Exploring Life & Business with Mitchella Gilbert of OYA Femtech Apparel
Hi Mitchella, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
I know women’s sportswear because I’ve been training since I was 14. I had previous stints at both Nike and Lululemon, and I am a UCLA John Wooden Fellow. A long time ago, I was even a state-ranking rugby player who played with Olympians.
I went to UCLA Anderson School of Management, on a full ride, to build a fashion startup. I quickly learned that I could build a good business by focusing on a target customer that was being functionally underserved. My time with a UCLA OB/GYN then helped me realize that women who like athleisure and who suffer from reoccurring feminine health issues was a good target customer to go after.
She explained that women’s sportswear makes many women sick because it’s typically made with non-perforated spandex blend panels. Spandex is notoriously non-breathable and non-leak absorbent so it’s like a garbage bag. And what happens when you leave a garbage bag out in your kitchen during the summer? All sorts of bad things, but for women it’s worse because we get hot when we train AND our bodies leak menstrual fluids, urine, and/or sweat depending on the phase of our bodies.
Current solutions that women use to fix these problems include diapers, antibiotics, probiotics, creams, douching, and suppositories. But these solutions are inconvenient and not working. This means that US women spend $21B/year fighting feminine health issues like yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and urinary incontinence, but our sportswear makes it worse.
My startup OYA is here to put a stop to sportswear-related feminine health issues with patented designs and fabrics that fight feminine health issues.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Less than 0.5% of VC backed founders share my background as a Black woman-presenting CEO from a working-class family in the inner city. This used to consume me with imposter syndrome, but now I wear my underrepresentation with pride. I am building a ladder for women and people of color behind me, and I take this role with honor and responsibility. I’ve made it this far from self-discipline and through sacrifices of those who believed in me and my team OYA Femtech Apparel.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about OYA Femtech Apparel?
We’re the first athleisure brand to prioritize feminine health in a non-stigmatizing way. We provide visibility to folks who feel stigmatized. Our brand names unnameable problems for people who are just learning about feminine health. Eventually, we want our customers to no longer have to go to OB/GYNs or use other products to solve the problems their current leggings cause.
Our impact is measured by the number of people’s lives we improve. Each leggings sale is a possible bacterial vaginosis (BV), UTI, or yeast infection treatment rendered unnecessary. Every MYOU (“Mind Your Own Uterus”) item sold is a message to women that they’re not alone. And every social media follower is someone excited for a better future for feminine health.
I’m most proud that we are changing the way venture capitalists invest. I’m frequently the only woman presenting CEO and the only black CEO in the room. This used to frighten me, but I’m pretty much over it. Now, when I talk, older white, wealthy men are realizing they have a huge blindspot. MBAs and undergrads are writing case studies about us. We even have advisors coming onboard from other brands like Nike, And1, and Carbon38.
In the long run, my impact will be measured by 1) the number of CEOs and people in business that share my background in tech (i.e., lower socioeconomic class, women, and people of color), 2) the number of people who found strength through OYA’s story, and 3) the research we’ll do to advance feminine health.
Is there something surprising that you feel even people who know you might not know about?
I want to create a chain reaction through my company and my personal brand. In the face of SCOTUS and the lack of representation of female founders in the venture capital landscape, I want to become a voice so those without a voice can be heard.
I want other women who are pushing to grow to know that I see you, I recognize you and I identify with your struggles. I am battling the same storms and I am still here. And if you ever need a moment to rest, that’s ok. Take your time.
But never give up, and never give in.
Adjust your crown and know that you got this babe.
There are people in the room rooting for you who you may not even see yet, and I becoming one of those people.