A gorgeous mama of two beautiful children, Yoko is committed to making motherhood stylish. As founder of Mitera, a stunning collection of dresses specifically designed for new and nursing mamas, Yoko’s mission began when she envisioned the perfect dress that would be suitable for all parts of her life – one that she could wear out to dinner or to the office and to breastfeed and pump – and then found that actually sourcing that perfect dress proved an impossibility. Yoko shares her amazing journey and tips for balancing motherhood with work here with us.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your career?
My name is Yoko Shimada and I am a mother of two (4 yr-old Hugo and 24 month-old Emmeline) and the Founder of Mitera, a socially conscious brand of ultra-chic dresses for modern urban moms. Our focus is to create classic and high quality breastfeeding-friendly dresses that women can wear during pregnancy, nursing and well beyond. Before I started Mitera, I was a global public health specialist working at places like the World Bank and Clinton Foundation on a range of health projects; including but not limited to health financing and economics through to child health projects.
So, why did I start a fashion brand? Long story short, I believed in the benefits of breastfeeding. But after my (short) maternity leave (well, it is the U.S. after all) and after I gave birth to Hugo, I really struggled to find suitably professional clothes that allowed me to access my breasts for constant pumping at the office. I desperately wanted something that was well-designed and high quality that I could wear beyond nursing and pumping.
It took me three more years and another baby (Emmeline) to start Mitera. Though I never thought I would start a fashion brand, I feel that Mitera is an extension of my public health career and my passion in global health.Our mission is to celebrate and support moms throughout their motherhood journey inspiring them and empowering them along the way. Because of my background and previous career, I am keenly aware of the disparity that exist in the world. So I wanted to make sure that Mitera’s commitment extended beyond fashion where we are working to improving maternal and newborn health especially in the developing world where most of the maternal and child deaths occur. We are so excited to partner with an innovative organisation, a SF-based non-profit medical device development company called D-Rev (headed by a CEO who is also a mother of two), to work creatively together on this issue.
Can you talk us through your career pre and post babies? How did you get back into the swing of things after having children?
I was working as a public health expert for the World Bank when I became pregnant with both kids. So, that meant frequent international travel, mostly to developing countries in Africa and Asia. I feel I have been so fortunate to be able to visit these countries not as a tourist, but as someone who gets to learn so much about the local cultures and interact with the people living there – experiencing the country from within.
Getting back into the swing of things after my first child was rough. I remember being so worried about how my son was in his nanny share arrangement while trying to be a professional in front of all my colleagues. I thought I knew it beforehand, but it really was a hard realisation that child rearing is truly one of the most selfless acts that a person can do.
Society expects and everything in the media tells you that you are supposed to be HAPPY to be a mom. But having done it twice now, it is not that simple. I admit that my early postpartum period was both the happiest and hardest time of my life. Just four and a half months after Hugo was born, I went back to work. I was lucky to even get more than 3 months of ‘maternity leave’ but in reality, some of my leave was unpaid anyway, so I took as long as I could afford. Welcome to the world of no federally-mandated paid maternity leave (in the U.S.) and the tough world of working mothers.
The night before I went back to work, I stayed up late preparing all the parts of my breast pump, ice packs and breast milk storage pack. I started pumping in my office with a big sign on the door saying “DO NOT ENTER”. I pumped while checking emails. I pumped while eating lunch. I pumped while on conference calls. I pumped all the time. This is when, out of necessity, I started sketching my ideas out for nursing dresses nice enough to wear to the office. I then found a pattern maker in Japan to make the prototypes and the rest is history.
Post-kids, I don’t think my philosophy on life has changed, but I have definitely become a little more cautious about certain things because of my responsibilities to my children. I definitely spent many more hours Skyping with my kids from wherever I was in the world! I also became much more efficient at work because I couldn’t stay late. I’m much more focused on making every minute count because every minute does count when you are a working mom.
How do you balance work and motherhood?
I try my best and with help. It sounds cliché, but I have an amazing husband who is truly committed to sharing the parental responsibilities with me. It is never a 50/50 split of responsibilities in any given time or we do the same things with our kids but just split them in half. We try to make sure that we get what we need done at work and we each spend quality time as a family. I also have to credit our nanny – she helps me with everything so that I get to be a mom when I come home from work and on weekends.
For me to feel that I am ‘balancing’ work and motherhood well, I need to compartmentalise work and motherhood as much as possible. I try to focus on work 100% when I am at work and when I am with my kids, I try to focus on my kids 100%. There is really no perfect balance though and it changes weekly, if not daily. What’s important for me is to appreciate small moments that make me happy, both as a professional and as a mom. Sure, I do have long-term goals, but you have to take small steps towards happiness!
I also believe in quality over quantity. You don’t have to spend every waking moment with your kids for them to feel loved and secure. When you are with them, try to really ‘be’ with them in the moment even if it means sans your iPhone!
I tend to be organised. That said, it is sometimes really challenging to remember everything. I would say that the best time-saving trick for our family is to have a relatively strict schedule for our kids. Both of our kids still have either an afternoon nap (Emmeline definitely does) or a quiet time. They have dinner around 5-5:30, bath at 6 and in bed by 6:30-6:45.
Some people think we are crazy, but it works for us that our kids know their schedule and what they can expect daily. We don’t really deviate, so we experience minimum fuss and end up saving time. Of course, sometimes we let them loose and let them stay up late, etc. When they get to do that, they really enjoy it!
Do you have any tips for aspiring “mamapreneurs” and other working mamas in Dubai?
I don’t know if I can provide tips, but I can share my own experience. To those who are thinking of starting on their own, I would say go for it because you only live once. You never really know what’ll happen if you don’t try. Getting out of your comfort zone is tough and especially as a mom, you might feel you have all these responsibilities.
However I also believe that someday my kids will understand that I have other passions, interests and talents beyond being their mom. I want them to grow up watching me work and work hard for all of us. I want them to watch me experience challenges, failures and successes outside of my role as a mom. I would like, as much as possible, to lead by example rather than teach by instruction.
To other working moms – I would love to connect and learn from each one of you about how you do it. I think one tip that I can share (which I said earlier) is to try to focus on work and motherhood duties separately so you don’t feel like you’re half a#$-ing being a worker or mom.
Favourite activity with your kids in Dubai?
Definitely camping in the desert. Before we moved here, we had no idea that we could just drive into the dunes and pitch a tent anywhere, but it has become the perfect weekend or mini-holiday activity for our family. We don’t have to worry about any dangerous obstacles for Emmeline to climb or a body of water for our kids to fall into. We just let them loose in what they called the “biggest sandbox” with our dog Gemma, who diligently follows and watches over them.
We have not given our kids iPads or let them watch TV (maybe the occasional video), and it is so nice to be away from all the technology that surrounds us constantly, which is especially true for us parents. It allows us have a really good, quality time.
Favourite kid-friendly restaurants in Dubai?
We find that most of the restaurants are so kid-friendly compared to the States or Japan. Many places have high chairs, kids utensils and kids menus. It is really amazing. Because we live in Arabian Ranches, we often go to Maison Mathis at the golf course because they have a play area at the restaurant where our kids can play while my husband and I can eat in peace… for a little while…
Favourite family-friendly holiday spot?
Again, we find that many of the places easily accessible from Dubai are family-friendly. We love going to Saadiyat Island in Abu Dhabi (St. Regis or the Park Hyatt are both very family-friendly) or Oman for a relaxing beach vacation. We have also gone to Italy every year since 2008 – we both lived there before. We rent our friends’ villa and stay in one place for at least a week. Japan, my home country, is of course up there as it’s safe, people are friendly and food is out of this world!
By spending time together alone. We love our kids but we also love when they go to bed, haha! We put our kids to bed early so that we can have adult time. My husband, Collin and I both love competing in triathlons. We have fun cycling and running races around the region, so we generally exercise together almost daily. We either go for a swim with the Dubai Masters Swimming Club at Kings, run around the Ranches or cycle on Al Qudra cycle track.
At least one weekend morning, we have our nanny wake up with our kids so that we can go on early morning group rides. Though we don’t go for romantic dinners or walks on a beach, we have time to catch up when we exercise together and it is really nice to have a shared hobby that we enjoy together.
Favourite date-night restaurants?
Ha! Well, I would say when we get a chance we head to Tomo, the Japanese restaurant at Wafi.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received as a parent?
Trust your instinct as a mother. You know what’s best for your kids.
Give us your essential new mama advice that might never occur to other women.
I think I’ve given loads of advice already, but having done it twice now, I’ve realised kids are pretty resilient. I would say try to worry less about the little things, though I know it can be hard if you are a first time mom. I would also say to try to stay fit before and during pregnancy because it helps you during labor and delivery, as well helping you bounce back quickly after the birth.
The first few months as a new mom is really challenging both mentally and physically and it really helps to have that foundation. Though it might be difficult to be away from your baby as a new mom, remember to take time for yourself to exercise or to see a friend without your baby or get a pedicure. It’s so important for your sanity!
As a mama I wish I were better at…
Baking. One of our kids’ favorite activities is baking. Especially Hugo! We love baking together and we always have so much fun, but the end result is not always the best…
My most humbling mama moment was…
I am not sure if it is the most humbling moment, but lately Hugo has been saying that he wants to do triathlons like mama and papa. When we come back from our weekend group ride, he is often waiting for us on his own bicycle. Instead of feeling sad that his parents left him to go cycling, he is learning by example to lead an active lifestyle.
When I did my first half-ironman distance race (the Dubai International Triathlon) in November, Hugo ran the last part of it with me and we got to cross the finish line together. It meant so much to me to finish the race with him and he was so incredibly proud of me. He wore my finishers’ T-shirt for two days in a row to his nursery and talked constantly about how he ‘did the triathlon’ with mama. It’s humbling to know that he’s growing up watching us and it makes me want to be the best version of myself for my children.
One thing I won’t sacrifice as a mama is…
No matter how busy I am, I try to come home to do the bath and bedtime routine with my kids. I love watching them enjoy their bath together as siblings and read them their favorite books before I tuck them in for the night.
I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about….
My to-do list. My ever-expanding to-do list… At least it feels like that!
Even when my children have families of their own, I’ll still…
I’ll tell them how much I love them, shower them with kisses and hugs and support them wherever and however I can.
It’s a tough call! I would say when our kids wake up in the morning. They are so happy and excited to be up and start the day!
I always feel saner after…
I exercise. I love waking up early (before the kids wake up) and exercising. It clears my head and I feel empowered and inspired to start the day. When I exercise, I always sleep better and I do respect my needs for a good night’s rest!
I wish I had more time for…
Personal care… My hair is long for a reason! I need to go and get a haircut… Also, to play my piano. I wish I had time to take lessons again. I miss playing music.
Bedtime is always smoother when…
When it is earlier. From our experience, overtired kids struggle to fall asleep and stay asleep. So, when our kids go to bed on time, it goes smoother! Also, being Japanese, our kids take a bath every night. They love it and it calms them down before we read books together and put them to bed.
These beautiful images of Yoko, Hugo and Emmeline are courtesy of the very talented Steph at Nektar