Forbes Spotlights Mitch Gilbert, Founder of WeAreOya and Cohort 3 Alum

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The Femtech Founder Creating Sportswear That Prevents Vaginal Infections Secures $1.3M To Scale

Dr. Brittany Chambers

Contributor

I write about bridging the gaps in access and opportunities.Follow

Jan 19, 2023,12:00pm EST

Headshot of Mitchella Gilbert.
CEO and co-founder of Oya Femtech apparel.COURTESY OF MITCHELLA GILBERT

After years as an athlete and product designer with a love for women’s health and sportswear, Mitchella Gilbert one day found herself at the doctor’s office with a yeast infection. Puzzled by how it may have started, Gilbert turned to her OB-GYN who shared, “If you want to reduce the frequency of your yeast infections scale back on wearing leggings.” Gilbert was shocked when hearing her OB/GYN share that this was a common issue for millions of women who loved working out. That moment was the spark that changed everything for Gilbert.

Within the months to follow Gilbert conducted research that concluded that the doctor was right. Most leggings with spandex blends have the potential to trap moisture in the vaginal area which can throw off the balance of healthy feminine bacteria and create an environment for pathogens that cause infection to thrive. Gilbert saw that there wasn’t a company addressing the issue and co-founded Oya Femtech Apparel to create a new legging that had a breathable, replaceable pad, and panels that promoted ventilation around the inner thigh.

In a little over a year to follow, the innovative performance wear, that has been physician-tested and athlete-approved, has raised $1.3 million to scale following an oversubscribed pre-seed round.

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Gilbert’s vision is that Oya’s antimicrobial fabric-based leggings can combat the historically $43.3 billion or more U.S. women spend annually to navigate feminine health issues–including bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infection, ringworm, folliculitis, and urinary incontinence. With athletic wear serving as a commodity for women athletes and enthusiasts, and the boom of athleisure, she has found solutions to reduce or prevent feminine health issues to be prime importance.

This solution-driven vision inspired the name of the brand, Oya. “Oya is a mother goddess from Nigeria’s Yoruban mythology that symbolizes rebirth, fertility, and storms. I thought Oya was a great name for a sportswear company fighting feminine health issues with patented designs and textiles,” says Gilbert. Her years of experience in tech, product design, and retail, combined with participation in UCLA Anderson’s Venture Accelerator allowed Gilbert to merge her passions in the launch her fourth company, Oya, alongside co-founder Patrick Ayers.

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Today, Gilbert and her co-founder’s patent pending fabric is one of the firsts of its kind to be physician-tested and athlete approved—by over sixty medical professionals and hundreds of product testers—prior to going to market. Denoting the research and feedback leveraged to develop the fabric, Gilbert shares: “Oya’s leggings are twice as absorbent as leading brands with unique designs that provide discrete natural ventilation, significantly performing over current market options.”Skip Ad

The Funding Creating Opportunities & Expanding FemTech Apparel

In an industry such as sportswear where men account for larger market sales and share, Gilbert says “Oya is advocating for the inclusivity and health of people with vaginas.” Similarly in the tech and venture capital realm, Gilbert is joining the ranks of a growing cohort of merely 200 Black women to have ever raised over $1 million in venture capital. Her round led by the Sixers Innovation Lab, includes REI Path Ahead Ventures, R/GA Ventures, a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) managed by Union Heritage Venture Partners, and Techstars Sports.

Woman modeling Oya's femtech apparel line.
Woman modeling Oya’s physician tested, patent pending femtech apparel line.COURTESY OF OYA FEMTECH APPAREL

“As investors and entrepreneurs, we know that relatively 2% of venture capital funding is allocated to women, and of that, roughly 0.05% to Black women. When we find underrepresented, passionate founders with great ideas, it is a privilege to invest in them and work alongside them. Gilbert and her team, led by four women engineers, have developed an innovative textile-based technology and product offering at Oya,” said Sophia Bush Hughes and Nia Linder Batts. Hughes, notoriously known for acting roles in One Tree Hill and Chicago P.D., and Batts, formerly one of the youngest Black executives of a media conglomerate, are managing directors at Union Heritage Venture Partners and co-investors in Oya.

Research has indicated that a growing priority for investors has been to expand their investments to support diverse consumer needs and women’s health. More specifically, the overturning of Roe v. Wade in 2022 has accelerated a focus on innovative women’s health-related tech and products. Oya’s investors particularly believe the femtech apparel company is primed to address a need that many larger organizations are overlooking. And to continue to expand on addressing this need, Oya is developing an ethical supply chain leveraging fabrics are BPA, PFA, and PFOA free.

“We are now getting ready to launch our second version along with new tops. Our legging is now patent-pending and we are on our third collection of tops and bottoms that absorb moisture, decrease bacteria, and increase natural ventilation,” says Gilbert.

Gilbert’s Longterm Thoughts On the Athletic Wear Field

Longterm Gilbert believes it will be important for athleisure leaders to look more introspectively at the unmet needs of customers when developing lines of athletic wear. Some customers are considering and others are learning to consider the following as they become more educated about sportswear that supports wellness:

Woman modeling Oya's femtech apparel line.
Woman modeling Oya’s physician tested, patent pending femtech apparel line.COURTESY OF OYA FEMTECH APPAREL
  • Choosing The Right Sports Bra: “Customers are thinking about comfort, their activity levels, their cup sizes, and paying attention to materials–i.e. trying to find fabrics that are BPA-free.”
  • Choosing The Best Leggings Length: “Customers are beginning to consider the activity–i.e. running shorts vs hiking pants—and choosing fabrics by selecting those that are BPA, PFA, and PFOA-free. There are many cancer-causing agents in most significant brand fabrics. They are also bearing in mind their height and body type to balance comfort and coverage based on the activity they are partaking in. Lastly, they are considering what waistband or coverage they prefer; waist sculpting, mid-waist or V-cut, styles that give a differing look and feel that detract or add to support they need.”

Overall, Gilbert is excited for what the future may hold and her unique opportunity to contribute to the athletic wear field with Oya Femtech Apparel.

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