"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."
"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.
It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.
My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.
Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.
I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.
My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.
Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).
They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).
Fast forward to 2018...
While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.
In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.
As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.
Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.