What does this image have to do with ABC's Shark Tank? Well, let me start from the beginning. And when I say the beginning, I mean when I stepped foot in the swimming pool with 3 of my 4 kids. And when I say swimming, I mean floating on an inflatable raft catching some rays. They swim all around me like little sharks and try to flip me over. I splash them and tell them mama just wants to relax and to swim away. "You're no fun," the youngest one says. I lower my shades to my nose and peer over at them swimming away, defeated. "Guys, what do you mean mommy is no fun?" I ask. "You're always so serious," Ava replies. I think, am I really? "Just yesterday I laughed about something didn't I?" I ask but they don't remember. "Ok, well then if you're so fun get out and do your famous backflip off the diving board," challenges the oldest, Bree. "Guys, mommy's too old." I say. "You always make excuses. We triple dog dare ya!" Ok, not one to refuse a triple dog dare, I climb out of the pool and do my mommy version of the walk of shame to the diving board wondering how the hell I can get out of this. They are all giddy and quickly swim as close as they can to the diving board as I begin my mount. From above, I scoot them away. "Safety first" I say which is met with hissing. "You're stalling mom." I kind of was. I felt all their eyes on me and I I was uncomfortable with this. I had gained weight since the last time I got on a diving board to perform a backflip and I'm embarrassed. I have been working out since my husband was kind enough to buy me a gym membership, so thanks for that honey (insert sarcasm here) but I digress. At that moment my kids don't care if I'm old or overweight. They just want me to have fun and jump off the diving board. Even bigger than that moment, they want me to let go. All of me. The me that's at the tip of a diving board with her toes tightly gripping the edge of the board. I start to bounce and realize, oh boy, "not much of a spring is there?" I say to them, looking over my shoulder. "Stop stalling and making excuses!" they yell. Damn, tough crowd! I do make a lot of excuses don't I? Stay focused, Sonia, you have a flip to do and little people are watching your every move. I feel the pressure. It's the same pressure I feel outside of the pool, in my business world.
I started a small business a few years back and most of my energy is spent raising them AND trying to make my business successful. I try to be the best mama, wife, daughter, granddaughter, friend that I can be. My version of having it all is stressing me and my family out. "Be all things to all people" is what I've been doing. But I can't be everywhere all the time. At times I can't make business appointments because it's my day volunteering in kids' classes or attending their fieldtrips. I miss family/friend functions because I have speaking engagements or blogging events. I miss baseball games or tae kwon do belt tests. With crazy L.A traffic, I run late from my office downtown so meals often get started without me. But the biggest excuse of them all is not putting myself out there and being vulnerable.
The me you see, and the one that's hard to continue to portray, is the one I want you to see. The one who is not all she "posts to be" on social media. The one that wants you to see the Facebook picture of a mom with her happy, smiling kids who just a moment before were screaming at each other like siblings often do. The Instagram post of my newest dress from the latest collection looking all fancy and well lit, well that dress had to picked up across town at the sample-maker after going through 3 iterations and 2 fit models. The picture of me with my grandmother looking lovingly at each other with big smiles is just one moment that I caught on a good day as she fights kidney cancer while slowly losing her memory due to dementia. The selfie I tweeted with my eldest daughter at a hair salon was captured after an EEG test left her hair all goopy from the gel they use to figure out why she is having seizures again after 10 years being seizure-free. I don't share that. My 140 character tweets don't tell the whole truth. The whole me. I hide those moments because I don't know what you would do with my real moments. The real me. Would you still invite me to events? Would you still patronize my children's clothing store? Would you still follow me on social media? Would you want to swim with the real me? Speaking of swimming, let's get back to the diving board because that was a real heavy moment for me. Where was I? Right, I'm bouncing and wondering with such little bounce can I make it over and complete the flip. Or will I flop?
Like in life (business and personal) I don't want to flop because that would hurt and cause embarrassment. It means I couldn't do something successfully. It means my kids will think I'm imperfect; vulnerable. I don't like to feel vulnerable and put myself out there. Standing there on the diving board I find my strength, my courage and tell myself things are going to change. This backflip is going to be my jumping off point (pun intended). I'm going to put myself out there and be vulnerable. I'm going to tackle things that I was afraid to do for fear of letting go or flopping. First thing on my long list? ABC's Shark Tank.
I knew Shark Tank was coming to my area for an open casting call in four days so I needed to get moving, but the old Sonia crept back. Should I take my idea, my clothing line to the Shark Tank and put myself out there? Be vulnerable? I fought the urge to quit and begin to pull together my best clothing pieces: the "hello" in different languages tees, the Frida Kahlo romper, the matryoshka infant dress, and the Polynesian jumper to start. I print and gather our press pieces: the time I was on NBC's "Today" show with Soleil Moon-Frye on an episode about mompreneurs, the "Latina" magazine article, the time when Zoey from TLC's "The Little Couple" wore two pieces from my line, the image of ABC's "Modern Family" Lily played by cutie, Aubrey Anderson, who wore our dress to a movie premiere. I'm feeling pumped, did all that really happen? So pumped that I head to the gym to meet my friend who is a huge Shark Tank fan to tell her my plan. She cuts right to the chase, "you know if you win, you could be, like, one of the first Latin@ winners on the show?" No pressure! With my workout over, it was time to look over all the documents the show has you fill out.
What is your business? I manufacture multicultural children's clothing here in Los Angeles.
What makes your business unique? My line celebrates cultural diversity. We start by finding prints and embellishments that depict different cultures and design them into fun pieces like the dresses, tops, bottoms, rompers, and jumpers. But we go a step further and add an educational component by telling you about the clothes, the fabrics, and the embellishments. We share about the culture: like the wax cloth from Africa, the story behind the kokeshi dolls of Japan, or styles of dance from the Polynesia islands?
How did you come up with this unique idea: I am my brand. I am multiracial. My father is Black, my mom is Mexican. I was born in Puerto Rico, then moved to Hawaii before coming to California and marrying my husband who is Korean. We raise our children as mini global citizens, speaking 3 languages, celebrating their cultures and learning about others.When I was a critical care RN, I would sew clothes for the little ones as a stress reliever. I sewed them clothes that had cultural prints on them. I wanted them to feel proud of who they were. Folks would stop us on the street and strike up conversations and ask us questions. First they would ask, "what are you" which is not a new question to any multiracial/multicultural individual. I have had to answer this question since I'm a kid and now my children go through the same. After we get through that question, they ask about the fabrics on their clothes. I found myself "teaching" about the culture by talking about the clothes. I thought to myself: we take our children to museums to learn about different cultures, we introduce them to ethnic foods and music. Why not use clothing as a vehicle to teach about culture and diversity? Mixed Up Clothing was born.
Many pages and questions later, the forms are complete and the day I had been waiting for was upon me. There was no turning back. Just like I was back on the diving board about to back flip with everyone looking at me, each movement of the Shark Tank casting coincided with my movements on the diving board about to backflip.
I'm going over my pitch in my head. My knees are bent as I begin the initial push off the board. Hours pass and the line moves forward. I feel myself airborne as I begin my tuck and fold for the flip. I'm next up in line. I'm upside down.
"Hi, I'm ready when you are," the casting director says. "Start anytime."
I immediately go into how now is the perfect time for a children's clothing line like mine. I show the National Geographic cover on "Future face of America." I lay out how the Pew Research Center gathered facts from the U.S. Census and named the multiracial community as one of the fastest growing populations. I end with the current Nielsen report calling the multicultural consumer "The Super Consumer." I end by telling her that just that morning The Los Angeles Times announced that in Los Angeles, Latin@s became the majority minority. All of this research was provided to show evidence as to why I belong on Shark Tank. I tell her that "We" are here and "We" need to be recognized in places like Madison Ave, retail, entertainment industry and Shark Tank would be a great start. I went on to show my collection and gave her our facts and figures (read sales). I finish my flip by making a big splash then come up for air. I guess I made a big splash at the casting as well because they reached out the very next day and said I am moving forward in the process. The kids clap and cheer for mommy and show me the picture they took. I ask them what do you think of mommy now. "You did it mommy," they shout! I did, didn't I?