Female Founders: Kate Rech of Ollie Gray Maternity On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Don’t be afraid to evolve your vision — Through investments, peer groups and general marketplace observations, I have seen so many businesses fail due to the founder putting their version of their vision above all else. You must be open to massaging your vision to keep up with market trends, consumer feedback, etc. When we launched Ollie Gray, we told ourselves we only want to sell bras and bras alone. While our bras were well received, our consumers wanted more. It took some convincing, but ultimately, expanding the line was the right choice.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Kate Rech, a Charlotte-based attorney and entrepreneur. Rech has had her own law firm since 2010 and founded Ollie Gray Maternity in 2015, based on her own experiences while pregnant. The mom of two set out to transform the maternity space by creating intimates and apparel in luxe fabrics, vibrant colors and fashion-forward styles not previously seen in the maternity or postpartum space. She continues to elevate the maternity space for modern moms with a recently launched loungewear collection, and a sneaker line designed specifically for pregnant and new moms.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
The short answer — KIDS. I am an attorney by trade and opened my law firm in 2010. Shortly thereafter, our first born was here — maybe we celebrated the opening of the firm a little too much… Like many working moms, I needed to pump on the fly to get through the day. Upon returning to the court room, I noticed the lack of pumping and nursing bras available for the new mom on the go. To pump, I would actually buy low quality sports bras, cut holes in them, stuff them with breast pads and found this option to be better than anything on the shelves. After a year or two of complaining to Bryce, my husband and the most knowledgeable man in the maternity world about the trash in the marketplace, we set out to fix the problem.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I could write a book on this question alone — from total strangers sending full nudes for sizing recommendations — note I’m all for the beauty of the body, but sometimes it’s over the top — to designer back-stabbing, to now supply chain madness, it’s hard to pick just one. One interesting story and a turning point for us was after hearing “NO” from investors, VC’s, incubators, etc. a hundred times over, we eventually were selected to pitch to a well-known group out of NYC that was very connected in the D2C (direct to consumer) world to say the least.
We went through a series of rounds of consideration and out of hundreds of companies, made the final cut — finally a yes! Or so we thought. The pitch was a disaster. We prepared for a 15–20 minute pitch to a panel of five investors only to arrive to a room FULL of people — 75% of which were men that knew nothing about the maternity space. With 10 minutes on the clock (def not 15–20) and a lot of blank stares we gave it our all. We knew our stuff, but when we threw the curve ball of bringing footwear to market, it was met with head shaking and grumbles from the gallery. I wanted to cry. Come to find out, the room was split on our vision, but we did not ink a deal — 101 No’s.
For all those startups out there, you have heard this story 1,000 times over. Not everyone believes in your dream, but that doesn’t make the dream any less valuable. Looking back, this was the most valuable “No” we received to date. Game on.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
An attorney and a restaurant owner (my husband Bryce) decide to launch a maternity bra company — what could possibly go wrong? After a month of researching, we met a random designer who said he thought he could make us a bra prototype. After all, he had a small shop off the interstate that I’m pretty sure doubled as a storage unit, so pretty legit. We commissioned this person to develop our game changing bra. The prototype looked awful BUT — it gave us a starting point. Lesson learned: Don’t trust a business that rents its office space from a storage unit company — yikes! We still have that first prototype, it’s a badge of honor at this point. Aw, I miss those days… But in all honesty, it was slightly better than some of the options being sold on the market at that time, so it gave us a base bra to build upon. Small victory, let’s gooooo.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
TONS OF HELP has been offered along the way. Our first investor, a great friend and one of the most generous people I know comes to mind. He grew up in NYC successfully marketing financial portfolios, has never had children, is in his 60’s and I’m pretty sure the first year of development, he thought we were developing a training bra for teenagers. That’s a lot of love and trust right there, not to mention not the most common maternity bra start up investor. He has ridden the wave with us since day one, is still active in the company and has taught us how important it is to invest in people and not products. Thank you, Alex.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
The rise of female-based funding and support options for visionaries to gain access to capital is a beautiful thing right now — there are so many brilliant minds out there. I come from a background where there was always a path to pursuing your dreams, but it takes a high level of drive, persistence, and the willingness to keep the ball moving when roadblocks sprout. And don’t forget luck, there is always a string of luck along the way. I think confidence is the biggest thing holding women back. For so many years, our confidence has been silenced for a variety of reasons, many for the very reason you are writing this piece, but our once muted roars are starting to be amplified. To see fellow female founders break out of their shell and push to pursue their dreams is contagious, and it all starts with confidence for me.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
As an individual, you must have a mentality that no one is going to give you the success you dream of. You have to take it. As a mother of two, I would be remiss not to express the need for parents to raise and support their children to be confident, to allow them to pursue the things that make them happy, and push for an openness with them that favors individuality.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
For the same reasons any aspiring entrepreneur should jump. Direct connection with consumer bases, flexibility, adequate financial reward for success, increased levels of self-worth, and perhaps most importantly, the freedom to pursue the change you want to make, your own way.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
The one I see most commonly is the idea that making the decision to start something of your own is “the hardest part.” That’s the easy part. Everyone has that one idea that they think can be the one. Its great if you make the decision to finally pursue your idea — congratulations, now the hard work starts. If you are not ready to eat, sleep, and breathe your idea every waking moment of the day (and oftentimes in the middle of the night), you’re not ready to go into business for yourself.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
Yes and no. Everyone has a passion deep down inside that drives them. Whether it be a hobby, career related, or philanthropic — perhaps all of the above. But turning that passion into a sustainable business is a whole other can of worms. Some people never find a true passion, which may keep them leveled to a “regular job.” Some have a passion but do not know how to turn it into a career. Some passions are best kept recreational to help you escape the stresses of your professional career. So, I think everyone has it in them to be a founder — but finding that one true thing that drives a person to found a company is the hard part.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Ask & Offer — Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and always offer help to others. There are so many incredible people out there that want to help. Seek it. Cultivate it. Use it to help you grow. But always offer it back to the next founder looking for advice and direction.
- Find the Angle — Every “No” is not the end of the road. Every meeting doesn’t need to be a homerun. Your worst/best day doesn’t define you. There is always an angle, a wrinkle, a crumb of good that can come out of meeting other human beings. You may not notice it immediately, but I can’t tell you how many times a seemingly irrelevant cup of coffee with a peer, a neighbor, a boss, or a quick zoom call with a pestering agency trolling for business (apologies to all you cold callers out there) have come full circle down the road. Find the angle!
- Consider All the Variables: We oftentimes get so consumed with our end goals that along the way it is easy to overlook seemingly minute details and decisions. When the supply chain issues are controlling your business, you may be quick to provide feedback about let’s say, tag placement on those new couture crew neck sweatshirts you’re ready to start selling– after all, if they are comfortable and look fabulous who cares? But what happens when you cut 10k units, receive them, and start selling them to find out the tags cause extreme irritation due to placement at the neck or hip — supply chain doesn’t seem so bad now, right? Every decision you make has value attached to it. You must consider all the variables before giving your final blessing.
- It’s not always an overnight success — It took me ten years to build a successful law firm. We have been building Ollie Gray for five years and it feels like we are still at the bottom of the mountain looking up. The saying is true “if it’s a passion it doesn’t feel like work.” But that doesn’t mean you won’t have to work your ass off to get it.
- Don’t be afraid to evolve your vision — Through investments, peer groups and general marketplace observations, I have seen so many businesses fail due to the founder putting their version of their vision above all else. You must be open to massaging your vision to keep up with market trends, consumer feedback, etc. When we launched Ollie Gray, we told ourselves we only want to sell bras and bras alone. While our bras were well received, our consumers wanted more. It took some convincing, but ultimately, expanding the line was the right choice.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I currently serve on the board with some amazing women from Fashion & Compassion — a 501c3 nonprofit providing vulnerable women in the U.S., Africa. and South and Central America purpose, value and employment opportunities through making jewelry and home goods. We help women that are overcoming situations such as human trafficking, abuse, addiction, incarceration, poverty, and ethnic persecution. The skills these amazing women learn from the program allow them to have economic mobility and access to a support group they can lean on. We would also like to think our products have made life much more comfortable and promote body positivity for moms just after birth — a time when, let’s be honest, we don’t feel so pretty.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Fashion & Compassion is near and dear to my heart. The mission speaks to the core of this interview — empowering women to find a voice, purpose and pave the way for future women to lead and conquer. It all starts with LOVE. We must love each other and build each other up. There are so many amazing organizations out there doing beautiful work, and any movement that is giving purpose to human life is something we should all be behind.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
Sara Blakely and Jessica Alba come to mind immediately. Spanx and Honest are two companies that seem to get it right time and time again and adding maternity to their brands would help serve so many more mothers in need at a much quicker pace than that which we are able because of a lack of funding. With six years of direct experience in the maternity space, a cup of coffee would go a long way with two the most powerful female founders to help advance the maternity space.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.