We're in that stage of life where we are going through milestones or watching those going through - rocking our careers of choice, launching businesses, getting engaged, married and having babies. We're aware of these benchmarks but the one we thing we hear after someone announces that they are expecting, there is a bit of a groan about what they can wear, what options exist and if they can go up a size. We sat down with corporate veterans and Co-Founders of of Mia Tango to talk about connecting mommies to be with brands that won't sacrifice their style and how this company was conceived.
ATHLEISURE MAG: Tell us about your background pre Mia Tango as our readers love knowing about trailblazing women.
STEPHANIE RETCHO: I began my career working in direct marketing - the great precursor to the digital age (darn, did I just age myself ?!). I remember so vividly interviewing for my first job in advertising at Leo Burnett in Toronto. It so perfectly combined my love of data with my creative talents - my inner geek did a happy dance. After working at Leo Burnett for a few years, I took a big leap of faith and moved to New York City. I played hookie for a week and flew to NYC, to interview with 6 or 7 different agencies. By the end of it, I had 2 job offers. 3 weeks later, this was home. I worked in agencies most of my career until moving to KAYAK. KAYAK was a marketer’s dream - the chance to work with smart people, building something you believed in, and then to watch it fly. KAYAK is where Melissa and I met, and working on Mia Tango feels like the perfect next step. This time, the journey is even more personal - it’s a problem that we truly believe needs solving!
MELISSA BIRGE: After college, I went to work for Arthur Anderson as a CPA in the adult division. I have always loved puzzles and solving problems, and that's what accounting felt like to me. Working for a large professional services firm gave me the opportunity to see a lot of different industries and company environments, and I found I preferred working with emerging companies that were in a high growth mode. After Andersen went under following the Enron crisis, I went to work for one of its clients: Orbitz. I loved the fast paced, demanding environment and the “newness” of the internet, plus travel is a big passion. I learned a lot about building a team, creating processes and working with different disciplines. Orbitz was acquired and a year later, I took some time off to travel the world on a solo journey, and then enjoy the Chicago summer before I started my new position as the Controller at a restaurant chain called Potbelly Sandwich Works. I loved learning about managing multiple retail sites and helping to profitably grow this beloved sandwich shop, but when I got the call to join the team at KAYAK, I packed my bags and moved to the east coast. KAYAK was a dream job - earning the CFO title and taking the company public before selling it for $2.1B. Having achieved everything I wanted to in finance and after having worked for some great start-ups, I felt it was time for the next great challenge: creating my own business.
AM: What was the moment that led you to creating Mia Tango and tell us more about this e-commerce platform.
MB: Mia Tango was really conceived from my own experience in buying clothing during my pregnancy and 4th trimester. I like to tell a story about my ultimate humiliation when I had to wear slippers to an important business meeting because I could not find any shoes that were wide enough to accommodate my big fat pregnant feet, and that's because there is no such thing as shoes made for pregnant women. But there were so many things that I found dissatisfying aout the whole experience - it felt like no
one really cared about pregnant women and new moms. It was like retailers were just putting forth the minimum effort because it wasn’t a big enough market to really care about. Well, I care about it deeply. I feel you pregnant women and new moms!
My husband and I were enjoying a glass of wine after we’d put our twins to bed, and he just asked me what I wanted to do next in my career, because he knew I was ready. The answer came out of my mouth so quickly and so naturally, and yet I was surprised to hear myself say it. I told him, “I want to start my own business.” From there, I just told him everything that I saw that was broken about buying maternity clothes and how I would change it. Retail was changing, the sharing economy was growing and millennials were embracing new ecommerce brands. Maternity was the last to adopt the trends, which really came as no surprise.
One of the things I really wanted to address head on was the guilt factor in buying maternity. When I was exploring the idea of Mia Tango, I interviewed dozens of pregnant women and new moms. I started out asking them to tell me about their pregnancies. Every last one of them described their pregnancy in joyful terms. Mind you, many of these women suffered horrific physical effects: debilitating morning sickness; a full body rash that itched like mad; preeclampsia; gestational diabetes. These are not little inconveniences – these are painful and frightening experiences – and yet, the women still felt their pregnancies were wonderful, because they all know, as every mother does, that the birth of a healthy child is a miracle.
Then I asked them to tell me about getting dressed for pregnancy and I got an entirely different reaction. Frustration. Resentment. And Guilt. A lot of guilt, which is kind of bullshit given the burden they’re carrying. Woman after woman told me where they usually shop and what they usually spend on clothes, and then described how they completely changed their entire shopping strategy after they got pregnant. They went from buying high quality, well made and fashionable items to cheap basics. Most often, the brands they knew and loved didn’t care maternity, so they were forced to shop brands they weren’t familiar with. The service was nonexistent at most big box stores and online, and they felt confused by what to buy and how to make a new wardrobe. They bought as little as they could get away with, focusing on plain tees, leggings and jeans. The result? They hated their clothes. The poor quality made their sensitive skin itch. The colors faded and the materials pilled and sagged. They wanted to burn their clothes in the end. Worse yet, like me, they felt like a lesser version of themselves. At the exact time they should have felt their most beautiful, they felt anything but.
AM: Mia Tango allows shoppers to be introduced to brands that provide maternity and new moms with attire as well as the ability to purchase pre-loved items - how important is having these avenues for your audience?
SR: We’ve heard time and time again - and experienced ourselves - how uninspiring shopping for maternity clothing is. The brands you like most often don’t make maternity, it’s hard to find things that you like, that are good quality and that you feel like yourself in. There are some really great designers out there making high quality, beautiful and intelligently designed pieces...it’s just that no one knows about them and they’re hard to find. First and foremost, we want to bring these great products together for moms-to-be and moms - all in one plae. The other side to the struggle is that mot women view buying maternity as a "temporary" thing. They feel guilty about investing a lot of money in it, but as a result they end up wearing things that they don’t feel good in. Our trade-in program lets mamas trade in most items purchased new at Mia Tango for 30% cash back. We also offer pre-loved items at 40-60% off the new purchase price. These programs are both designed to help mamas look great and feel great about their purchases. We really just want to be the brand that gets it. It’s so needed.
MB: Prior to starting Mia Tango, we talked to dozens of moms who told us all about their frustrations when searching for maternity and postpartum clothing. Chief among them was the challenge of finding chic clothes that fit their personal style, and so we felt it was vital to do this work for them and bring the best brands together. Then there was the conflicting feeling of wanting to look great, but not wanting to make a big investment in a temporary wardrobe. This was especially hard when they weren’t sure if they’d grow out of the clothes and they didn’t know the quality of unfamiliar brands. So we’ve designed our store to have generous and easy return policies, along with the option to have us buy back items within nine months of purchase. We also heard that many women love to shop pre-loved clothes because it makes them feel good, whether because they reduce their carbon footprint or because they score a great bargain. All of these features were designed to address the wants and needs of our customer.
AM: How do you go about finding designers that are featured in Mia Tango?
SR: All credit to Melissa on finding simply the best designers out there for pregnancy and new moms! She has a great eye! We’ve also benefited a lot from networking with other mom-preneurs. Many of the best styles in maternity and postpartum clothing are coming from women who saw a need and decided to solve the problem themselves by designing their own line. (Shocker, right? Moms making it happen!) We want to make it easier for other moms to find these great brands. That’s a huge part of why Mia Tango exists.
MB: We started with four designers and have now expanded to over 20! We’re always on the lookout for great new brands. When we see someone wearing something that we love, we research the designer and what they’re about, and designers seek us out as well. Quality is important to us, as is the designer’s vision - it’s got to fit with our woman’s lifestyle, values and aesthetic. We really believe in the brands that we carry.
AM: Will you extend these offerings to baby clothes as well?
SR: We have so many great ideas about how to expand our offering - we’re excited about all of them.
MB: At our heart, we are about the mom and what she needs, so any product extension that we consider has to pass through that filter first.
AM: As mothers who run this boutique, how important is it for women to ensure that they maintain self-care, take care of their families as well as to find outlets whether they are creative levels of expression and/or entrepreneurial?
SR: Whether a woman works outside of the home or in the home (and let’s be clear - it’s all work, and it’s hard work) so often, as moms, we’re told to put ourselves last when really we should be putting ourselves first. That’s a tough shift in thinking. But, it’s a crucial one. Everyone needs a base level of care in order to be able to function as a human. But, to really share your gifts with others (yes, you have gifts!) you need to be fed spiritually, mentally and physically. Family is a big part of that, but something to feed your brain and maintain your body and mind is equally important. How you feel about how you look is a big part of your physical being and your physical presence. That’s where Mia Tango comes in and it’s a big part of why I love it so much. Pregnancy and motherhood should be a time when you feel great about yourself, and clothing plays a huge part in that. For all the sacrifices you make, getting dressed should make you feel like, “heck ya, I’ve got this!”
MB: When I feel like I don’t have time to even take a shower, I always remind myself of what the flight attendants tell you during the routine safety demonstration: put your own mask on first before assisting others. As moms, this is so unbelievably counter-intuitive, but you really can’t help anyone if you aren’t well yourself. For me, self-care is about sleep, exercise, proper nutrition, a bit of meditation and quality time with my husband. When anyone of those things is missing from my routine, I find that I’m less patient and less able to cope with whatever hijinx three little boys cook up for me during the day. And work for me has always been a creative outlet, which sounds funny given that I’m an accountant by trade, but it’s been a way to use my mental energy to solve problems and it really feeds me. Our children are not ours to keep forever - we are here to teach them, guide them and then let them go. It brings me to tears to talk about, but that’s our job. And when they leave our home to start their own journey, we better hope that we have something else in our lives that keeps us engaged and energized, or else the void is going to engulf us.
AM: How important is it for women to encourage other women within business?
SR: It’s critical. While I think it’s also important (and much needed) for men and women to support each other, I think that women are truly able to understand each other’s situations - to be able to relate to the challenges, fears, and - yes - insecurities, as well as knowing first-hand the hurdles we have to get over every day.
MB: I remember hearing Sandra Day O’Connor talk about how the conversations and arguments on the Supreme Court changed as soon as there was one other woman on the Court. Suddenly, her views were amplified because there was another person in the room who could understand where she was coming from. I’ve noticed it in management meetings as well when I’m the only woman in the room vs. having at least one other, and it’s vital that women be heard and our needs be considered. So if you want to have products and services designed with women in mind, if you want women's specific healthcare issues researched, if you want better childcare, then you better make sure there are women in the room when these topics are being discussed. The best way I know how to do that is to help them. Network and make introductions. Serve as references. Give them feedback. Help them think through an issue or prepare for a presentation. Tell them how you managed through maternity leave. Advocate for policies that help women in the workforce. We all win when women succeed.
AM: How do you give of your time from a philanthropic standpoint?
SR: I so wish I had more time to give to the various causes I believe in. Right now, my philanthropic efforts are really focused on giving as much as I can in support of those causes, and to get involved where I can, which is mostly working with my girls to put together donations for various local drives. I think a lot of people - men, women, whether they are moms, dads, or entrepreneurs - struggle with adding this into the mix of their everyday lives. I’m no different.
MB: Having three young boys and running a new company is taking everything I have, so volunteering my time is something that I’ve had to set aside for now and instead focus my philanthropic efforts around giving donations of cash and goods. I feel that it’s important for my children, even as young as they are, to take part in passing along their own clothes and toys, and so we do this together whenever possible. One day, I’ll be able to give my time as well.
PHOTO CREDITS | PG 92 + 97 Nynne Schrøder | PG 95 Stephanie Retcho (left) and Melissa Birge (right)