Mitchella “Mitch” Gilbert is the CEO and Co-founder of OYA Femtech Apparel, which makes high-tech apparel designs that create happy, healthy bodies by using natural ventilation to help prevent bacteria growth and skin irritation. We talked with her about the inspiration for her product line, her experience at Founders First, and how what you’re manifesting can be just as important as your product or service.
What was the inspiration for starting your business?
I always knew that I wanted to be in fashion, but there’s a couple ways to start a fashion business—different business models per se. You could choose to do fast fashion, which is like Fashion Nova. They’re really chasing after production counts and margins. You could choose a Louis Vuitton approach, which is really based on influencer marketing. Or you could take an approach like Nike, where they found an underserved target customer and created something very new and innovative and functional—the first running shoe.
We didn’t necessarily have the most money and I wasn’t an influencer myself. So creating a functional business model seemed like the best bet. The passion just became: how do we find this model and who could be our target customer?
I actually got a full ride to UCLA’s business school to build a business. We were doing our research for our idea, and I went to the OB-GYN’s office. I had gotten a yeast infection because I was an elite athlete at one point. I was always training, right? I’ve trained with Olympians, etc. But I always wore leggings and the doctor essentially told me if I wanted to stop getting yeast infections to stop wearing leggings. And it was like a lightbulb moment to me because I had never thought about the correlation between women’s health and leggings.
So, I did some research and, come to find out, she was right. Most leggings’ spandex blends trap moisture and they don’t let vaginas breathe. And so they result in making a woman two times more likely to develop frustrating health complications. Moreover, there’s millions of women suffering with leakage and absorption. Once we learned that and we found our underserved target customer, we then began working with doctors to potentially create a product that could help women live better lives. And so, OYA Femtech Apparel was born.
What’s new with you and your business?
We’re really excited. Spring/summer collection is coming out for 2022 in April. We’re actually having a launch event. It’s my first launch event with influencers. So it’s invite only. There’ll be a fashion show. We’re partnering with a major brand. We’re doing it at a swanky location here in L.A., so stay tuned. We have some new colorways coming out as well as some new styles.
Our team is also expanding. We have some new investors on the table. And so we’re just really excited for all the momentum that we’ve been able to generate this year and what we plan to do for women’s health, including making new custom fabric blends, making new styles, and even introducing new fits—an athlete fit as well as a regular fit or slim fit by the end of the year.
How has your business been impacted by participating in the Founders First accelerator program?
You all were actually my first accelerator. We won you through a business plan competition and it was definitely intense. So we were learning all about the Lean Business Model Canvas and connecting with other founders and how to put together a marketing plan. It was a really great overview of all the areas in which our business needed to grow to be successful. We’re just really appreciative of that opportunity and being able to participate in the Business Plan Competition and supporting us with that.
Is there any important lesson that you remember distinctly from just learning and being a part of the program?
Yeah, I definitely think I remember on Demo Day or Pitch Day, the pitch moderator continued to say to reach out and make partnerships. A lot of founders are always trying to do things solo or even potential brands are doing things solo. He had made the point that we should be partnering with some of the people in the audience. That really stuck with me. So even with this upcoming launch activation event, we’re now partnering with another L.A.-based brand. And so I do try and think of that because as founders we’re not alone, even though we feel that way sometimes. It’s important to sometimes think about who you can partner with around you.
You’ve had quite a bit of revenue growth since the program as well, haven’t you?
Yeah, it’s great. We sold out our first collection and we launched our second collection on Kickstarter. And we were in the top 5% of the women’s apparel category in Kickstarter history.
And then with COVID was there any kind of pivoting that had to happen with the business model?
Yeah, supply chain. So, as I’m sure most of you know, most apparel manufacturing takes place offshore, but with COVID we tried to bring it in onshore. Then we tried to go offshore and then we eventually wound up bringing it back onshore. And so, it definitely just requires having a vision and being persistent in pivoting. But we’re really excited for our two new onshore factory partners and to create really exciting styles for our customers these upcoming seasons.
Looking forward to that! Is there any kind of advice that you would give to the next entrepreneur that’s up and coming out there?
Love yourself. Be patient with yourself. Find and surround yourself with people who love you and want to be patient with you too. Manifesting is something that I’ve begun to practice recently because the world really reflects your energy. And sometimes when you focus on things that you can’t control like COVID, and you get frustrated or down in the dumps, you’re preventing yourself from manifesting amazing opportunities, right?
So, it’s really being able to love yourself and manage your emotions and manage your vision and manage your expectations and to create a team around you who can build off of that excitement to create something awesome. Because I know a lot of founders sometimes get really frustrated within their first years and their businesses shut down. Not necessarily because it wasn’t a good idea or a good service, but because internally or mentally or spiritually they didn’t have great practices at managing that. And so I just want to remind incoming founders that how you feel, how you’re connecting with people, and what you’re manifesting can sometimes be just as important as your product and your service and just to be really mindful of that.