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Deeanne Akerson of Kindred Bravely: “Battling stereotypes and less access to cash”

More women need to become founders because our approaches to business, leadership, and entrepreneurship are valuable. We each bring unique experiences and ideas to the table, and having more diversity in any industry will always lead to more puzzles being solved and people being helped. Kindred Bravely started as a way for me to find a […]

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More women need to become founders because our approaches to business, leadership, and entrepreneurship are valuable. We each bring unique experiences and ideas to the table, and having more diversity in any industry will always lead to more puzzles being solved and people being helped.

Kindred Bravely started as a way for me to find a solution for my personal pain point, and I quickly learned that there were so many other moms out there with similar struggles and needs. In the last six years, we’ve kept our focus on being innovative for even more pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding moms. After all, who can take care of moms better than other moms?


As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Deeanne Akerson, co-founder of Kindred Bravely, a maternity and breastfeeding apparel brand focused on bringing comfort and connection to moms. She didn’t begin her journey as an entrepreneur until after she became a mother. Frustrated with the lack of clothing options for breastfeeding moms, Deeanne started designing her own clothing, and in February 2015, she and her husband, Garret, launched Kindred Bravely. In addition to bringing comfortable clothes to new and expectant moms, Deeanne strives to create a community of moms who support and empower each other, helping them to recognize their inherent value and beauty.

Kindred Bravely won the Shopify Build a Bigger Business Competition in 2017 as one of the eight fastest-growing online retailers on Shopify’s platform. In 2019, Kindred Bravely was named #20 on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing, privately-held US companies.

Prior to founding Kindred Bravely, Deeanne was a teacher and mathematician. She graduated summa cum laude from Pacific Union College where she was a member of the varsity volleyball team. She went on to earn her master’s degree in education in 2008, again graduating summa cum laude. When she isn’t busy with family or business, Deeanne loves running, hiking, backpacking, and traveling.


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?

Like most origin stories, mine is one of personal need. I have two sons, and six years ago when my second was still breastfeeding, I was desperate for a comfortable pair of nursing pajamas that worked for late-night nursing sessions and made me feel amazing. After looking at all the stores nearby and searching online, I’d found a few options, but nothing was exactly what I needed. At the same time, my husband was looking for a business idea, and one night I suggested nursing sleepwear. “Moms want to feel stylish and put together because sometimes we never make it out of our PJs. They just have to be cute, comfortable, and actually work for breastfeeding.” We researched the idea, and a few weeks later, I was designing my perfect pair of nursing pajamas.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

About a year after founding Kindred Bravely, my husband (and co-founder) and I decided to visit our manufacturing partners in China. We’ve always loved traveling, and we were looking forward to the month-long trip with our two sons (then aged 2 and 4). From the usual traveler mishaps (like arriving a day early for a domestic flight from Qingdao to Beijing and taking a long train ride instead) to the struggle of trying to say “I’m a vegetarian” everywhere I ate, the entire trip was filled with unusual experiences, memorable stories, and people eager to share their country and culture with us.

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?

A few months after we launched, a customer wrote a review saying she had loved her first bra, but when she ordered a second time the bra was way too small. I didn’t think too much about it (maybe her breast size had changed?), but within a few days, another customer wrote the same thing. I quickly shipped some of every size and color from Amazon to myself so I could see what the customers were experiencing. After measuring about 20 random bras, I learned that every color except pink was about ¾” to 1” short in the front! One inch makes a huge difference in bra fit, so I pulled our entire bra inventory and donated it.

The biggest lesson I learned from this mistake was that it’s essential to hire people who are experts in areas where you aren’t. I hadn’t been trained in textiles and couldn’t manage the orders as they increased in complexity. Shortly thereafter we prioritized hiring a production manager to oversee all orders and vendors. We also found a reliable third-party auditor and started inspecting 100% of our shipments before accepting them.

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?

I heard Jeff Hoffman, one of the founders of Priceline.com, speak at a conference shortly after we founded Kindred Bravely, and he shared so many pieces of advice. One of my favorites was “Fall in love with your customers, not your products.” I’ve kept that focus with every business decision we’ve made over the last six years.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The best book I read this year was Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things. Good reading transports you to another place and reminds you how small your world is. There are billions of people in the world, and everyone has a story to tell.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

I love the sentiment of “Better done than perfect,” and since I don’t build rocket ships, it works well for me. My friends and family know me as someone who gets a lot of stuff done, and I think that’s partly because I believe that waiting for things to be perfect means waiting too long. Of course, I wanted everything to be perfect when I launched Kindred Bravely, but if I’d waited for everything to be “just right,” I never would have taken that first step. I believe in constant improvement, and there’s nothing I love more than making small changes in search of the optimal product or system. I don’t wait until I have something exactly perfect to get started — the pressure would be paralyzing! Just get it to 85% right, go for it, and be ready to make small improvements over time.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

At Kindred Bravely, one of our core values is generosity, and we’re always looking for ways to give back. When the world began to deal with the effects of Covid-19 last year, we realized we could make life a little easier for front-line health care workers who were also breastfeeding mothers. We donated Sublime Hands-Free Pumping Bras to as many health care workers as we could. Before long, the emails, notes, posts, and comments came pouring in from nurses, doctors, paramedics, and others in health care. Their stories of courage and devotion to their patients and families warmed my heart, and I was so honored to help them pump quickly and safely while on the job. We were able to give thousands of bras to brave mamas, and that’s just a little bit of goodness that we’re happy to share because of our success.

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?

As we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, women are generally the most negatively impacted by economic downturns, and taking the leap to become a founder can feel more risky than rewarding. Additionally, women-led companies often have less access to funding, which can be especially hard when they have families to care for.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

Kindred Bravely is all about building a community of moms who will support and encourage each other, and we make sure to continuously give back by supporting female entrepreneurs and women’s health initiatives.

I’m especially proud of our partnership with Free the Girls, a non-profit organization that uses an economic empowerment model to help formerly-trafficked women in developing communities start new lives of true freedom — as entrepreneurs selling donated bras in their local second-hand clothing markets.

In the developing communities where Free the Girls works, bras are often considered status symbols, and they sell for top dollar, which helps survivors achieve financial stability sooner.

The women in the program receive physical and emotional support, with the goal of building true freedom in four key areas: economic, emotional, physical, and future (education for them and their children and “permission to dream again”). With holistic care and safe economic opportunity, these survivors have a real path towards financial independence.

There is nothing more gratifying than knowing that these women — who have been through unimaginable trauma — use bras from Kindred Bravely (and so many others) to help reinvent their lives, and through this economic empowerment, take back the freedom that was stolen from them.

This might be intuitive to you but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

More women need to become founders because our approaches to business, leadership, and entrepreneurship are valuable. We each bring unique experiences and ideas to the table, and having more diversity in any industry will always lead to more puzzles being solved and people being helped.

Kindred Bravely started as a way for me to find a solution for my personal pain point, and I quickly learned that there were so many other moms out there with similar struggles and needs. In the last six years, we’ve kept our focus on being innovative for even more pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding moms. After all, who can take care of moms better than other moms?

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

First, we have to acknowledge the root causes of why more women aren’t founders. Only then can we talk about strategies for overcoming them.

1. Women and girls are more likely to be told that they have to achieve perfection in order to succeed. Since startups are volatile by nature, fear of failure can make it hard to choose the path of entrepreneurship over something that may have more security. We have to teach girls and young women that it’s okay to fail; otherwise, they may grow up looking only for success. We must consistently remind them that “failure leads to success.”

2. Juggling work life with family life. I know this firsthand; when you love what you’re doing (and founders are generally obsessed with their ideas), it can be really hard to set boundaries and leave your work behind. While this affects both men and women, the societal pressures women face in trying to strike this balance run deep, and some women stay away from entrepreneurship because they don’t want to risk putting anything before family.

3. Battling stereotypes and less access to cash. Businesses need cash, and startups generally need the most! The venture capital industry has a long history of giving more money to male-backed startups than female-backed ones. The VC world needs to be aware that female-led organizations are more profitable, perform better, and have higher profit margins than male-led companies.

4. Let’s recognize that we are making progress! Women-owned businesses are the fastest-growing group in the US! You may not have heard of them (because they aren’t the new Facebook), but we are making progress, and female entrepreneurs even outnumber male entrepreneurs in some developing countries.

5. Education remains a critical reason women are still under-represented, particularly in classic startups with venture capital funding. Having technical backgrounds in engineering, programming, and other STEM areas is a key indicator of success in tech startups, and women and girls are not exiting STEM programs at the same rates as men and boys. To level the playing field, we have to look at how instruction is happening and why girls are dropping out at higher rates than boys.

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.

There are so many things I want for the world — water, food, and shelter for everyone. I want each person to know they are enough, exactly as they are. But if I could start a movement that would ultimately bring the most amount of good to the greatest number of people, I would start a movement to eat less meat (maybe eating it only once a day, or every other day, or once a week). As a lifelong vegetarian, I know how delicious and nutritious vegetarian food can be, and how good a vegetarian lifestyle can make you feel. If more people globally were eating less meat — or no meat — it would reduce greenhouse gases and help more people worldwide live a more thriving life of vitality and health. Eventually, I’d love to have the entire world be vegan or vegetarian, but beginning with smaller steps would help the movement to have more lasting power. Most people would be willing to cut down significantly, if not completely, and that in and of itself could have profound effects on everything from the safety of workers to greenhouse gas emissions.

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, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Gabrielle Reece! I played volleyball in high school and college, and she was a huge inspiration to me.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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