"If someone asked me when I was younger and in college, "What are you going to do?" And that I would say, "Oh, I'm going to start this diabetes fashion company some day," I would be like what are you talking about? Nothing on this track was ever in the life plan."
Type 1 Diabetes is not caused by candy or carbohydrates. It is a serious disease that is caused by a person's own body attacking the beta cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. Nobody thinks about how they would react to getting diagnosed with an autoimmune disease until it happens to them.
Kyrra Richards, founder of Myabetic sat down with SWAAY to have a diabetic-to-diabetic discussion [I have had Type 1 Diabetes since college] about her diagnosis and starting her incredible line of functional accessories. Bonding over our 'late' diagnoses with a juvenile disease, her being 24 at the time of diagnosis and me being 19, Richards and I hit it off right off the bat. During our chat she talked about every aspect of juggling type 1, running a company, being a mom, and how she never thought she would own a business like this in her life.
Frost pink Brandy backpack
At 24 years old, Richards was working as a professional dancer and model when she started feeling the telltale signs of her disease. “I was actually performing for the troops in Afghanistan on a dance tour flying from base to base and performing. And that's when I started feeling a little bit off. Was super thirsty all the time and obviously had to go to the bathroom a lot," the dancer explains.
Richards went back to the United States and could not shake the symptoms. Thinking she 'broke her bladder' in Afghanistan she promptly went to see a doctor. When they checked her blood glucose, it was around 500 MG/dl, which is very high. The average non-diabetic person should range between 70-130 MG/dl. I myself was at 300 MG/dl when I was diagnosed.
Lavender James wallet
“I had a really hard time in the beginning," she says. "I still do. My doctor (at the time) wasn't exactly super understanding and really comforting, unfortunately. She was a good doctor as far as the medical side, the insulin levels and what you're supposed to do." Says the diabetic fashion guru. "But not necessarily the emotional and psychological part of it, which is way harder for me to deal with. I could deal with all the shots and trying to figure those things out. Like, "Fine." But that wasn't the problem."
Richards told me that feeling like a patient was one of the worst parts of her diagnosis. This feeling sparked a desire in her to come up with a solution to the shame she felt carrying around her medical supplies and to find a way to make at least that one part of the disease more bearable.
“That emotional feeling of being isolated, not really knowing anyone, who to talk to and feeling a little bit ashamed to bring it up. I didn't really want to show my testing kit to anybody, they come in those ugly little black cases. I was trying to hide it. I'm in Los Angeles doing this awesome career and I have cute bags and then I have this ugly little case, you know? So it just represented everything that I hated about diabetes. I was like, I feel like I have this awesome fabulous life and I'm pursuing my goals and big dreams and then there's this ugly side of me and that's just kind of how I felt about diabetes." -Kyrra Richards
And thus, Myabetic was born. Richards sat down with the goal to find a silver lining and make parts of the disease, in her words, more beautiful. She got to the drawing board and started making bag designs that are not only stylish but also practical and able to hold the medical supplies type 1 diabetics have to carry with them everywhere they go.
When asked about problems she has faced as a female CEO, she credits her auditioning background to what has helped her in the business world and in turn the business world has helped her as a patient. Appeasing her doctors has been a struggle for Richards but she knew she had to express what was on her mind in the boardroom and in the doctor's office. The bag designer says that she is naturally a 'people pleaser' so learning to say no was a challenge for her.
“Sticking up for myself is something that I've learned as I've gone along with the business. But, it's played into other aspects of my life as well. With my health and with my business."
As for starting a fashion company that incorporates a medical aspect, Richards found that part more challenging. Her motto during that process was 'fake it till you make it'. There was no blueprint or company to model hers off of so she figured it all out as she went. “I don't know how to completely draw the perfect plans for a wallet or a purse, but okay let me contact some other people that may have been in this space. And then figure this out." The Myabetic founder says. "Or, I'll do the best I can and then research different manufacturers, going door to door. There are just so many things to learn that I don't feel like there was ever a point that I was educated in this. It's just an adventure in every little step."
The entrepreneur recently had a baby girl. Finding a balance between work and family is something she says she has to work for but it's more than worth it. “The biggest struggle, at least this year, is finding the balance." She says. "Spending quality time with my daughter and wanting to be there for her, but also wanting to create something for her and wanting her to grow up seeing her mom pursue something that she really believes in."
Blue Banting wallet
Being sold in over 40 countries, Richards' company has everything from tee shirts and insulin pump cases to backpacks and purses. Myabetic makes it easy for every diabetic to stay stylish while managing their disease. The best seller is the essential Banting Wallet for men and women but Richards' personal favorite item that they sell is the Love Bug case for little kids.
“I've had parents reach out saying my daughter tests more and shows off her Love Bug on the playground. And because of it, has started actually wanting to check her blood sugar herself. That's something that makes me so happy. So that's my favorite product."
A word of advice Richards has for women who aspire to start their own companies is, “From the same perspective that I have on my diabetes, starting a business is a huge roller coaster of ups and downs. And it's okay if you're having those bad days. You're going to have some great wins and feel like you're on top of the world at some point and have things under control. Then the next day you feel like everything is spiraling, and that is part of the deal, but it's okay. There's going to be those sunny days and cloudy days. But, I think the bad times make the good times feel so much better."
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.