“Small can be mighty. That’s the meaning behind the name: goumi is a berry, a cousin of goji that grows in a bush—in a community—and actually changes the pH balance of the soil, making the ecosystem healthier. I was like, ‘That’s us!’ From small things come greatness.”
Lili Yeo|Co-Founder Goumi Kids
When Lili Yeo was 17, she saw the Nike GM of Asia speaking on TV and was inspired to seek the same kind of work. Yeo—a Portlander since 1995 when her family moved from Iloilo City, Philippines—went on to do exactly that. She found her calling in global marketing, and the most fulfilling chapter of her life has come in the form of creating well-designed, eco-friendly clothing for babies.
When she and her husband decided to start a family, Yeo did not intend to stop her globetrotting lifestyle. She had the nanny all lined up. Then she met her daughter, and everything about the way she wanted to spend her days changed. Still, it was not the smoothest transition to motherhood.
“I think by day two of maternity leave, I started doing regression analysis on her sleep patterns,” laughs Yeo. “I needed an outlet.”
An old friend from high school came to visit her and commented on the rubber bands Yeo had used to keep the mittens on her baby’s hands. They shared how easily babies scratch themselves and how hard it is to remember to trim nails on top of everything else. Her friend mentioned that she had some ideas for products that would solve these problems but didn’t know how to get them to market. Yeo saw her next chapter: satisfying her professional side while remaining an engaged mom through a product that helped other moms.
The products she herself used were either cute but didn’t work well or functional but not very pretty. “And if they were good for the planet, forget the first two,” says Yeo.
A ton of research and a gamble on an order of a few thousand baby mittens followed. Yeo and co-founder Linsey Ebuen only sold 20 pairs on launch day. Yeo took a deep breath, and thought to herself what every Nike alumnus does: “What would Phil Knight do? He’d pack up a ton of mittens in his trunk with a mood board and drive to every baby boutique in Portland.” They landed an order in every one of those boutiques that day.
Retailers had been waiting for products like this, as had parents. Yeo and Ebuen launched new products like onesies with adjustable mittens on feet and hands and preemie mittens that help keep babies from pulling tubes out of place. They made Portland proud on Shark Tank, landing an investment from Kevin O’Leary, but Yeo is most proud of continually donating 10% of proceeds to fighting human trafficking and transitioning victims back to their lives.
“These little mittens do more than help babies and moms and dads,” says Yeo. “Small can be mighty. That’s the meaning behind the name: guomi is a berry, a cousin of goji that grows in a bush—in a community—and actually changes the pH balance of the soil, making the ecosystem healthier. I was like, ‘That’s us!’ From small things come greatness.”
Author: Lauren Yoshiko
Photos: Justin Katigbak
Published: June 2021
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This story is sponsored by the City of Beaverton