"Are You F*cking Crazy?" Changing Careers, Mitera's Beginnings, and How One Woman Decided to Change the Status Quo
Some of us are die-hard Scandal fans who already have declared our stance in the Fitz vs. Jake love triangle, while the rest of us have not caught on the cliffhanger-inducing ABC series; but we can all agree as a Mitera mama that being a mother feels more personal than any profession we can ever hold. As young women, we are taught in our Western society that our career is who we are, but as we transition into motherhood, we change our purpose in life.
And we’re not crazy for it.
If you’d really like to know, Mitera founder Yoko Shimada had been in Mellie Grant’s shoes before, but instead of moving from First Lady to Senator, she jumped and ultimately did a career 360.
How does one woman go from an aspiring human rights lawyer to working as a public health executive for the Clinton Foundation, to starting a maternity and nursing fashion brand?
While it all sounds disconnected, Yoko’s mission has always been in one place: to take care of people. All of her professions have been influenced by her personal life, and after two years of Mitera being a brand, she has decided to share her story on why she was, in fact, not emotionally-driven, but felt she had a new meaning in life. (*at the request of Yoko, some details have been excluded to respect her personal, private life.)
As a young undergraduate student, Yoko aspired someday of becoming a human rights lawyer, but as she neared graduation, her original career goals would soon feel inadequate. Her father in Japan passed away from complications from Hepatitis C, which he contracted through an unsterile blood transfusion at a time when screening for such viruses was not a part of the Japanese government policy. This tragedy not only solidified her interest in pursuing a career path helping people, but the circumstances of her father’s illness and consequent death sparked her interest in the field of public health.
How many people do you know can say they have dedicated their careers to improving peoples’ lives? Yoko eventually earned a position as a specialist in the Global HIV/AIDS Program at the World Bank in early 2000. Through policy reform, she was certainly changing lives and focused on using hard data to help complete her mission of saving people from tragedies like her family’s.
With her position and location changing almost every two to three years, Yoko’s profession was keeping up with her fast pace. In 2007, she worked as the deputy director of diagnostic services at the Clinton Foundation Health Access Initiatives. In just two years, the organization’s influence on 70+ countries furthered Yoko’s purpose to widen the access to high quality diagnostic and laboratory technology help prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and TB in developing nations.
Yoko returned to the World Bank in late 2000 as a health specialist in the African region. Traveling all over the continent, Yoko worked tirelessly with government partners in trying to improve the health status of the people in the villages, cities and countries she covered. She was a part of rebuilding Liberia's devastated health systems. She worked closely with Rwandan government in improving health outcomes through improving accountability in the health system. She helped to bring about an innovative public private partnership solution to rebuilding and running a referral hospital in Lesotho. In almost all the programs she was a part of, she knew that one of the most important the priorities was savings the lives of mothers and children.
To summarize her story as a real-life crusader, she lived in underprivileged countries, gathered, analyzed and used data to implement policies and programs to improves people's lives especially that of mothers and newborns.
Sounds pretty badass for just one person to have had all of these positions, right? We all can agree that that’s some hell of a resume.
She was focused on her career as she was passionate about and loved what she did. Year 2010 though she became more of who she is today when she became a mother to her son. It wasn’t until the birth of her second child, a daughter, in 2013, did she start thinking about starting Mitera, a line of fashionable, functional, and practical day to night clothes for pregnant and nursing mothers.
Although we can agree Yoko has accomplished so much in her career before 2013, creating a fashion brand in this day and age just sounded the opposite of what Yoko would typically do.
And that’s the point.
People “thought I was crazy, joking, and out of my mind,” she says. “People took pity on me. People thought I was taking ‘time off’ from my ‘real’ career so that I can spend more time with my kids.”
On the contrary, her kids inspired Yoko’s various creative passions. When you are a mother, it is a part of your being. It is a role that drives other feelings like you never have before. Why is that not celebrated?
Fortunately for Yoko, her husband, gave her his full blessing for starting a modern motherhood brand, after seeing her firsthand struggle to balance being both a professional and a mother.
“As a public health specialist, I knew the benefits of breastfeeding, but I found it really difficult to implement the best practices for maternal and newborn health as a working mother. I thought [‘Why does it have to be so hard when you are simply trying to do what’s best for the baby and me?’]”
Positive reinforcement was not always available to Yoko, but she acted as if it was.
“Why did I still persist? Because I strongly believe that something, well, a lot has to change in the world in order to really support moms and really at the end of the day achieve gender equality.”
Yoko does not stop at clothing. It is almost as if her former career has made Mitera more than just dresses for women everywhere.
“When more than fifty percent of the world’s population is comprised of women and every single person on this earth comes from a mother, how is it that motherhood is still seen as a ‘penalty’, ‘gap’, ‘time-off’? Why is the act of conceiving, growing, birthing and nurturing life earning us LESS PAY than our male counterpart? It makes no sense at all to me.”
And with that in mind, Yoko has set to change the perception of gender equality with running a company promoting the strength and diversity of mothers.
But starting a brand is not that simple.
“If I knew what I know now about entrepreneurship, I would [have] probably shied away from pursuing it. But life is like that. You can NEVER know one-hundred percent what you are about to get yourself into. No matter how many books you read, how many experts you talk to, how much research you do, how many advices you seek from those who have gone before you. You can never know truly what YOUR path and your own journey will look like.”
There is no better way this piece of her story could have been written. It is entirely her own, a perfect diversion from the once smooth sailing of a steady career, but what empowerment, experience, dedication, opportunities, soul-searching, and life would she have had if she had not taken such a risk?
How could you continue to do the same job you’ve had for over a decade when your life has changed you?
Your job can change you, yes.
But you are a mother, and that is a part of who you have become. Like a new country stamped onto your passport, motherhood is imprinted into you, so why are you expected to remain the same?
The journey to start Mitera was far more difficult than Yoko could have ever imagined, but being passionate has made her brave.
“[I] don’t think I could have been persuaded out of what I was about to do in terms of starting Mitera. I could have been scared away, maybe. But my underlying passion of possibly making a dent in improving people’s lives carries me through every day.”
Rosalia contributes her skills to the social media department at Mitera and is a graduate from Hunter College, City University of New York with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a Focus Study in Music. She enjoys asking about the deeper questions in life and learning how to perfect the ideal Pinterest aesthetic. In her spare time, you can find her rollerblading on a sunny day or spending time with her friends.