This Monday is International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Last year’s events brought the world to its knees, leaving many shaken and uncertain about their futures. As we draw a collective breath and look toward rebuilding, it’s imperative to understand why this year’s International Women’s Day is particularly important to celebrate. Although the consequences of the pandemic have left widespread devastation, they have disproportionately affected women. Since the start of the pandemic, 5.4 million women in the United States have lost their jobs and over 2.1 million women have completely disappeared from the workforce. With schools and daycare centers closed, women have taken the brunt of the impact, amplifying the bias against working mothers.
International Women’s Day marks a call to action to celebrate women’s equality, and it is still necessary to respond to that call. The IWD website explains the meaning behind this year’s theme, #ChoosetoChallenge, writing, “We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality. We can all choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world.” Today, we choose to celebrate our female founder, the heart and soul behind Kyte BABY, the incomparable Ying Liu. She started Kyte BABY in 2014 and has continued to grow the company to new heights since its inception. In honor of this year’s International Women’s Day, we interviewed Ying on being a business owner, mother, and all-around powerhouse of a woman.
AM: You’re really something. You founded a company that’s become the entity that it is now and you’re a mom to five kids. Did you have strong female role models when you were growing up and anyone you would credit your strength to?
YL: Honestly, no. I guess a common answer would be “Oh, my mom or my grandma,” but actually my mom is the opposite personality of me. She’s a traditional Chinese woman and she wanted me to be a teacher for job security--that kind of thing. But my dad is a sea captain, and in an age where very few people got out of the country, he would always sail ocean-liners and containers. He was an explorer and I think I have that in my blood. I like to travel and know what’s going on in the outside world, especially growing up in an era where China was relatively closed and we didn’t have access to outside information. I was always curious and wanted to explore and see other places, other cultures, and experience different things. I think that comes from my father.
AM: Many of your employees are moms. What is the reason behind this?
YL: For me, it was very natural, because when I started the company, I had very young kids. Before I started it, I had retail stores selling baby clothing and accessories, so the people that I hired back then were moms. It turned out to be an advantage because they were already invested in the products and the lifestyle, so they were able to sell the product to the customers. When I moved here and had to start all over again, I would bring my youngest child to work and breastfeed him. I have my own office now, but, back then, the space was open and I would be breastfeeding him, but all the other people around me were moms, so it was comfortable. Of course, we also hire men and I don’t want it to seem like we’re a women-only company, but we have always welcomed moms. I don’t know if you were going to ask something about this, but now that COVID has opened our eyes to the fact that we can do so much remotely, I think that it’s brought a lot more power and employability to women.
AM: It’s funny you say that because I was going to talk about how the pandemic has actually increased the bias against working mothers. They’ve had to bear the stress of maintaining job performance while taking care of their kids since schools and daycares have been closed.
YL: Oh, I personally looked at it the opposite way. I have no problem with my employees being home and working while taking care of their kids. Why should they come back to the office five days a week when they’re still very productive and can perform? Women are so undervalued. The minute they leave their job to be home, take care of their families, and be there when their children need them, the workplace tends to discount them. But, they are so valuable. You know, Willow will be breastfeeding with one hand and typing something with the other, and that’s work to me! Women are amazing. I hope this will bring the status of female employees higher because all this has proved that they don’t need to be at the office 8 hours a day. They’re still able to be productive and take care of their families.
AM: Have you personally found it more difficult to balance work and home life since the start of the pandemic?
YL: No, not really. It’s easier for me because I don’t have shifts anymore. I stay home until about noon, and then I come into the office. My kids are self-sufficient, and I have a 16-year old, so when I leave by noon, it’s fine because he can keep an eye on the others.
AM: From the day you launched Kyte BABY until now, what were the biggest hurdles you faced?
YL: It changes. The first two years were really hard because we were struggling to bring in sales, so the biggest hurdle was just landing customers. Then, when you start to get traction and people start coming back, the hard part is constantly improving. You listen to customers, make the changes, if there’s a problem, you fix it. But it’s the upkeep--you know, making sure you don’t slip again--that’s difficult. There are so many moving parts in manufacturing, so production is always a constant challenge. You always have to be on the lookout. There was a time when we realized there were so many things we needed to improve on, and that was a big hurdle. Now, the hard part is managing growth. We’re trying to cater to the demand without compromising quality and rhythm, so I would say managing growth is now my biggest challenge.
AM: As a female business owner, are there challenges to operating in a male-dominated business world?
YL: I think our industry is quite female-dominated, so when we go to trade shows or sell to business owners, we end up dealing with a lot of amazing moms. When we talk to insurance people, banking people, logistics people, the majority is men. The reality is that a lot of businesses are run by men, but I feel comfortable because we’re in the mom/baby industry, and the nature of that is female.
AM: What would you say about the notion that a woman has to choose between her career and her kids?
YL: Oh, I absolutely do not agree. I think it can be a win-win situation. I mean, I do understand that there are certain careers or paths that require your sole presence, where you can’t work from home or bring your kid to work. And I do see that there are certain professions where women do have to choose because they can either be with their kids or at work, but I think that there should be more jobs created that would facilitate women being able to work from home or bring their kids to work. If we’re creative enough, any job place can come up with such functions. You can allocate your female talents, and rotate. When the kids are old enough to go to school, then these women can go back to their regular positions where their presence is more required, and you can move new moms to these positions. Many bigger organizations have functions that can be repackaged and moved around to cater to the lifestyle of a new mom, so they should make it a priority and plan around it. I truly think that employers should be aware of that and put in the effort to facilitate women being able to have children and not compromise their careers.
AM: As a mother to both sons and daughters, do you find that you raise them differently at all?
YL: [laughing] No, I don’t think so. I know I sound like I would be a savvy mom because I sell baby products and have five kids, but I don’t have a philosophy on how to raise them, let alone separate genders, like “This is your book to follow,” and “This is your book to follow.” No, I don’t have any book to follow. We just try to create a happy and secure environment for them. Maybe that’s just my excuse for being lazy, like, “Okay, you figure out what you want to do!” No, self-esteem is important, so you build the bond and the trust, and then you let them decide and you say, “Don’t make decisions that would disappoint me.” Honestly, I’m just happy that they’re all healthy and pretty happy.
AM: What is the most valuable lesson you have learned as an entrepreneur?
YL: That you have to be obsessed with customer feedback and customer service. Ever since this brand has become more direct to consumers, I’ve learned to just listen. The more you seek out customer feedback and be obsessed with it and their experience, the better it is for your business. I think that contributed to our recent success. Of course, you always prioritize and you can’t be pulled in too many different directions. If I hear a request once for a certain product, I’ll consider it, but if 10 people say the same thing, you should listen to it. You should empathize with each individual mom’s feelings and be understanding. That’s the philosophy that runs through our customer service team. We hire people that have the same mind and really care about how they are treated as customers, so they’re able to empathize. There are certain things you just can’t do as a company, but we do what we can, and we, in general, are all very caring individuals.
AM: What would you say is your biggest accomplishment in your life to date?
YL: Oh, it’s my five kids. There are other things that I’ve worked hard at and there are different milestones I’ve achieved, but every day, I’m so humbled by these human beings. They’re so much fun and, yes, so much responsibility, but it’s so rewarding just watching them grow. I don’t want to be defined by any single achievement, but if I were to be defined by one, it would be “mother of five.”
AM: I have one last question for you. If you were to do it all over again, is there anything you would do differently?
YL: I don’t know. That’s very hard to answer. In general, I’m a very positive person. You know, I grow to love my life and I adjust my expectations, so, no regrets, really. I’ve adapted to loving what I have, and I’m more than thrilled. I never would have expected that I would have so many followers on instagram or that I would be liked by so many moms. Being liked by so many people--that really humbles me and thrills me. Sometimes I’m, you know, giggling a little bit! It’s really been good. If there’s something I could do over and over again? Have more kids!