Oya Apperal creator and CEO Mitchella “Mitch” Gilbert (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

Mitchella Gilbert, a product of the UCLA Anderson School of Management, created the athletic apparel line Oya that is centered around women’s health.

“Oya is a Nigerian warrior goddess [who] represents fertility, rebirth and storms and I knew that I wanted to start a women’s fashion business that really focused on taking our apparel to the next level,” Gilbert said.

The patent-pending leggings that Oya offers are designed to absorb moisture and provide ventilation.

“All of our leggings have three to five times more ventilation than competitor leggings, two times more absorption. They’re also antimicrobic,” Gilbert said. “Our tops also offers ventilation.”

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Her experience being an athlete along with copious research taught her how important those attributes are to women’s health.

While pursuing a B.A. in Public Policy at the University of Chicago, Gilbert was a member of the women’s rugby team. During the 2012-2013 season, she was co-captain and helped the team reach the state championship.

Gilbert was diagnosed with a yeast infection several times and she could not understand why until an OB/GYN told her to stop wearing leggings.

“I’m training all the time because I live in leggings, I feel great on the pull-up bar, it makes me feel good … but the yeast infections were just an unnecessary side effect,” Gilbert said. “We did over 200 hours of research, talking to doctors, talking to women athletes … the data was pretty consistent. It was like vaginas need to breathe and they need to be dry.”

Researching also led her to talk to doulas, mothers, and midwives. Gilbert learned that spandex caused health issues that related to moisture and sweat, including urinary tract infections and bacterial vaginosis. Oya leggings are designed to thwart those issues. Oya is also based and vertically integrated in Los Angeles, according to Gilbert.

“Our fabrics are made here, designers are here, we manufacture here,” she said. “It’s really been a process, especially finding our target customer.”

Oya sells leggings at various lengths along with sports bras and shirts (Amanda Scurlock/L.A. Sentinel)

R/GA, one of Oya’s investors, helped identify their target audience and develop the products.

“We have two waistbands, we have a V-cut silhouette … and a high waist,” Gilbert said. “We have four different lengths, we have a 7/8, a full-length, a booty short, and a compression short.”

Another investor is the Chicago Sky, which allowed WNBA players to test products from Oya.

“What we learned is that WNBA players are sometimes wearing four or five pairs of spandex if they’re on their period or if they just had a baby because they have to wear white uniforms,” Gilbert said. “Or they’re going out each quarter and changing.”

Gilbert earned her M.B.A. in Entrepreneurial Studies at UCLA and won the 2021 John Wooden Global Leader Award. She was one of five entrepreneurs who competed in a pitching competition during the 2022 L.A. Sports Innovation Conference in November. Gilbert noted how she is occasionally either the only female or only Black entrepreneur at pitching competitions.

“That means I need to overprepare … I had to be really strategic about how I set my ducks up in a row,” she said. “So going through UCLA Anderson and business school that way I understood how to talk and even start thinking about where are the places I should be looking for people to talk to.”

For more information on Oya, visit https://wearoya.com.