that the sales will come as long as the pride and love I feel for OYA shines through in our product.
One morning habit of yours that makes you productive?
I usually start my day with a meeting with my co-founder. Starting the day with a friendly face, who is invested with me, helps me prioritize how I’m going to tackle the day. It also provides some comedic relief when thinking about how crazy my schedule can get.
Lastly, what does success mean to you?
A strong support group and financial security. I didn’t always have those things growing up, so once I’ve solidified them, I’ll know I’ve made it.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.