Female Entrepreneurs Get Real About Mentorship, Motherhood & The Power Of Great Jeans

Refinery29 is proud to team up with the LYCRA® Brand to celebrate denim made with LYCRA® dualFX® technology, designed to provide women forging their own paths as mother, mentors, and entrepreneurs with the comfort and support they need from their jeans.
The mentor-mentee relationship is a complicated one. It's nuanced — perpetually in flux. For plenty of us, it comes inside of a strictly academic or professional template. But for Latham Thomas and MaryAnn Elizabeth, the notion of mentorship is much broader and more colorful than that.
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Latham, founder of Mama Glow — an agency supporting women in a number of holistic ways through pregnancy, birthing, and maternity — works as both an acting doula and the figurehead for a full network of other doulas and birth partners. MaryAnn is among the first models over the age of 50 to start booking major label campaigns, carving a space in the industry for women with gray hair and creased skin to see themselves reflected in ads for face creams and clothing lines.
Both women are mothers, entrepreneurs, and models of independent success — and while their days often call for outfit changes, photo shoots, business meetings, and children's sports games, the one thing they don't have to worry about is what to wear. No matter the occasion, they each swear by their NYDJ jeans, made with LYCRA® dualFX® technology to help their denim retain its shape, while offering all the stretch they need to tackle their hectic, eclectic schedules.
We sat down with both Latham and MaryAnn for an open, candid discussion about motherhood, vulnerability, great denim, and how we ought to be framing mentorship in 2019.

How would you define mentorship as it exists in your own life?

Latham Thomas: “When I think about mentorship, I first think about the work of a doula. Essentially, we hold people’s hands as they navigate the uncharted waters of giving birth. Whether or not birth is involved, mentorship is all about that hand-holding. It doesn’t matter if you both bring entirely different things to the table or if your personal and professional goals align. Either way, it’s someone crossing those waters with you, holding your hand. There’s no hierarchy to it — it’s definitely not an I’m the boss of you sort of relationship. Instead, it’s a what can we both bring to the table sort of situation.”
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MaryAnn Elizabeth: “When I was in my early 40s, I went back to school to get an MFA in visual art. In my program, we would fill out these forms to request that other artists be our mentors. The funny thing was, I never really learned anything from these people. Their whole job was to mentor me, but so much more of my inspiration and support and guidance was coming from my friends, my children, and my husband. I think mentorship is just all about keeping your eyes open to the people who might really impact you.”

How do you dress yourself for your hectic, busy days?

LM: “My first go-to outfit is a jumpsuit, with a scarf and booties or sneakers. This is both chic and practical for days filled with movement. My second go-to is anything that incorporates my NYDJ jeans. When you’re constantly on the go like I am, you need to be able to move in your denim, and LYCRA® dualFX® technology makes that possible, even in jeans. I want to wear jeans that I can meditate in, step into a birth and do my doula work in, and also pair with a blazer for a meeting. Versatility is key for the modern woman.”
ME: “What I wear definitely influences my mood, and I know that feeling confident is key! My days are jam-packed and involve a lot of hustle, so comfort is essential, but all the same, style is still critical. NYDJ's ultra-stretch, shape-retaining denim with LYCRA® dualFX® technology is the perfect base to any outfit. I can add a structured blazer and pumps for a classic look or go for a bold denim-on-denim pairing. I even prefer cropped, NYDJ denim in place of tights or leggings for layering under a springy dress or a boxy knit sweater. Honestly, it's amazing what I can conquer in a great pair of jeans!”
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Who has served as your greatest professional mentor?

LT: “Unfortunately, when I first got started as a doula, I didn’t necessarily have a role model or mentor in the industry. But one thing that I think is so important for everyone to think about when they’re considering mentorship is the idea that someone in a completely different field with a completely different approach to life might be your greatest source of inspiration.
“One of my biggest mentors and supporters is actually a florist. She’s a good friend and somebody who was incredibly helpful in introducing me to clients, talking through some of my ideas, and just being an excellent listener and source of support when I was starting my business.”
ME: “To be honest, I don’t think I had a professional mentor. In art school, most of my fellow students and professors were men, and I felt like there were a lot of really traditional stereotypes in place that I had to push back against. When I got into the modeling industry, I was an older woman, and I was a mom. I’m 51 now, and at the time I was 47. I wasn't meeting anyone who was doing the same thing as I was.”

What has your experience been like, acting as a professional mentor?

LT: “With Mama Glow, all my doulas do these monthly mentor calls. They all call in from across the country and they ask me questions, and I give them my best possible answers, but the important part is that everyone’s on the line — that we’re all learning from each other’s questions and vulnerabilities. The idea is that we’re all mentors and mentees at the same time.”
ME: “The most gratifying part of being in this field is definitely being able to make women my age — or honestly [women] over the age of 30 — feel seen. I get a lot of messages on Instagram or even comments in person like, ‘I just really love that you’re representing how women are aging — that it’s okay to age, and we have permission.’ I mean, it’s just a natural part of life, and men have been allowed to do it for a long time, and it’s such an honor to be a figurehead for graceful, prideful aging. I think this is the most important form of mentorship I’ve been a part of to date.”

How has motherhood changed your relationship to mentorship?

ME: “As a parent, I often think mentorship is kind of subconscious. It doesn’t have to be this thing you do with intention. When I went back to school, it was something I did for me, not necessarily for my children. But when my oldest son wrote his college essay, I read it and got totally choked up. He talked about how that time in my life — the choice to go back to school — really impacted his choices. He wrote about how much that taught him about self-motivation and education. Of course, as mothers, we all want to have the opportunity to be good role models, but the reality is that we have no idea what will truly land with our kids — what will stick with them.”
LT: “In all honesty, my son is my greatest mentor. Children are so fearless and perceptive — they have so much to teach us. Yes, I’m his parent, but I’ve always felt like we’re here to guide each other. He has a lot to learn from me, sure, but I’m learning from him all the time. He’s really into music — and he’s been incredibly successful as a DJ. He’s done some major events and played at some major venues, and he’s only 16. I’m so inspired by that passion and that drive and that self-awareness. He taught me that you can be any age and go after what you want. You don’t have to wait until you get older. You have agency today.”

What advice would you give other women about building and maintaining powerful mentor-mentee networks in their lives?

LT: “When people approach this idea of mentorship, they treat it like this formal thing. Like, you have to go over to someone and say, 'Hi, will you be my mentor?' I think that people who are seeking mentorship need to understand that you already have gifts and knowledge yourself. Allowing someone to mentor you doesn't mean they’re better than you — it just means that you have different things to teach one another.”
ME: “When I was teaching art in a classroom, after I got my MFA, I would always tell my students to take some risks — to be a little vulnerable. I would see kids who were so afraid to make mistakes — terrified even — and it would restrict them from their creativity. They would be so cautious. I would just say: Fall flat on your face. Make mistakes. Make a ton of them. Make as many as possible as fast as you can because as soon as you do, you’ll stop being so terrified of vulnerability — and all the best mentoring and guidance comes from allowing yourself to be vulnerable and open to what other people have to offer.”
As both women make clear in their remarkable journeys towards entrepreneurship, motherhood, and personal success, these things don't happen alone. Fortunately, both MaryAnn and Latham have remarkable mentors and mentees in their lives. They find support in friends, family, and of course, reliable, shape-retaining denim like NYDJ jeans with LYCRA® dualFX® technology.

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