By Lauren Clarke-Bennett
Often seen as cool calm and collected on Bravo’s, The Real Housewives of New York City, Heather Thomson, the creator of Yummie Tummie Shapewear is as passionate about her business as the consumer is about the products she created originally for her own self initiative.
“I designed the first Yummie Tummie tank out of my own personal need to boost my confidence, while I worked to drop the weight I gained after having children.” Heather recalls.
Going to local department stores as a consumer wanting to boost her inner and outer sexy, she was disappointed by the available options. What she found were garments that looked like a “grandma’s girdle!”
Not wanting to sport the senior citizen look she set out to fashion her own solution. “I took off my consumer hat and leaned on my years of design experience to create a product that filled that void.” Heather asserts. As a result, she now holds 12 patents on that idea to date.
Born and raised in the Hudson Valley region of New York State, a beautiful place nestled between the Berkshire and Catskill Mountains, Heather had her sights set on the big city lights from early on. Now living and working in Manhattan with her family she still maintains a weekend house in the Berkshires because of their love for the area
“It’s a wonderful place to raise kids and enjoy the outdoors.” Heather declares.
Raised by a single mother who came from a large Italian family, Heather and her sister were taught that heritage was genuinely respected and the lessons of honesty, conviction and hard work were paramount to a happy and productive life.
“My mom influenced my belief that you really can do anything that you set your mind to… she truly is an inspiration.”
A beacon of strength Heather’s mom boldly left an unhappy marriage in the 70’s and never looked back. With no experience as a restaurateur, she jumped at an opportunity to make a living for her children and opened her own local restaurant called ‘The Hub’.
“My mom dove in with conviction and showed me the value of believing in yourself, having a strong work ethic, and the importance in affecting your community in a positive way.” Heather recalled.
The clientele came to the appropriately named restaurant not only for the ‘yummie’ food but also to see and talk to Heather’s mom.
“She was the heart and soul of the restaurant with her vibrant and loving personality, and with it, she provided for my sister and me not only financially, but as a stellar example.” Heather said.
Her grandfather’s influence also had a profound impact on her life as she remembers that in every single greeting card he sent her, he signed: “Love, Grandpa. Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal.” a message which she always took very seriously.
After graduating college Heather’s earliest experience in the fashion industry was working for Cypress Apparel and traveling abroad. She was sent to Turkey for three weeks by herself where she had to maneuver in a foreign language and deliver for the business.
“It was not only a culture shock, but it was a catalyst for my own growth – the type of growth that happens when you first experience a different culture.” She has continued to travel the world and her Far East experience still applies to her work every day at Yummie Tummie.
Heather’s first job in NYC was working for the Calvin Klein Collection.
“I would sit next to Calvin in meetings, and as someone so iconic in the fashion industry, I hung onto his every word hoping he would see something in me and ultimately, he did,” Heather revealed, when he gave her control of the samples, a seemingly small but very important aspect of the business.
Calvin being such a creative genius with incredible taste and style had a huge impact on Heather as a designer. Then there was her time working with Sean “Puffy” Combs, which was likely one of the most influential experiences in her career.
“Puffy showed me what I was made of by challenging me from every angle.” Heather divulged.
Puff had unparalleled expectations – he had passion, drive and a work ethic that left little to no time for her private life. While working there, Heather would always say; “It’s only work if there is someplace else you would rather be.”
She stepped up, played hard and had success to show for it.
“I turned my intimidation into power and we hit a home run with Sean John.” Heather stated. In its first four years, they had huge growth and were considered one of the most dynamic companies around with a CFDA Award to prove that point.
“Puff taught me everything I know in terms of marketing and I am forever grateful for my years there.” said Heather
Heather continued to thrive in the fashion industry as she worked with Jennifer Lopez & Beyonce Knowles helping to create their clothing lines but the true schooling of hard knocks has been running her own business.
“All of the different aspects of being a business owner, from the culture you influence and represent to the pressures that go with it, make you that much more driven.” Heather articulates.
She likens, building her own business over the last five years to earning an MBA and the most difficult lesson she has learned is that one can’t change a leopard’s spots.
“You can influence and you can inspire, but you can’t force different ideas or perspectives, as much as you try,” she laments, “I always want to believe you can influence the pessimists of the world and make someone recognize the potential and the power of yes, but sometimes you just can’t.”
Perhaps that outlook comes from Heather having to take on her competition Spanx who she claims has infringed on one of her many patents but they are denying the accusation. A problem that has potentially cost her company dearly with respect to revenues.
As in all businesses, her quest for success has been met with many challenges but her attitude is: “It’s only a mistake if you make it twice; the first time, it’s a lesson which can hone your values, point of view, skills and assets and I wouldn’t give one mistake back.”
While looking for something that would help her feel better about her body Heather became inspired to build a lifestyle brand for all women that are synonymous with confidence and feeling one’s best.
“I want to give the Yummie woman the boost she needs to conquer her day in any way she decides.” Yummie by Heather Thompson is a different look at fashion, a place where fashion and function can live harmoniously and she hopes that it is around much longer than she is.
“The sky is the limit. We have set the foundation for the brand and now we need to do the leg work to build upon it.” Heather affirms, “The world has so much to offer… and I don’t want to limit myself in any way!”
However, without a doubt Heather has her priorities straight; her home and family come first. Even though from the time she was 13 years old she has never not worked.
“I would like very much to be able to focus more on my family and home as I raise two small children, Jax and Ella Rae into what I hope to be responsible, meaningful, and impactful adults,” states Heather, “and in order to do that, I need to be around,”
Heather is passionate about being present and involved with her family, because after her son was born, she and her husband were told that due to a life threatening disease he needed a liver transplant that thankfully was a success.
“Even though I had the resources to fix it I wanted to ensure that no mother ever has to receive the news that I once received and have it be a death sentence for her child.” Heather expressed.
So Heather helped found The Kellner Pediatric Liver Foundation, and while they work to reduce the incidence of pediatric liver disease through research, awareness and education, they also promote awareness of organ donation, save lives and provide the resources for liver transplants to children who have no hope without the organization.
“People ask me how I made it through our ordeal and it’s the easiest answer in the world; I have my child,” Heather reflects. “I didn’t make it through anything compared to the mother who couldn’t get her kid a transplant and my work with the organization is a way of giving back and paying it forward in honor of our donor; a beautiful life taken too early, that afforded my son his life and ultimately mine as well.”
She passionately campaigns for others to sign up as organ donors and strongly believes; “What greater gift can one give than life?’
In order to balance her business and family life with her ‘me’ time she focuses on the task at hand.
“When I’m working, I’m working and when I’m with my family, I’m with my family.”
However what she is trying to work on right now is time for herself.
“I find that I rarely get any “me” time! So, I’ve dedicated 3 hours a week to training at WillSpace NYC, a place that counts on my showing up as much as I count on them.” She states. It’s a partnership she has with Will, to take care of her body and health so she’ll be around until a ripe old age. “I want to be a healthy and a strong example for my children just like my mother was for me.”
However with all the pressures at work and now the reality show, something’s gotta give!
“I do often feel like I have way too much on my plate for one human being, but when I feel overwhelmed I go to my yummiest place, and that’s my husband and our children.” Heather remarks.
It helps her get everything in focus again and give meaning, so she knows why she’s doing what she’s doing.
“Every single day I drop two feet onto the floor and think, what’s my day today? And when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I just look at those little babies and my beloved and I know what I am doing it all for.”