Lunch with a Leader: Heather Thomson, Founder & CCO of Yummie

Fashion designer, stylist, philanthropist, and leading cast member on Bravo TV’s Real Housewives of New York City, Heather Thomson is Founder and CCO of the Yummie by Heather Thomson fashion brand.  What started off as a “selfish initiative” for a new mom and consumer frustrated with the lack of options in the shapewear department quickly transformed into a global brand that is revolutionizing the shapewear industry.   With the launch of a new loungewear collection just around the corner, Heather Thomson sat down with YMA FSF scholars to talk entrepreneurship, taking risks, philanthropy, and of course, a little Real Housewives. 

Building the Brand: Passion with Purpose 
After the birth of her first child, Heather Thomson, like many new moms, struggled to lose stubborn baby weight.   Looking for a quick boost of confidence, she decided to take a trip to the shapewear department, but what she found there was less than inspiring - tight, uncomfortable pieces that needed be hidden beneath layers of clothing. Frustrated by the lack of options available, Heather returned home to take matters — and scissors  into her own hands.  Falling back on her more than 15 years of experience in design, working as the founding Design Director for the Sean “Diddy” Combs line, and with celebrities like Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez on the launch of their labels, Heather walked to her closet, grabbed a jumpsuit, and cut out the middle section, sewing a panel in its place.  Thus, the patented 3-panel shaping tank top, and a whole new way of looking at shapewear, was born.  

Founded in 2008, the Yummie by Heather Thomson brand launched with a mission to help women look and feel their best.  With an innovative design and vision to create shapewear pieces that could be incorporated into every day looks, Heather crafted pieces that offered sculpting support in the midsection, and non-shaping in the bust and hips, so women could wear their shapewear with an outfit, under blazer or blouse.  This was something that had never been done before.  Not surprisingly, Oprah quickly picked up the Yummie sculpting tank as one of her “Favorite Things” which helped catapult the brand overnight.  Since then, the company has expanded its product line into figure-flattering, functional collections  from intimates, to ready-to-wear, to denim  all designed to give women that extra boost of confidence. With twelve different patents in place securing the future of the brand, this year, Yummie is excited for its newest category launch, loungewear. 

  On finding the right career path, Heather advised scholars to "take time to slow down and calm down...really listen to yourself.  Ask yourselves the questions, the answers are all there."   

On finding the right career path, Heather advised scholars to "take time to slow down and calm down...really listen to yourself.  Ask yourselves the questions, the answers are all there."   

"Heatherisms" - Words of Wisdom 
As an entrepreneur and business woman, Heather offered some wonderful advice, or “Heatherisms” as she likes to say, to our scholars who share her entrepreneurial spirit.  

Take Risks, Be Willing to Fail
Becoming an entrepreneur, you are alone in the beginning. You need to have confidence in your idea and vision.  If you don’t believe in yourself, who else is going to support you on your journey? Bottom line: “Take risks and know that you’re going to fail.  Mistakes are great because you learn from them.” 

Fail Fast
“When you fail, fail fast.  It’s only a mistake if you make it twice, if you make it once, it’s a lesson.”

Love What You Do
“You are going to be best at the things you are passionate about.  It’s only work if you’d rather be somewhere else.”

Know How to Build your Team
"Fill the holes of your own weaknesses with strengths of others. Know what you’re good at, and what you’re bad at, and build your team [around that]."

Never Give Up, Always Give Back
Passion with purpose drives entrepreneurial success.  It’s the hard work, long hours, strategic execution and relentless dedication to your vision that will help you to achieve your goals.  And once you do achieve success, you have an equally, if not more important, responsibility to give back in some capacity through philanthropy.  As Heather says, “Don’t show up to the table unless you’re charitable.”

Heather is deeply involved with the New York Organ Donor Network.  This cause is near and dear to her heart as her son, Jax, received a liver transplant as a baby.  Serving as an active board member of the Kellner Liver Foundation, Heather is committed to helping children receive lifesaving medical treatment.  

Scholars' Q&A
Q: “What was your biggest transition from having a supervisor (Sean “Diddy” Combs) to becoming your own boss?” - Diane Dickey, Indiana University

A: Responsibility.  Now, I have a responsibility to the people I hire, who have lives and families of their own.  When you have a staff of people counting on your for their jobs, that’s a big burden to bear.  But, I grab on to it, and build a strong team around me.  Hierarchies are important in business for organizational reasons, but teams win. 

Q: “How did you get involved with the Real Housewives Franchise?  Why don’t you choose to feature you business as prominently as some of the other women?” - Nicole Cember, Cornell University 

A: When the phone call came to my desk, I was thinking [absolutely not].  Then, of course, the marketing side of my brain kicked in.  I created lists to weigh the pros and cons, and the cons paled in comparison to what I could do with the pros, especially with regard to raising awareness for important matters, like my philanthropic work.  

Opportunity comes in all different shapes and forms. I wanted to use the TV show as a platform to introduce and promote Yummie, but I never wanted to force the brand.  That’s why you’ll  never see me pushing product on you during the show. 

Q: "How do you make sure you’re always listening and responding to your company’s customer needs?" - Shaina Levin, Savannah College

A: It’s about engaging with customers through reviews, social media, and actively listening to the consumers’ wants and needs.  We need to listen to the front-facing consumer, but we also have to be cognizant of the world around us. I have always had a guttural instinct about what we should be designing.  There are things I know intuitively that I put into the brand.  

It’s really about finding balance; We’re all bio-individual, nobody reacts to things the same way.  If you look at the different body shapes and lives people are living, we’re all different!  But that’s what inspires me, creating products that help women feel more confident and love what they see in the mirror. 

Q: “What advice do you have on building a brand?” - Shota Adamia, Brandeis University

A: You have to look at the market and find the holes.  It’s all about innovation.  In fashion, department stores set trends, but the buyers also set trends.  The key is to distinguish your brand and product from the competition.  Don’t show the buyers the same things everyone else is showing them.  If [Yummie] is showing a bra, you know that bra is different.  It can be in construction, fabrication, undercutting the market price — something that stands out from the rest.  
 

A special thanks to Heather for taking the time to sit with our scholars over Lunch with the Boss.  Stay tuned for our next update!

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Meghan Floyd