Authority Magazine Interviews CEO Mitch Gilbert
Female Disruptors: Mitchella Gilbert of OYA Femtech Apparel On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
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As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Mitchella Gilbert, CEO of OYA Femtech Apparel.
Mitchella “Mitch” Gilbert is an inclusive product designer who is obsessed with women’s health and sportswear. She attended the UCLA Anderson School of Management after earning a full scholarship to build her startup, OYA Femtech Apparel, a sportswear company fighting feminine health issues (i.e., yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and UTI’s) with patented designs and textiles. Mitch started OYA because she loved exercise, but suffered from recurring feminine health issues. Her OB/GYN explained that her issues were because of her tight, non-breathable, non-moisture absorbent leggings. Research has shown that leggings and other spandex-based women’s sportswear create environments for pathogens to thrive, and after seeing that no sportswear company was addressing this issue, she went to work on a solution: a new legging that had a breathable, replaceable pad and panels that promote ventilation around the inner thigh. Our legging is now patent-pending. We are on our third collection of tops and bottoms that absorb moisture, decrease bacteria, and increase natural ventilation
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I am an inclusive product designer who is obsessed with women’s health and sportswear. I attended the UCLA Anderson School of Management after earning a full scholarship to build my startup OYA Femtech Apparel. OYA is a Nigerian goddess of rebirth, fertility, and storms. I thought OYA was a great name for a sportswear company fighting feminine health issues (i.e., yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, UTI’s, etc.) with patent-pending designs and textiles.
I have 6+ years of experience in tech/product design/retail across Deloitte, Nike, and Lululemon. I am also a UCLA John Wooden Fellow who graduated from the University of Chicago with a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
OYA Femtech Apparel is sportswear that fights feminine health issues. Our patentable designs and fabrics absorb moisture, reduce bacteria, and increase natural ventilation. Our patent-pending leggings are the first to be designed with doctors to combat the $21B that US women spent last year dealing with feminine health issues (e.g., yeast infections, urinary incontinence, bacterial vaginosis, and urinary tract infections).
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The funniest mistake is hard because I am type A and mistakes hurt my spirit. That said, in our first collection we launched a Prussian blue legging. When picking out the color, my production manager gave me a very firm lesson about the differences between the colors Prussian blue and teal. The lesson involved a color wheel, strongly Russian accented English, and vigorous pointing. At the time I felt attacked, but looking back I realize how ridiculous the entire scenario was.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
OYA is the birth child of many mentors. Our most active mentor has been Kyrie O’Connor Stillman. She’s a very proud, thoughtful, and detail-oriented marketing leader. She helped us think through our initial branding. She attended pitch competitions and drove sales. She gave me pump up talks and even went as far to help me pick out my groceries when I was too focused on work to eat.
Kyrie helped us raise our initial round of funding (which is hard for women of color) and create the OYA spirit.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
Femtech and the impacts of femtech research on women’s health is a positive “disruption”. Women are often overlooked in medical research and product design, so we often suffer the consequences.
Conversely, the latest SCOTUS ruling on Roe vs. Wade is an example of a negative disruption. Women are working so hard to gain equality in the workplace and to have control over their bodies. This ruling “disruption” was an attack on the progress women have made over the past few decades since the initial Roe vs. Wade decision.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
#1 — Don’t take negative decisions or bad news personally. I am sensitive and I’m hard worker. So, when I get back news it’s easy for me to feel defeated or angry. Not taking things personally is a reminder that not everything is in your control and that sometimes people are just going through things, and they can inadvertently harm you. It doesn’t mean that they always intended to be hurtful.
#2 — Seek stability in your relationships and #3) establish clear boundaries when relationships threaten your stability. The strongest brands are typically made of the same strong teammates who have stayed together across time. This low teammate (or employee) turnover requires proactive communication, expectation setting, giving generously, and establishing efficient processes. Stable, long-term relationships will hold you accountable while helping you grow.
That said, certain relationships in your life can lead to a lot of bad feelings. It is your job to own up to those feelings and establish boundaries so you can protect your stability and mental health. For example, sometimes in the past, I automatically cut people off who threatened my stability. Now I have realized that I could still salvage a relationship as long as I was able to manage how they interacted with me in the future.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
I’m going to build a tech solution that helps make domestic manufacturing an easier process.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Society wants to put people with less power (i.e., women, people of color, disabled people, people from lower socioeconomic classes, etc.) into boxes. When people who traditionally have less power seek to break out of those boxes, they are “troublemakers.” Society then builds a lot of systems (including shame, limited access to capital, racism, sexism, etc.) to keep “troublemakers” in their boxes.
Women “disruptors,” unlike their male counterparts, must first fight our internal dialogue that we are we are supposed to stay in our boxes and that we are “troublemakers” if we break out of our boxes. Then we are supposed to fight society’s systems to keep us in our boxes. These are difficult feats, and it requires a lot of education, communal support, and capital to break women “disruptors” out of our boxes.
Some women don’t make it out because the lift is too great. Conversely, men are often rewarded for being “disruptive,” because they are considered innovative and aspirational.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
I love the Jocko podcast. He’s a retired Navy Seal instructor. His biggest teachings are that discipline equals freedom and decentralized command.
I love to actually listen to the same Jocko compilation video every morning when getting ready. It reminds me that I am heading into the battle of my day and that I will win because I control my mind and I attack problems with a team.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
If I could inspire a movement, it would be to honor vaginas with love, care, and respect because vaginas are more often dishonored with indifference and shame.
Honoring vaginas would lead to good because everyone is attached to a woman. And lifting up women to be healthier and happier would lead to a happier and kinder world.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I heard this from a motivational video, so I am not sure of the speaker. But the quote is:
“I just knew in my heart to just go. So I did it, no questions asked. And it was not a picnic. The rise up is tough. But it’s who you become in the process when you’re chasing that unknown. When you eliminate fear. So my offering is to go analyze what you love to do and to go chase it. Because making money should not be your focus. To do something that you don’t really love to make money. Because all that is is a transference of stress… The money will come when you are really good at something… When you really have an effect. Because that will create a polarizing effect in people. They will be drawn to you. And you cannot be really good at something if you don’t love what you’re doing.”
How can our readers follow you online?
You can find me on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchellagilbert/. You can follow our IG and TikTok @WearOYA
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Source: Authority Magazine