Indie-stry Guru: Angela Sutherland

Our Indie-stry Gurus series highlights people who are paving the way where no one previously has, walking a path much less traveled, or building a legacy totally different than the rest. They are thought leaders and provokers from all different industries - beauty, wellness and beyond. They’re the people who ask not just “How?” but “Why?”, and most of all, they’re empowering others with knowledge, education and inspiration.

This month we're talking to Angela Sutherland, CEO and co-founder of Yumi, a line of freshly-made, organic food for babies and toddlers blended with real, nutrient-packed ingredients (think Peaches & Blackberry Chia and Japanese Sweet Potato). Equal parts inspiring and informative, her journey to create change within the parenting industry spans motherhood, the importance of a child’s first 1,000 days, and wellness tips for the whole family.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. After graduating from Brown with a degree in Math and Economics, I became a private equity executive. I used to swoop in and help distressed debt companies improve their operations and scale. As much as I loved that work, it was nothing compared to building my own business today.

I had the idea for Yumi when I was pregnant with my first child. While reading up on parenting and child development, I realized the importance of early childhood nutrition and a child’s first 1,000 days, in particular. After my daughter was born, I was shocked to realize that the commercially available baby foods were high in fruit sugar, low in nutrition, and older than my baby. I didn’t want to spend every waking second cooking, nor did I want to purchase suboptimal products at the grocery store. I quit my job and co-founded Yumi with my friend and former Wall Street Journal reporter, Evelyn Rusli.

We view you as an Indie-stry Guru of your field, which means you've paved a way no one previously had, or you're paving a way much different than the rest. What is your path or your journey, and what does it represent? Yumi provides delicious, nutrition-packed baby meals made with fresh, organic ingredients and high-quality superfoods. We strive to provide parents with all the necessary resources to maximize the nutrition and health of their young children. The baby food industry has shown very little innovation over the past one hundred years, and that’s crazy to me! Today’s parents want something totally different when it comes to feeding their kids - they care about foods that are fresh and organic, they care about sustainability, and they want to have a transparent relationship with the brands they buy from. Yet [at the time my daughter was born], there was nothing available in the marketplace to reflect these preferences. On top of that, there had been a number of recent studies that revealed the detrimental effects of overly-processed, shelf-stable baby foods - many of them contained traces of heavy metals (!), and single-use pouches were incredibly high in fructose, not to mention a disaster for the environment. None of it was adding up to me. So, we set out to create Yumi - I can’t imagine a more important path than educating parents on the importance of early childhood nutrition, and also providing a worry-free product that makes their lives easier.

How did becoming a mom change (or reinforce) your view on wellness and clean living? Being a parent dramatically amplifies the importance of wellness and clean living. It’s no longer just my own health at stake - it’s my kids’ health as well! It made me reevaluate everything in my home - from the foods we were eating, to the cleaning products we were using around the house - and it even prompted me to take a closer look at my skincare. Once you start to pay attention to ingredients, it quickly becomes clear just how many chemicals and unnecessary additives exist in a lot of our everyday products. Fortunately, there is an increasing amount of resources and clean brands that can help you switch to all-natural/healthier options that are just as effective.

What is the most important mission for you as a founder of a clean living brand? To raise the level of dialogue among parents, doctors, and caregivers about the importance of the first 1,000 days of a child’s life, from a nutritional perspective. That time period sets the stage for the rest of that child’s life. Clean and healthy eating is always important, but during those first 1,000 days, it’s absolutely critical. Most doctors only take one nutrition class throughout all of medical school and therefore aren’t equipped to handle most parents’ specific questions around starting solids. This is perhaps the most important milestone that affects your baby’s long-term health, so we are proud to serve as a resource for parents that are craving this information.

What is once piece of knowledge you would share with new parents? Being a parent, especially a first time parent, is a mix of emotions and can be incredibly overwhelming. Don’t be too hard on yourself, and also don’t hesitate to outsource and ask for help where you can - be it with laundry, cooking, childcare, etc. No one can do everything perfectly, even if it looks that way on Instagram! Give yourself grace, follow your instincts, and forge your own path. Everyone’s journey through motherhood looks different.

What are your Top 5 Favorite Wellness products?

  • Metagenics Multivitamin: I’ve been taking these for a while and find them really effective
  • Kusmi Detox Tea: I don’t drink coffee, so I love sipping this tea throughout my day at the office
  • “Headspace” meditation app: I listen to this app every night to help me get to sleep
  • Indie Lee I-Waken Eye Serum: This product is so soothing and gives my under-eye area some TLC that it desperately needs
  • Body Love by Kelly LeVeque: When my diet gets derailed and I’m feeling off, I always turn to Kelly. Her recipes in this book are so delicious and improve the way my body feels almost immediately!

Was there a pivotal point in your life that changed the trajectory of your journey, or the path you thought you should be on? I can definitely attribute the “lightbulb” moment to my first pregnancy with my daughter. The very act of being pregnant prompted me to do extensive research on prenatal/early childhood nutrition, which led to me finding “The First 1,000 Days” and made me question the whole baby food just snowballed, and the end result was a burning desire to start my own company and create a product that didn’t exist.

What does empowerment mean to you? Empowerment means feeling confident and having access to resources - and then using those tools at your disposal to encourage and uplift others.

How do you define wellness? What does your wellness practice look like? These days, I have such a busy schedule that I try to fit in small bits of wellness whenever I can get it! Because I’m not able to dedicate huge chunks of my day towards self-care, I try to set aside just a few minutes here and there; it could be as simple as listening to a podcast or relaxing music on the way to work, meditating for five minutes before bed, taking a few deep cleansing breaths in between calls at work, or spritzing on a hydrating face mist first thing in the morning. I believe that all of these little efforts add up.

What are your morning and evening rituals? In the morning, I play fun, upbeat music with the kids while we all get dressed and ready for the day. In the evening, I unwind by reading The New York Times cover-to-cover just before bed. It might sound counterintuitive, since the news can be a source of stress for a lot of people, but I find it therapeutic to catch up on the events of the day.

Can you think of a challenging time in your life and share how you overcame it? I fundraised for our company while I was pregnant. At the time, there were few female VCs, so many investors didn’t initially understand the mission. We frequently had to field questions like, “Women love being in the kitchen. Doesn’t every mom want to cook her baby’s meals from scratch?”, and me being pregnant on top of that really was challenging. However, I couldn’t have been more passionate about what we were doing, and I simply made it work. We were fortunate to find amazing investors who DID understand our vision and couldn’t have been more supportive.

What advice that you would give your younger self? It’s great to try to plan ahead, but not everything can be planned. Sometimes the best professional opportunities arise when we least expect it - in my case, my pregnancy ended up being the catalyst for the whole company! Be open to change, and understand that when your plans get derailed, it’s possible that this new direction could be leading you somewhere even better.

Are there any exciting news or upcoming projects that you would like to share with our readers? We just launched our new line of finger foods for older kids! We can now continue to grow with our customers as their children transition from babies to toddlers. We couldn’t be more excited about this new expansion.

What’s your guilty pleasure? A bowl of homemade pasta and a great bottle of cabernet.

Beverage of choice? Anything matcha - ideally from Kyoto!