“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions.” This is a quote by Lao Tzu. I’m not sure when I first heard this (or this concept), but for 8+ years now I’ve been very careful of the words I chose to use because I think they really impact how I feel and my energy in general. I have a whole list of words that I have consciously cut out of my vocabulary.
As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Shemilt of Numi.
Numi was born out of personal necessity. Our founder, Michelle, had been working in finance for some time when she realized she never wore her favorite clothing. They were either prone to noticeable sweat stains or expensive to dry clean.
She started looking for a solution on the market that she could wear comfortable and invisibly under her clothes, but quickly realized there was nothing available. And that’s when she came up with the concept for Numi’s first product, a high-performance woman’s undershirt.
Michelle decided to leave finance and began pursuing her idea in 2013. Lacking any real experience in fashion or manufacturing, she had no choice but to knock on factory doors and start to learn from scratch. And from there she began to turn her concept into reality. After creating the first prototype of the original Numi undershirt, she launched a successful crowdfunding campaign to fund her first production run.
And so Numi was born.
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 with NUMI?
Prior to launching Numi, I was working as an Institutional Equity Trader at one of the main banks in Canada. It was here that I came up with the concept for our first product, the Essential Undershirt collection. I realized I wasn’t wearing my favorite clothes because they were either prone to embarrassing perspiration stains, or expensive to dry clean. When I looked on the market for a solution, I realized there was nothing available. I started talking to my women friends and colleagues about it and realized that this was a common pain point for many women (it just wasn’t talked about!). And that’s when I decided to jump into the deep end and develop a solution myself.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Even though we sell apparel, we really view ourselves as a product development company. We make consciously created products that make life a little easier. I think about the common pain points in women’s lives and that’s where I get my inspiration for our products. We use three words to guide our product development and those are practical, beautiful and safe. Practical meaning we are always looking to add value, whether that be solve a problem using technical fabrics or make something in a more sustainable way. Safe is our word for sustainability, we are always questioning how we make our products and practices more sustainable. Right now, we use sustainable fabrics in our apparel, ethical manufacturing processes, and we ship our products in 100% compostable mailers. And beautiful is what ties together the practical and the safe elements and makes us unique. It’s important for our customer (and us!) to feel beautiful in the clothes we wear so we care about and consider every small detail in the design process.
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?
It’s not really funny, but I think the biggest mistake I made when I was starting was trying to do everything myself. There is a direct correlation between growing our team and growing our business. And especially as an owner, you can’t be looking at the business strategically while also in the weeds.
We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
I’ve been working with a business coach since I started my business and that has been instrumental in my professional and personal growth. Having someone who understands my vision but who I can also talk openly with about fears and challenges has given me the space I need to work through the obstacles that have come up along the way. She also keeps me focused on the bigger picture, which is so important especially when I am stuck in the weeds.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I think businesses of the future will need to be socially conscious to survive and focused on making a positive impact in the world. But they are also businesses at the end of the day so need to be profitable in order to keep going. It’s a balance between the two: am I making a positive impact? And is this a profitable venture so that I can continue doing this good work?
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
1) “You have a product, not a business.” I was at a dinner party when I was first working on our original undershirt prototype and met an entrepreneur there. After I had told him my idea and what I was working on he said “you have a product, not a business,” and that really stuck with me because it highlighted the importance of building a strong business foundation (in addition to a great product). There are a lot of amazing ideas out there that don’t go anywhere because they don’t have the business foundation to support them. I think in today’s environment this is also important when building an e-commerce store. The barriers to entry are very low to get started but the internet is also a very crowded place. You can’t just launch a website and expect to see customers start rolling in.
2) “Hire people smarter than you.” Ultimately it is me that makes a lot of the bigger final decisions but I couldn’t do that without a team of amazing women who are all experts in their field. I rely on the advice of my team and try to cultivate an open work space where all ideas are shared and valued, and also where my ideas are challenged, so that together we can come up with the best solution for the business.
3) “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions.” This is a quote by Lao Tzu. I’m not sure when I first heard this (or this concept), but for 8+ years now I’ve been very careful of the words I chose to use because I think they really impact how I feel and my energy in general. I have a whole list of words that I have consciously cut out of my vocabulary.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next with Numi?
We focused on our first product line for our first eight years in business. On March 23, 2021 we launched our second collection, which was over two years in the making. It’s a line of Sustainable Silk blouses that are washable, stain repellant and made in timeless designs that can be worn season after season. We’re also in the process of auditing our sustainability practices to bring more clarity to what we’re doing now and what our bigger goals are. We’ll release that later this year.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Funding is a major problem. Less than 3% of venture capital funding goes to women founded businesses.
Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?
So many! I’m an avid reader and podcast listener. If I had to pick one body of work right now that would be Brené Brown. I love her thought leadership on vulnerability and try and bring that into our culture. She’s also very funny on her podcast!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Building a system to support women getting into (or back into) the workforce and in careers that fulfill them (with the impact of the pandemic this is even more critical). It is widely known that women are the biggest untapped resource in the world. When women become economically independent, their lives, their families lives, and their community are all lifted as a result. I have a vision around this that I am working on, it’s a few years away but something I’m very passionate about.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Rather than a quote, I’m going to share my favourite meditation/mantra. It’s from Thich Nhat Hanh. “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.” When I’m feeling overwhelmed or stressed I take a few moments and focus on my breathing and say this to myself. It’s instantly calming and then I can think clearly again.
How can our readers follow you online?
Numi is online at wearnumi.com and on Instagram at @wearnumi and I’m on Instagram @michelleshemilt