"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."
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.