In this profile of WiSTEM C4 members, Andrea Newberry of Leche Libre talks about her fashionable apparel line that allows women to confidently breastfeed in public and her mission to empower women.
Q: Tell us about your personal history and background.
A: I am a stay at home mom turned award winning fashion entrepreneur. As a new mom I had a really hard time finding stylish clothing I could easily breastfeed in. I was learning to sew at the time so I made myself a dress with breastfeeding access. Women would constantly ask me if they could buy one. So I thought, maybe this is something I should do.
As a stay at home mom of two babies under the age of 2, I spent a year teaching myself sewing and fashion design by watching Project Runway and YouTube videos. With only $5K of seed money, I took the lean business approach and launched with an MVP run of 25 dresses. I sold out, used the money to make 100 more, sold out and so on.
Last summer I launched a successful Kickstarter where I raised $50K, 250% of my original $20K goal which was the maximum I could raise and still deliver on time. Now all six of my runs have sold out and I have hundreds of customers on 6 out of 7 continents on the US.
I'm very proud of what I've accomplished as a solo founder while being a full-time mom. I'm learning as I go, studying at the University of Trial and Error while taking night classes at Internet Community College. My mission of empowering women fuels me on to learn and grow my business so I can make a positive change in the world. Also, I hate working for other people.
Q: Tell us about your business. What is your elevator pitch?
A: Leche Libre is a fashion forward brand of apparel which empowers women to confidently breastfeed wherever we damn well please in killer style. A Leche Libre garment is the center of the venn diagram of stylish, functional and badass. Comfortable, affordable and ethically made, all our garments are sold direct to consumer via our ecommerce platform LecheLibre.com
Q: How did you come to join WiSTEM?
A: I joined Wistem because Nicole invited me to apply for the first cohort a few years ago. Various things got in the way and finally I was able to apply and attend this fourth cohort. I've very proud of being self taught, but I do recognize I needed a bit more business skillz to pay the billz, so I was interested in seeing what I could glean from the 1871 scene.
Q: What about the program do you think is helping your business the most? Are there any specific examples?
A: I think the most valuable aspect of the classes has been to connect me with business professionals in the Chicago business scene with whom I would not normally connect with. I've had great access to investors, lawyers and other entrepreneurs to listen to and learn from. Being self taught, I think I've always had this concern lurking in my mind, that I don't know what the hell I'm doing. What I realized meeting all the mentors who came in is that NO ONE knows what the hell they're doing. Most entrepreneurs are just out there winging it. What is important is to feel confidence in one's ability to learn on the fly and go with it, which I am definitely taking to heart.
Q: What’s the greater good your company is trying to accomplish? How will it impact the community? What problem does it solve?
A: My business is all about empowering women. My customers are postpartum breastfeeding women and it makes me furious that they are shamed for breastfeeding in public and for what their bodies look like. Giving birth is the most powerful thing a human being can do PERIOD. And my customers have just done that. They deserve to own their power and represent it through fierce fashion which allows them to represent themselves as powerful women and be the best mom they can be. I created Leche Libre to allow women to live their awesome dynamic life and integrate motherhood into it. My favorite testimonial says it all: " BADASS!!! This is even more amazing than I could have imagined. I actually feel more myself than I have in the last 4+ years breastfeeding littles."
Q: Give us a little insight into your perspective on diversity in the tech community. Why is it important? What do you hope to see?
A: I really appreciate the way WISTEM is working to bridge the gap and give women a hand up. I think we all need to recognize though that this gap is very very wide and we have a long way yet to go. I think Nicole and Jessica are doing an amazing job to nurture and support us in our paths and 1871 has made us all feel welcome. I think its important though to recognize that the gap we are trying to cross is vast and complicated. It is not just oppression against women but also the racism and other systemic oppression of our culture which needs to be crossed.
I'm very grateful to have this program but we need to keep pushing forward. We need to recognize that creating true diversity will require not just including women and minorities, but a change in the white male brain running the system. It cannot be a superficial "hire people who don't look like you" mentality, where the very statement represents white men being the center, but a mindset where diversity is valued because we all thrive when we embrace different mindsets. Everyone needs to change and adjust. Organizations, 1871 included, need to not only hire women and minorities but allow themselves to be led by them too. The only way to move forward is to have more women and minorities represented in high level leadership positions. WISTEM represents a strong and meaningful beginning of the journey, but we can't forget that we've got a long way to go. We're in the car and we're turning the key, but we still have to get out of the driveway and onto the road.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?
A: I'm super excited about my new collection coming out this summer which will the FIRST EVER plus collection for breastfeeding women. The average American woman is size 18 so Leche Libre will be the only brand serving over half of America's 3.5 million nursing moms. So please check out my Kickstarter which will launch August 1st!
Fourteen businesses made up the fourth cohort of WiSTEM, which is 1871’s innovative and customized program designed to accelerate and cultivate opportunities for women in technology. The 14 women-owned companies began the 12-week program beginning in March and participated in a showcase event where they pitched to investors, business leaders and supporters.