For women in pursuit of motherhood and a career
Aya Kanai, Chief Fashion Director at Hearst Publications and judge on the Lifetime reality TV series Project Runway: Junior chats with us today about career, style and motherhood.. She shares her story of being a new mom while working in the fast-paced fashion industry.
1. Tell us about yourself in a nutshell. Where did you grow up, what did you study, do you have any siblings? Were you always a creative child and knew what you wanted to do when you grew up?
I was born and raised in New York City. My parents moved to New York from Japan in the late 1960s and ended up with two American kids, my brother and I! I went to school in New York and college in rural Ohio (studying art and art history), so I have been a city mouse and a country mouse, though if I'm honest I've been a New Yorker longer than anything else. I have an older brother who I unfortunately don’t see very often because he lives in China with his wife and son. I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. I think I’m still figuring it out! But I was very lucky to be around creative parents growing up, this affected me more than anything.
2. You recently became a mom at the age of 40 and were featured in a Vogue article about women who are going through pregnancy and childbirth in their 40s. What are your thoughts on this topic? Was it your and your partner’s decision to wait to have your baby? How was your pregnancy and postpartum experience been?
I wasn’t ready to be a parent before now. Of course now that I am one I wonder, “what was I waiting for!? This is the best thing ever!” But I know it happened at the right time. Having a baby at 40 didn’t seem like a huge deal to me since so many New York career moms do it. But I certainly do feel it when it comes to my energy level. Parenting takes every ounce of energy you’ve got, so I have to dig deep but I see her face every morning and I'm excited to be a parent. I feel so so lucky.
3. What are some of the biggest surprises about being pregnant, giving birth, breastfeeding and postpartum in general? Is there anything in particular that you feel like telling all your not-yet-mommy friends right now? Your biggest two cents about pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding/postpartum?
Being pregnant was actually a joyful experience for me. Don’t get me wrong. There was a lot of gross and horrible things about it, but overall it was great to have a constant companion with me. When it comes to childbirth, the only thing I can recommend is for mom’s to be flexible on the process. It rarely goes as you have planned. About postpartum, I beg that everyone stop comparing themselves to celebs in tabloids who are wearing a size 0 two weeks after the baby. Even these pictures, keep in mind they are shot by an expert, and I was wearing Spanx under my Mitera outfit. Nothing on my body is back where it should be and that’s ok!!!
4. What books have you read that you found truly useful and recommend to other moms?
The Fifth Trimester: The Working Mom's Guide to Style, Sanity, and Success After Baby by Lauren Smith Brody
5. You just returned to work as the Chief Fashion Director at Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day. Did you always know you will be a working mom? What was your view about pursuing your career and your entrepreneurial dreams before having kids? And has it changed now that you have Rei?
My point of view on it hasn’t changed much. I always knew I would work being a working mom. it’s not simple or easy, but it always seemed like the right path for me. The CFO of my company Hearst (also a woman with kids) sent me this article and it helped me a lot.
6. At Mitera, we believe there are so many shades of gray between ambition and motherhood and the two extremes of being either a working mother or a stay-at-home mother is fading away. As #MiteraMoms, we probably all fall somewhere in between and navigating the journey of figuring out how much to lean into motherhood vs. pursuing our dreams and careers can be confusing, isolating, and (mommy) guilt-ridden. What has been your experience so far? Are you excited to be back at work and do you feel differently at work? How has your perspective changed?
I grew up around busy working parents. My mother’s job was just as important as my father's. So that life has always seemed like a normal path. I wish I could spend more time with Rei, but I have faith that I am doing the best that I can for her, for me and for my family. It’s not perfect, but what is!?!
7. As the Chief Fashion Director at Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day, I can imagine navigating the fashion scene with your changing body was an interesting experience. How did you navigate dressing your ever-changing body during pregnancy and postpartum? What did you enjoy about it and what did you struggle with? What were some of your go-to pieces?
When I was pregnant I wore a lot of Pleats Please by Issey Miyake, silk blouses from Equipment in a size larger, and body hugging dresses. The only maternity clothes I wore were jeans and leggings. Postpartum, I am still trying to figure out which clothes fit!!! It’s certainly not all of it. But again, I am being kind to myself in the process. It's slow to get back to your previous size and that’s ok.
8. At Mitera, we believe that moms are not a one-sided coin. Being a mom is a huge, exciting, terrifying, and wonderful part of who we are, but it’s not all of who we are. Have you experienced any identify shift since becoming pregnant and giving birth? If so, can you share with us your experience?
I could never understand why parents were rushing home to see their kid, now I get it. Rei goes to bed at 7:45pm, so I have to rush to get home to be with her before she's in bed. It all makes sense now. I find myself falling down a rabbit hole of worries about her health and wellbeing, but when it happens, I try to acknowledge it and suck myself out. It’s too easy to get caught in a negative thought spiral. Rei is healthy and doing great so far. It's much better for me to focus on that.
9. How have you and your partner managed caring for Rei so far? Share with us some of the happiest moments as a family so far and also some of the most challenging?
Some of the best moments so far were traveling with her. We went to the Catskills on a week long trip to a cabin and also we went to visit her Grandma in Ohio (first plane trip at 3 months old) and she did great. As parents, we were nervous but so proud when it worked out, and it was great for her to be exposed to different environments.
10. As a fashionista, are you excited about dressing Rei as she gets older?
Interestingly, I have dressed Rei in a lot of hand me down clothes from friends. They are all fun but not too girly. I'm not into bows or pink, so she's often mistaken for a boy by strangers. Also her name is gender neutral so it’s easy for people to be confused.
11. What are your hopes, dreams and wishes for Rei?
I'm excited to see what kind of person she will be. Michelle Obama said, “The parent’s job is to prepare their kids to not need them anymore”. I remind myself of this often. I’m here to help her on her path. But ultimately success will be her not needing me anymore. It sounds kind of sad, but it actually puts the wellbeing of the kid first.
12. What’s next for you as a mom and in your career?
Becoming a mom has taught me a lot about enjoying the moment. Rei is growing up so quickly and each moment seems like a different kid. So what’s next is to not worry so much about what’s next and spend time being with my daughter as she is now. I won’t be able to get back these moments.