Work and Money
Leggings Can Cause Health Issues — This Woman’s Working to Change That
It’s clear that athleisure wear isn’t going out of style anytime soon. But while garments such as leggings can be fashionable and comfortable, the materials used aren’t always best for our bodies or the environment. Spandex, for example, has been linked to feminine hygiene issues, like yeast infections and painful chafing. Such synthetic materials are also not biodegradable and shed microplastics. In an effort to make safer, sustainable leggings, Girl Scout alum Mitchella Gilbert, MBA, founded OYA Femtech Apparel in Los Angeles.
“OYA Femtech Apparel focuses on high-tech apparel designs that create happy, healthy bodies by using natural ventilation to help prevent bacteria growth and skin irritation,” Gilbert tells CircleAround. “It is functional fashion for women who sweat. Our designs ventilate and cool the body while absorbing sweat and moisture.”
After working with incubator programs such as the UCLA Anderson Venture Accelerator initiative and the Google Startup LA Mentorship program, Gilbert was able to create “the first gynecologist-approved legging for all kinds of moisture and leakages.” The line also comes in a variety of sizes to be inclusive of all body types.
“We are empowering women to be healthy, because healthy women are powerful women,” Gilbert says.
OYA developed a signature legging with three ventilated panels made of antimicrobial mesh, which create airflow and kill bacteria. The design, which has a provisional patent and trademark filed, actually works better without underwear, providing freedom of movement in active circumstances. There is also a gusset to hold a removable insert — the "Lite" version absorbs sweat and blocks odor while the "Regular" insert absorbs urinary, menstrual, and sweat leaks. These features are designed to be invisible from the outside.
Gilbert isn’t just prioritizing women’s health with her designs, however; she’s prioritizing sustainability and zero-waste fashion as well. Her team is working on new ways to develop mesh durability, insert absorption, and product longevity. The current legging is designed to last up to five years and is 93 percent biodegradable. OYA also packages and mails products using biodegradable plastic and paper.
After selling out their first collection, earning more than 12 times the return on customer acquisition cost, Gilbert says she’s learned a lot. “As a woman of color leader, I frequently find myself managing people's egos because people do not give me the benefit of the doubt or they don't listen altogether. This can be a frustrating experience, but separating myself from my ego and staying focused on the end goal has really helped,” she says. “I have a good life and a solid team. I am grateful to be doing work that helps women.”
As OYA grows (it is currently prototyping patentable tops that will provide “industry-leading” ventilation and moisture absorption), Gilbert knows it’s important to stay focused on progress and not perfection. “Nothing is perfect, so it is an unrealistic goal that will frequently end in frustration. Instead, progress is something that you can control as a founder and commit to every day,” she says.
Gilbert hopes that companies like hers will help change the fashion industry for the better, and that more people will become aware of how fashion can impact their bodies and the environment. In the meantime, we can all rest a little easier knowing we can own leggings that work for us.