This March, as part of Women’s History Month, we had the opportunity to interview health pioneer and esteemed business owner, Tonya Lewis Lee. We had a candid conversation about women’s health, entrepreneurship, and her wellness brand, Movita Organics. Tonya dropped many gems about investing in your own health and wellbeing, the power of community, and the importance of health education.
She echoes both the trials and the triumphs of being a black woman business owner, and urges the next generation to embrace the journey of entrepreneurship. Read the full interview below:
What is Movita’s origin story? What was your most compelling reason for bringing it to life?
Movita’s origin story starts back in 2007, when I was asked to be the spokesperson for an infant mortality awareness raising campaign, by the US Department of Health & Human Services: Office of Minority Health… At the time I really didn’t know much about infant mortality, and considered it a 3rd world problem. I certainly had no idea that we had an issue here in the United States, and that black families were losing their infants at higher rates than white families.
When I became involved in the campaign, and had the opportunity to travel the United States, [including] urban areas, rural, north, south, east, west, all over the country. I quickly found myself immersed in a world of women’s health. I of course discovered that when you’re talking about an infant’s health, you’re talking about a woman’s health. I realized that we weren’t doing that well.
Through being a spokesperson on that campaign, we also developed, during the second year, a peer to peer program for college kids to talk to their peers in school, and their peers in the communities in which their schools were located. [The students] encouraged them to make healthy lifestyle choices for the sake, not only of themselves, but for their children down the line. We also were talking to these young people about discussing with each other, the ways in which you make your community rise up, and help you to make those kinds of choices. It can’t be just individual, the community has to provide for them.
So the peer to peer piece, for me, was really critical. I wanted to do the same thing for a wider audience. As a woman who, like most women out here, is trying to figure out, what is the healthy thing for me? How am I going to access it? How do I fit it into my life? So I started the website called Healthy You Now, and that was my first step. It was just content – we had articles written, we wrote articles, and we really considered ourselves an inspiration, a place of support and information for women.
How did your success with the Infant Mortality Campaign lead to the creation of Movita?
As I was building Healthy You Now, and looking to raise funds; I was, at the time, starting to take a vitamin supplement, because I’m a person who cycles on and off vitamins. I think most of us do that. I’d cycled on, and I was taking a product that made me feel really great. I happened to meet a guy named Bob Sires, who’s now my partner in Movita.
He was the CEO of a vitamin company, and we were in conversation about what I was doing with Healthy You Now. He was interested in bringing a new organic supplement to the market, and really liked what we were doing. He liked that we were in direct conversation with the community via inspiration, support, and information, but also that we connected on a sister-friend level because it’s hard. It’s hard [to lead a healthy life] no matter what the resources are.
He loved it, I really liked him, and he gave me an education on vitamin supplements. We came together and wanted to create a really good, quality organic supplement, that could be a tool in a woman’s toolbox. Even now, as we continue this conversation on how to access and live our healthiest lives. I’m the first person who will say, no one pill is the answer. It has to be a part of an overall lifestyle.
If Movita could say anything, what would it tell me?
“If Movita could tell you anything, it would say: I’m here to be your baseline, but you’ve got to keep doing the work! You have to keep taking care of yourself, I’m not enough.”
How can using Movita daily change your life?
I can’t speak to other vitamin supplements or products, but I will say that Movita [can change your life], because it can be taken on an empty stomach, and is one a day. I look at Movita as the first choice that helps you make better choices throughout your day.
Every day I wake up, it’s a reset; if I messed up yesterday and ate things I wasn’t supposed to eat, or didn’t work out, drank too much, or whatever it is, when I wake up in the morning, it’s a reset. So the choices I make this day, will hopefully be better than yesterday, and then that will help build again.
So taking Movita first thing in the morning with a glass of water is a really good choice for your body. If you do that, and you’re conscious of that, I believe that you’ll be making better choices all day long.
“I’m not the person who started a vitamin company because I thought it would make good money… I started this business because I really care about the health and wellness of my community.”
Are there any daily practices you have that contribute to your wellbeing?
I’d say drinking water is key; I think there are so many of us that aren’t as hydrated as we should be and don’t even realize it. Again, as I said before, I sometimes cycle on and off of vitamins, and water is similar. Some days I drink really well, and other days it seems so hard to drink water. Really getting the water in, it makes you feel better, and is critical, so I try to get as much water in as possible, every day.
What has been the most challenging part of creating a business?
The challenges to starting any business, is that you don’t have enough money. I’ve been very lucky that my partner has expertise in our product, so therefore, I have expertise now. The best part of starting Movita, is that I know my product is really really great. We wanted to create wonderful packaging so that people can have an amazing experience with the product. And we’ve accomplished that! We now want to scale the business, and I would say that access to capital, initially, has been a challenge, but it makes us think about the business a bit differently.
I’m not the person who started a vitamin company because I thought it would make good money sense… or so that we could all make money. I started this business because I really care about the health and wellness of my community. It’s coming from that place. So the economy of it, and securing funding has been the most challenging.
“I’m excited for the youth, and just want people to understand it’s really hard no matter who you are, and of course, if you’re black, and you’re a woman, it is harder, but it doesn’t mean you can’t do it.”
Have you faced any challenges specific to being a Black Woman Business Owner?
That’s always an interesting question, because sometimes we don’t know that it’s because I’m a black woman… Now, one of the things that is really hard for me as a black woman, and I know this, is people not believing me when I tell them something. My level of experience, my level of knowledge, my level of education, [is constantly challenged by] people who don’t have nearly the experience, don’t have the expertise that they can call on the way I can, and who second guess me and make me go through hoops, before they catch up and realize the truth of what I’m saying. That happens to me regularly, and it is immensely frustrating dealing with people who don’t understand that when I tell you something, I know what I’m talking about.
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Do you have any advice for future female business owners?
Be true to your vision. You have to have a vision, you have to trust yourself, and accept that it’s hard to be an entrepreneur. You have to hang in there, give yourself enough financial runway, and really be clear about what your voice is, and what you’re serving. Sometimes it’s just when you’re about to break through, that it feels like things are going south. And lastly, have a really great support group.
I’m excited about the future, because I think there are a lot of really wonderful opportunities for young people to create businesses, and be entrepreneurs. I’m excited for the youth, and just want people to understand it’s really hard no matter who you are, and of course, if you’re black, and you’re a woman, it is harder, but it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. And it doesn’t mean you can’t find allies. You can have partners in all kinds of ways.
I think there’s often a feeling of, it has to be all or none, and I think we can work with all kinds of people. It’s just about finding the right people to make your team, because you need a team. You can’t do it by yourself, that’s really key.