Female Founders: Louise Vongerichten Ulukaya of Mon Coeur On The Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Be open minded yet set boundaries- as we started wholesale for the next collection, we got lots of opinions on looks, colors, patterns and more. I take feedback openly and embrace it because sometimes when you start a business there are so many areas to focus on that the feedback can give you more ideas. However, I learned to listen yet not apply all feedback, because at the end of the day everyone has an opinion!
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Louise Vongerichten Ulukaya.
Louise Vongerichten Ulukaya is the founder of Mon Coeur, a children’s clothing revolution, weaved by making truly earth-friendly clothes now, for a future with a healthier, happier planet. Founded after Louise gave birth to her first child, Mon Coeur is a childrenswear brand designed to care for the environment, respects the people making it, and that looks and feels good while being accessible for all. Louise is also founder & president of the Food Dreams Foundation, a non profit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between underprivileged students and the working culinary community.
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?
After my son was born, I sought to create Mon Coeur as a way to connect families with high-quality items and impactful solutions for sustaining the health of our planet.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Launching in the middle of the pandemic has been on its own the most interesting experience. Everyone I met along the way thought I was a little ‘out of my mind’ to do so, as no one had any idea about where this would lead but I was determined to launch Mon Coeur in January 2021 no matter what, and so we did! During this time, it was all about adjusting ourselves, being patient, but i also sensed a very strong feeling of solidarity and warmth, with the factory workers, the mill workers, in this period of uncertainty, which allowed for all of us to comfort each other and be more present and thankful to be able to talk to each other and work together each day.
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?
I am from a hospitality background so the fashion industry is a new world for me and I have learned a lot since I decided to start a sustainable clothing brand, 3 years ago. At first I didn’t know the basics on how to manufacture clothing, so making them in a sustainable way during the pandemic was a big learning curve for me, but I really stand behind the motto “you can do anything you want, if you work hard”. One mistake I made when we first launched was arriving at our first photo shoot for our Spring/Summer 2021 campaign in the middle of the pandemic and having the surprise that most of our styles did not fit the kids models on set, as we never had a chance to fit the collection on any kids, because we were all quarantining at home. We then had to take time to make the photoshoot happen and rework it so the looks fit perfectly on the kids so we obviously made the sizing changes before we launched, but it was funny now looking back!
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?
My husband is a great source of inspiration and is an amazing entrepreneur and leader himself, and I enjoy having daily candid conversations with him and sharing thoughts and opinions about his company and my company. I get a lot of inspiration on how sustainability and ethical practices are established within his organization as well as building a culture that is positive and elevating for people, especially women.
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?
I believe that one of the most challenging aspects as a female entrepreneur is balancing responsibilities, being a mother, a leader for my business and trying to run a home smoothly is a challenge that is a lot more visible and existing for women then it is for a men. As a mother of two young kids, I am always triggered by the guilt of working too much, of making sure I make the time for my kids, because ‘time flies’ and I also want to enjoy all the special times with them as they grow. It is not easy to balance everything, everyday. Another aspect is the fear of failure and fear of being ‘out there’ in a world which can be intimidating and somehow challenging depending on the industry.
Access to finance is another obstacle, as women tend to have less capital than men, or less access to capital than men as there are many myths and misconceptions about being a female founder, and men trust and prefer to partner with other men, for the most part.It has been culturally engraved for many many years and it is hard to undo cultural patterns, it takes time.
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?
- Provide better access to financing solutions — venture capital and angel investment are mostly male driven and the majority of investment is provided to male entrepreneurs. This needs to change and the government can incentivize banks to invest in women businesses.
- Improve family and tax policies to help improve women entrepreneurship.
- At the business level and also to change the perception of women being not as capable as men, equality in salary and access to financial resources should be made mandatory. There is absolutely no reason why in 2021 women should be paid less for the same competencies, and if not better competencies than men because we, as women, have to work harder to make our space and work legitimate and recognized.
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?
- Women have a different and fresh approach to problem solving and the diversity and the blend of men and women is the perfect combination for success
- Facing challenging situation, women are calmer and more resilient
- We bring on a very beautiful culture made of diversity, exchange, and seamless communication
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
A big one is that women run less profitable businesses, which has been shown to be completely false and studies actually show that women run more profitable businesses than men do.
As a founder, about to give birth to my second child, I sometime receive the look like I will be out of business for many months, and will just be focusing on the kids- this is a myth, of course, as mothers we take care four kids, but we also have the abilities to multitask better, and juggle with multiple roles- so no, we don’t slow down after having kids.
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?
In my opinion, founders should have passion, a clear vision and resilience to be successful. They must be genuinely invested in what they are creating and able to see where they want the company to be years down the line while being able to bounce back from obstacles since founding a company isn’t an easy road.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Be driven and determined- I think for me the pandemic made things somehow more challenging, from the sourcing, sampling and actual production and everyone around was telling me not to launch now, but I was determined no matter what to make it happen and launched as planned and we did, no matter what!
- Work hard but say no sometimes ! I think it is important as a woman to work hard, if not harder to make space in any industry in general and to be ‘legitimate’, but it is also important to say no, pause, take a moment and breath and step back, which my children allow and force me to do.
- Be open minded yet set boundaries- as we started wholesale for the next collection, we got lots of opinions on looks, colors, patterns and more. I take feedback openly and embrace it because sometimes when you start a business there are so many areas to focus on that the feedback can give you more ideas. However, I learned to listen yet not apply all feedback, because at the end of the day everyone has an opinion.
- Follow your instinct — I am a strong believer that us women have very strong instincts, and in my experience whether it was to hire an executive or select a partner to work with, I always followed my instinct over following a resume.
- Support other women leaders and entrepreneurs — I think there should be no competition between us, women, as we are already such a limited number of entrepreneurs out there. We have to promote each other’s businesses, exchange experiences and cultivate this beautiful community.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
It was important to me to have a philanthropic impact through Mon Coeur as well as my personal foundation, Food Dreams Foundation which is a 501 c 3 (www.fooddreams.org)
In regards to Mon Coeur, I have partnered with 1% for the planet since the first day we launched, for every product sold, 1% is given to the restoration of the natural environment. I also partnered with 5Gyres to combat plastic pollution while organizing cleaning days movement on beaches, coasts..which also help build a very tight community as well as engage children to be as close to nature as possible. We also organize multiple a year community work, our next one being in December for Giving Tuesday, where with influencers and their family we will create a food bank.
We also just starting as of September 1st a new program called “New Again Program” that allows consumers to send us used babies/kids clothes in exchange of 40% in their next purchase as an incentive — the used clothes are then being upcycled or downcycled so we closing the loop and making sure we reduce waste and over usage of virgin fabrics.
I started the Food Dreams Foundations in 2016, with the aim to help underprivileged students access culinary school, by providing scholarships as well as mentorships programs along with my family — lucky enough to have both my father and brother successful chefs and restaurateurs which allowed us to help more than 80 students since we launched the non-profit organization.
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.
Sustainability is really at the core of my mission and focus and with Mon Coeur we are building a community of parents and children — educating them, through a community that we are investing lots of time and energy in. We create events such as beach clean ups, garden planting to really engage the kids and bring them close to nature, to help them understand the need to take care of mother nature and the role that we each have in keeping our planet safe. For parents, I’d inspire the movement to make the best decision for our planet when it comes to purchasing decisions, because this is what is going to dictate and shape the way businesses operate in the future.
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.
I would love to have breakfast with Stella McCartney to exchange about sustainability in fashion, as she has been such a pioneer in the sustainability movement in women’s wear especially. If I could pick two, I would love to meet with Allyson Felix, that amazing track and field sprinter and mother — I am a huge fan of the Olympics especially in that field and I admire her determination, and the fact that she is a mother and talks about it as a booster in her career shows is very inspiring.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.