Helena Fogary, Mi-Ola, Woman Entrepreneur
I am fascinated with peoples careers, particularly women as they definitely seem to have more of a winding road. The dots always connect because what you learn from each experience you take with you as you move through your life. When Helena Fogary decided to take a sabbatical and surf I am pretty sure she did not think she would find her husband, have a child, commute between NYC and Costa Rica and launch Mi-Ola, a swimsuit line, but you never know what life sends your way.
Helena grew up in Chicago and Indiana and spent her summers in Breezy Point, NY. Her father started out in mergers and acquistions as an investment banker in NYC first and then transferred to Chicago to embark on a different journey building his own business in the same arena. Her Mom was a teacher and started a a store for sewing and quilting at one point but really was mostly a stay at home Mom. The summers in Breezy Point were unique as it has one of the largest communities of Irish Americans who she could relate to. There was this us against them mentality every summer as this area is run like a co-op. Residents own their own homes but own shares in the community.
After high school, Helena went to Univercity of Pennsylvania where she majored in neuropsychology; the biological basis of behavior with pre-med in mind. In her junior year Helena went to Sydney Australia. Her father had been ill for about a year and a half but pushed Helena to go on the trip. To live her own life not his. He died while she was in Australia. At that point she decided she had no interest in being a doctor and going to medical school. She had become lost. She returned to Penn and because she had taken so many summer courses she was able to graduate in 3 years time.
After graduation Helena went up to NYC and landed a job in medical publishing. She had been pre-med so it was easy to land this kind of job but she really wanted to move into the fashion industry. This was 1994. She figured if she could figure out how to be in the new media arena she would have an easier time with that Helena landed a job at agency handling Vanity Fair, Avon and Bloomingdales with their first websites. This is how she got into fashion and beauty. She stayed 9 months at the agency and moved next to Hearst where she stayed for two years. She worked on the Bazaar website and then Cosmo Girl. Then Helena moved into the start-up world working for im.com that actually did a commercial at the Oscars in 2000. She was literally communiting back and forth from Santa Monica and NYC in that job. She had several jobs at im.com from VP Marketing to Head of Product Development to Editor-in-Chief. In 2001 they lost their funding, the bottom dropped and the job ended.
Helena started doing odd jobs and getting into her passion for photography. She interned with a photographer thinking she'd be a fashion photographer while working on the side in digital marketing to make some cash. Helena's next move is taking a job at Bank of America. It was the safe harbor during the storm. At this time she was also in 3 punk rocks bands as the lead singer and trying to focus her efforts on becoming a financial planner for musical and entertainment people. Then 9/11 happened. She was 3 blocks from the building the day the planes hit the World Trade Center.
Helena got out of Bank of America and went to business school. She figured it was the best way to learn finance, accounting and entreprneurship. When she graduated she went to work at Chanel marrying her love of fashion with her new world of finance. She was the manager of wholesale essentially the interace between ready to wear accessories and shoes with production. She had this feeling that she was about to get promoted to a major job in the company. Everyone in the company did. It was December 2008. In a political move, they decided to let Helena go instead. She was devastated. She said the aftermath was like having post traumatic stress order.
It was time to take a break. Helena had learned to surf in 2006 and had gone to Costa Rica frequently. This time she packed her bags, put everything in storage and moved down there for an extended time period. She was there four months and met her husband, a fellow surfer. He comes from a completely different world than her, a simpler life. They got married and had a daughter. When her daughter was six months old Helena got frustrated with the bikinis she wore as they always moved or fell off while she surfed. She started working on the idea of building a line of high quality bikinis that actually stayed on. She took her idea to the Kaufman Foundation for the one month incubator program. It was great and she launched her business in 2011.
Helena came up with the designs, figured out where to manufacture them after the first factory not being so good and started to sell. Her first customer was Dianes Beach in California, an 18 store chain. Her biggest challenge is distribution although she does sell on line and continues to land in specialty stores. Her husband lives in Costa Rica raising their now 3 year old daughter and Helena comes back and forth to NYC when she needs to for business which is about one week a month. They still spend their summers at Breezy Point.
Helena is impressive. I am pretty sure she did not see herself having a family in Costa RIca with a swim suit business under her wing when she went on her break from corporate America. It just shows that life takes strange paths and it is really about finding something that makes you happy. I think Helena has figured out the perfect balance for herself. If you need a fantastic bikini, check out Mi-Ola.