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I drove up a winding lane in picturesque Topanga Canyon to meet with Heather Mycoskie, the creator of TOMS Animal Initiative, on a gorgeous spring day. Before I even got to sit down with Heather, her adorable son Summit had run up, taken my hand and stolen my heart. He proudly showed me around from the giant Buddha in the back garden to the tipi his dad, Blake the founder of TOMS, was meditating in. The scene was a pretty zen oasis as Heather and I bonded over the joys (and struggles) of being a working mama, PPD and how community has been so important for her. I was so moved by her passion to help animals and pass that joy on to her son and little girl on the way! Read on to hear more about her experience building the Animal Initiative…

 

What is a usual day in your life like as the head of TOMS Animal Initiative and as a mom? What’s your normal routine? What do you do?

Well, the day starts with getting my son Summit up in the morning, anywhere from 6:30 to 7. We make breakfast together and when my nanny arrives between 8 and 9, I can start my day. I try to do some sort of physical activity like yoga in the morning. Depending on the day, I either have meetings, or I have a free day where I can be at home with my son. Some days I go to the office for meetings, others I stay here for calls. I have a great program manager who is in the office full-time, so she manages the whole infrastructure of the program. We meet each season to decide what organization and animal we want to focus on and from there we start moving forward with the design process with the design team, partnership team and our partner. This is where it gets really fun and creative. It’s exciting because this is where everyone comes up with so many amazing design ideas and concepts and employees get a chance to contribute.

We love that! Who does the design?

We have a design team that does all of our design. I’ll usually send over inspiration, or I’ll give them direction. Sometimes, they’ll just come up with four different concepts and we work from there, which is really fun. They create the whole vision board and the mood board, and then they’ll create the silhouette samples. Then, whatever I like, we’ll move forward with and make any changes that need to be made before sharing it with our partner to get feedback.  

What’s the overall vibe like in your office when you are dreaming up your campaigns?

There are five to six of us that work together in the meeting and it’s very collaborative because everyone is so excited and passionate about the animals and the partnerships. We just finished the design concept for next Spring and we’re partnering with Oceana and the whales. There are three breeds of whales that migrate along the West Coast; they go back and forth between Cabo and Alaska. Everyone’s so excited, and we always say, “This collaboration is the best so far,” and then another one comes together and we think, “this one’s the best so far!”, but we’re really excited about the whales coming on next Spring.

I work from home sometimes, and I always think, “Okay, I’m going to get so much done,” and then I feel like it’s actually way harder than going into the office. How do you stay productive on those days that you work from home?

I have an office at home which is my space, but it’s true – he knows I’m in there! I’m trying to figure that out, but sometimes it is easier for me to leave.  

heather mycoskie

What do you feel the most proud of that you’ve been able to achieve in your role at TOMS? Is there something where you thought, “Wow, this is really working – I feel so excited and fulfilled about what’s happening here”?

I moved to California and started working with TOMS seven years ago this year. When I first started, I ran all of retail marketing for our action sport brands and accounts (like Whole Foods) and I was really integrated with the business and retail marketing and sales. I already had such a love for TOMS, its mission and what it stands for, as well as the people, employees and customers there. After Blake [TOMS founder] and I got married, I really wanted to be integrated back into the company in a different role. I’ve always had a passion for animals and I had always wanted to do something impactful and meaningful to help animals in need. When we were living in Austin, I helped out with a local animal organization that focused on domestic dogs and cats. They would bring mobile vet clinics into high-poverty areas for families to be able to vaccinate and spay and neuter their animals. Over 400 people showed up and they raised over $700,000 dollars over a lunch hour. I was blown away and knew I could do more.

Is this how the TOMS Animal Initiative formally came to be?

Yes! My wheels started turning and I thought, “What if we really integrated something with animals for the TOMS customers?” I knew it could be meaningful for them and it’s a different outlet. I dragged Blake down to the San Diego Zoo one day and I was really taken by the baby panda. The zoo had a gift shop, but other than a few stuffed animals from World Wildlife Fund, not a lot of the toys were actually benefitting the animal that you just saw. It hit me that this would be an amazing opportunity if I created a program that focused on the panda that the children just saw and created a program where you could buy a pair of shoes for your kid as well as give a pair to a child in need. Blake loved the idea and I immediately got to work to sell the idea in.

heather mycoskie

How did you get the program up and running?

I had to present it to the leadership team, who I’ve known for years. I remember I was so nervous. Speaking in front of a bunch of people is not my wheelhouse, but everyone loved it and we moved forward with it. My first program was a partnership with Virunga National Park in the DRC in the Congo, to benefit the mountain gorillas. It was really cool because the proceeds were going directly to those park rangers and giving them everything that they needed to help protect those gorillas. It was really special and that was when I thought, “Wow, this is amazing! This is a success for me because now I get to blend two of my loves together – my passion for animals and my love for TOMS. It was the perfect marriage. Our most recent partnership was the panda – finally – with WildAid organization. We launched on a Tuesday and by Thursday, the website was already sold out. Our elephant sold out in under a week and the response we get via social media whenever we post pictures of the shoes or collaborations that are coming out is incredible.

How do you broach the conversation with kids about how they can do good? It’s really hard when they are small to make them understand without scaring them about things that are going on in the world.

We use a lot of imagery and books. My son loves zebras, lions and rhinos, and it’s important to be able to teach him about why it’s so important to care for them and understand them. We spend our summers in Jackson Hole, so we have the opportunity to be exposed to so much wildlife – moose, bears, foxes, bald eagles, horses and cows. When we see them, I say, “Okay, there’s a moose, and it’s very important we don’t go near them and we observe them from afar and we treat them with kindness,” and he understands. It’s amazing – my husband and I are amazed that a two and a half year-old, when you talk to them as a person, how much they understand – as opposed to like a baby or child.

heather mycoskie

Do you have any non-negotiables when it comes to balancing your schedule as a mom and with work?

I’m a big advocate of schedules. If we have too many things we’ve committed to, we haven’t been home or Blake hasn’t seen Summit, we will say no. We don’t say yes to too many things. I’m very good at being able to set those boundaries. It’s really great to be home, to have family time, and to be quiet and have alone time. Our favorite phrase with Summit is, “Too much, too much.” When he knows he needs some down time, he’s like, “Too much, Dada. Too much.”

Saturday morning, I was really kind of blown away – he was out on the trampoline with Blake and I was getting ready. We were getting ready to go to the beach, and they’re out jumping and my husband is high-energy – he’s like the Energizer Bunny. You really have to get him in a situation to sit him down and say, “Quiet. Sit.” So he’s like really pushing Summit to play and play with the balls, and Summit goes, “No, Dada. Out. Out.” And he’s like, “Do you need alone time?” and he’s like, “Yes.” He just laid in the trampoline, sucked his thumb, laid there and rolled around. He sat there by himself for half an hour.

You’re pregnant with your second, a girl, congrats! Do you think you’re doing anything differently to prepare for motherhood this time?

You know, I didn’t read all the typical parenting books. I gravitated towards books based on the concept of parenting as a whole and integrating the spiritual side and being present. Deepak Chopra wrote an amazing book – The 7 Spiritual Laws for Parents which I really enjoyed, as well as, Parenting with Presence and If The Buddha Had Kids. It was those types of books that I read and focused on to be able to have conversations with Blake about them and to figure out how we were going to go into this parenting world together and what our intentions were for raising children – to have these conversations, like, “What happens if he hits a dog?”, “What happens if he bites the kid?” How do we react to that? I had a really hard time reading all the books on what goes on each week and what you should be eating and not eating and all of this stuff…It’s a little overwhelming. I’d find blogs and other women who were really doing some amazing things. I did a lot of prenatal pilates and had a doula for the first round with Summit, and then I just really made sure I rested – because I knew I wasn’t going to be able to sleep.

heather mycoskie

Is there anything that surprised you about becoming a mother?

Yes. The post-partum stuff. I had really bad post-partum, so I think that is a whole world and topic that is really very unknown and no one can really prepare you for, because a lot of moms aren’t honest, don’t talk about it, or don’t even know that they have it. I feel like doctors just have the textbook definition and it’s one example, but the more and more I talk about it with other women, the more I’ve realized that each woman’s post-partum is completely different.

heather mycoskie

Agreed! Both of my pregnancies were completely different.

Yeah, it’s so interesting. I wasn’t prepared for that (nor was I aware that could happen) and when it did, Blake and I were not ready for it. It caused more tension and problems in our relationship already on top of bringing in a new child into the world and into our relationship. So, it was really tough and really challenging, and the most surprising. But now, we are both so aware that we are ready if that happens again and we have precautions set up. I had to go on medications because what is going to be the most healthy for the mom is going to be the most healthy for the baby.

And it’s really hard when you don’t know what’s happening to you. People talk about post-partum, but when it’s happening to you, you don’t know it’s happening to you, so you just feel these things and they make sense to you at the moment.

It was hard. I would say that I felt like a fuse blew and I didn’t know when it was going to blow and which one it was. It’s like your fuse box in your home and there are switches for all different parts of your wiring throughout your house – it’s like electrical. It’s like, okay, you have to go down to the box and figure out which one blew and which one is for what. I felt like a fuse blew and which one is that triggering? My anxiety? Or my intenseness? Or my fear? It’s crazy. It was tough and not expected, but now I’m ready.

What kind of advice can you give to other women going through post-partum?

Be honest. Find a friend who’s a mom who you can feel comfortable to be vulnerable with and confide in. Because once I started feeling vulnerable enough to confide – one of my best girlfriends here, she was a mom before me – so she saw the signs and recognized it and came up and dragged me out of the house.

Did she go through that too?

She went through a little bit of it. We’re close so she was able to recognize that I wasn’t myself. She knew something was going on and she got me out of my house. To be able to move forward with that and not to feel the “mom shame” and guilt already is so overpowering. I remember at first, my doctor was like, “We need to get you on meds,” and I remember feeling even more helpless and defensive, like “I don’t need meds,” and “something’s wrong with me” and to go through that battle of feeling shameful on top of that. Just asking for help and allowing it to happen. But once I started opening up and talking to other friends and my sister-in-law, everyone else had it.

heather mycoskie

I know, it’s so crazy. I feel like once you become a mom, having a community is everything.  That’s the whole reason we started heymama. Katya and I both felt like we were missing those relationships with women who understood what we were going through as working moms and trying to deal with those emotional things as well and not having enough time to juggle all of that….I feel like it changed my life, and I wanted to share that with other people and help them to have support.

Yeah, it’s a really powerful community. When Summit was six months old, that year I started doing a girls’ trip and inviting my closest girlfriends. A majority of them are moms. This year, this Thursday coming up, it will be our third year. So I’ve created this annual women’s retreat weekend.

The first year we went to Cabo, last year we went to Blackberry Farm and this year, I didn’t want to go too far, so I rented a house in Malibu on Zuma Beach. Now, I’ve got fourteen of us coming together and I would say that there are only three that aren’t moms. So to be able to come together and just leave the kids and everything at home, the dialogue and the conversations we have with each other, it’s so powerful when we come home from those weekends.

It’s life-changing to have that community. I know I can just be myself and totally unload everything. You kind of just need other women to be able to do that.

It’s very important. For me, that was a saving grace after the post-partum and kind of getting through all of that stuff, to create my own community, like my tribe of strong women. We don’t care what we’re doing or where we are, as long as we are all together under one roof. That’s my most important thing – being all under one roof, together. And we’ll be in Malibu for three nights and we’re not leaving the house.  

heather mycoskie

3 pearls of wisdom

1.

Create a mama tribe. Find a group of women, especially moms, that you are able to be honest and vulnerable with.

2.

Ask for help. Don’t feel like you have to do it all yourself and be the “super mom.” It’s not going to benefit anybody. Raising kids is the hardest job ever and just being honest and vulnerable enough to accept it is probably the best.

3.

Stick to a schedule. We had Summit on a schedule the day he came home from the hospital and we see the benefits from it. It’s the best advice we give to a lot of new parents – to put your child on a schedule.

xx Heather Mycoskie

Photos by Emma Feil 

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