At first, people were really freaked out at seeing pregnant mannequins at an outdoor trade show, especially pregnant mannequins wearing a climbing harness. But now the conversation is evolving. People are less surprised and more excited at the prospect of active pregnancies.
Meet Teresa Delfín. She made the above observation from her portal as founder and CEO of Mountain Mama – a groundbreaking line of technical outdoor maternity clothes made in the USA.
Designed for hiking, running, climbing, yoga and swimming, the clothes Mountain Mama manufacturers and sells help women pursue their outdoor passions through pregnancy.
“Staying active and fit during pregnancy not only makes labor and recovery easier, it’s also a great time in your life to get into a healthy routine to share with your kids,” Teresa says.
Born of Her Own Need
Mountain Mama came about from Teresa’s own need. When her belly started showing, Teresa went to buy outdoor maternity clothing and was surprised none was available. After coming up short at retail giants like REI, she used her foreign language skills to scour outdoor clothing markets throughout the world. But found nothing.
This planted the idea for Mountain Mama. Teresa began scribbling out designs and bought the Mountain Mama website domain (www.mountain-mama.com). But it was a difficult and unexpected turn of events that really kicked Mountain Mama into gear.
In 2008 the economy tanked and Teresa found out one month before the birth of her baby that her contract with the university where she worked as an anthropology professor wouldn’t be renewed. To add salt to the wound, as she applied to other jobs in academia, the positions would post, she’d get selected as a finalist and then they’d disappear due to a lack of funding.
Frustrated, she sought jobs outside of academia, and landed a great, albeit short-term, contract working for the Discovery Channel as a field anthropologist and script writer in the Mayan region of Mexico.
“I got to ease into motherhood in a really child centric place,” she says, noting that she got to wear her baby snuggled up close while she worked.
When her Discovery Channel job ended, Teresa’s family encouraged her to pursue Mountain Mama. She moved into what was formerly her grandfather’s home, sold her house and used the money from the sale to launch her business.
That was January of 2010. Six months later she was filling orders, and earning some prestigious awards along the way for her ingenuity and creativity with the business.
Committed to USA Made
All Mountain Mama maternity clothing is cut and sewn in a family-owned facility located just 20 miles from the company’s distribution center. The southern California factory has about 100 sewers each with their own specialty.
Teresa describes the workers as happy and well cared for with breaks and time off. Teresa can swing into the factory whenever she wants to check in on how things are going.
This conscious approach to manufacturing can come with hurdles. One winter the flu swept through the factory requiring dozens of employees to take sick time. This caused Mountain Mama’s order to get delayed by a month.
At first Teresa heard some grumbling from Mountain Mama customers for being out of stock, but all Teresa had to do was explain the circumstances and people were quick to understand.
As often as possible, Teresa takes her commitment to USA Made one step further by sourcing fabric domestically. Sometimes she succeeds in finding high-quality USA Made fabrics, such as Polartec, and other times, especially with woven fabric, she just can’t find a good local option.
In college, Teresa earned herself the nickname “facilitatrix” because she had a special knack for facilitating introductions among like-minded individuals. She would regularly hold dinner parties inviting friends from different part of her life to meet.
The nickname maybe has faded with time, but Teresa’s ability to create a sense of community is as vibrant as ever. Months before she sold her first maternity shirts and pants she built up a strong following on Facebook – a group of people dedicated to cheering on expectant mothers’ quests to stay active during pregnancy.
And at Outdoor Retailer the Mountain Mama booth has become the unofficial gathering place for advocates of active, outdoor families. There, many folks acquainted through the Internet finally got a chance to meet face-to-face.
It’s obvious Teresa brings this same sense of care and connection to her family. As she tells me the story of how Mountain Mama got started, she pauses and her face lights up as her two sons round a corner into view. She gives them doting besos and chats with them for a few moments in Spanish.
Teresa’s mother is from Mexico, and Teresa and her husband have decided to pass on the gift of a second language to their sons. Watching only Spanish-language media is the key to creating fluency in young kids, Teresa says.
It’s worth noting that in addition to perfect English and Spanish, Teresa also impressively speaks Portuguese, French and Quechua.
In her own words, Teresa lives her life in fast forward. Take the summer of 2007, for example. In one summer she earned her PhD from Stanford, got married, found out she was pregnant and started her first job as a professor.
Now, as we round the 2013 bend, she’s keeping up the pace. On top of family life and running Mountain Mama, she continues to work as perpetual visiting professor in California – the unusual arrangement that provides a good salary and benefits but frees her from the obligations of research, publishing and advising.
Now that Teresa has laid the foundation for Mountain Mama she’d like to see it grow to the next level by bringing on investors and partners with specific expertise.
“I’ve learned how to run a business on the fly, but I’m a much better idea generator than I am a CEO,” she said.
Even as she acknowledges her weaknesses, her ability to think outside the box and take business risks will continue to carry her far.