Christine Dodson and Sascha Mayer are the founders of Mamava, the leading expert in lactation space design. Mamava supports the 21st-century breastfeeding mother on-the-go with freestanding lactation pods, a mobile locator app, and an engaged digital community. There are currently more than 600 Mamava suites across the United States and Canada. In 2018, Dodson and Mayer were named Vermont Small Business Persons of the Year.
Can you please describe your professional journey and how you ended up where you are today?
Sascha: I worked for Bernie Sanders and was drawn to his progressive politics. I always had a desire to be politically active. I went on to work for the design studio Solidarity of Unbridled Labour (formerly JDK). My parents were artists and I was always creative. Christine and I were colleagues at the design studio and we decided to launch Mamava in 2006. Mamava was an opportunity for me to go back to my activist roots. It feels wonderful to work for a business that is also advocating for change.
Christine: I worked in advertising and design. I was conditioned to think of a problem in the world and then to design a solution. On a personal level, I was the first woman to have a baby and come back to work at the design studio. My own experience was eye opening in terms of what I needed to do to get back into work and the studio’s lack of awareness of the support they needed to provide.
How do you divide the roles and responsibilities as co-founders?
Sascha is the left brain – she focuses on the brand, design and mission.
Christine is the right brain – she’s in charge of operations and product development.
What are you short-term and long-term goals?
Our short-term goal is to constantly improve our mobile app. Our long-term goal is to change the culture of breastfeeding. It’s bigger than sales or digital products. Lack of infrastructure and lack of knowledge shouldn’t get in the way of breastfeeding.
Is there too much pressure on women to breastfeed?
There is too much pressure if it’s not a realistic choice. We don’t judge whatever a woman decides but we want to help make it a realistic choice.
There’s a whole movement to help de-stigmatize women nursing in public. Does your product impede women from publicly breastfeeding without shame?
We originally came up with this idea for women to pump privately because if women had to travel for work it meant having to pump in a dirty bathroom stall. When we put the first Mamava suite in Burlington airport, we were hearing from moms that they were using it to breastfeed. It was described as a quiet oasis. When you’re traveling with little kids, it’s nice to have a quiet place to feed your baby. Also many women don’t have the luxury to even breastfeed their child while traveling. If they go back to work soon after giving birth, they will need to pump.
What was your biggest career mistake?
Christine: there are definitely things in my career path that make me cringe. The hardest thing for me professionally is moving up in level of management. It’s not intuitive for me to manage large groups of people.
Sascha: I wasn’t deliberate with my career trajectory. Instead, I was along for the ride. Millennial moms are much more assertive about driving their career, and that’s something that I admire.
What are you most proud of?
We manufacture our products in Vermont, a place that has lost a lot of its infrastructure. We have a tangible object that makes people’s lives easier, and makes people think. We created a business where people want to work.
Who inspires you?
The millennial moms who are on social media, engaging with us and pushing potential customers to change their cultures and buy Mamavas. There are young moms with babies who are making it look so achievable and have created wonderful balance and partnerships in their home lives. The younger cohort is inspirational.
How do you balance motherhood with your work?
Christine: I have three sons and they can all speak very intelligently about what I do. My youngest is now 16 so I’m out of the weeds and don’t have to be as available to my kids as when they were younger.
Sascha: When you’re running a company, you’re working 24/7 so I brought my kids into it. My 12 year-old says that she wants to be a CEO just like me. My son always asks, “did you sell any Mamavas today?”
What life experience has influenced your work?
The importance of working in the community that you live in. Creating ways to be available to your family. Vermont is not an easy place to have a business but it is a beautiful place to live with quality of life. Living in a place that you love and making it work.
What are you struggling with these days?
Scale and all of the implications as we grow. Not growing too fast and maintaining our unique culture. Figuring out how to scale in a healthy and deliberate way.