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#POWEREDBYHER with Meena Harris

#POWEREDBYHER celebrates International Women’s Day and women empowering women. One who inspires us and so many others is Meena Harris. From the San Francisco Bay Area, she’s a Harvard-educated lawyer, writer, producer, and founder of Phenomenal – a female-powered lifestyle brand that brings awareness to social causes. A #1 New York Times best-selling author, Meena has written two children’s books: Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea, released on June 2, 2020, and Ambitious Girl, released on January 19, 2021. In this UGG interview, she passes on the power – sharing her story of ambition, creativity, and motherhood.

 

Introduce yourself, what you do, and where you call home.

Hi! I’m Meena Harris. I’m a mom, lawyer, author, and entrepreneur, and I live in San Francisco, CA.

You are an ambitious woman who wears many hats. Describe a day in the life of Meena Harris.

Each day brings a new challenge, a new opportunity, and it’s truly never the same.

Congratulations on the impact and success of your newest children’s book, Ambitious Girl. Share its journey from concept to print.

Ambitious Girl is my second children’s book. It’s been such a labor of love. It is very different than my first book, so it’s been a really special journey for me as a new author to stretch myself and think of different creative ways to do storytelling around issues that I think are important. My journey really started with becoming a parent and wanting to make sure my daughters could see themselves represented on the pages of books. The fact was that they were not fully represented in books and on bookshelves. I was really thinking about diversity in children’s books and how we can make sure the world hears and sees stories from other communities that are often not represented in children’s literature. That was a huge motivation for me.

The other was thinking about the power of language. Words like “ambition” are often used with women in a way that’s different from how we talk about men; frankly, it is a double standard in that it’s often used in a critical or negative way. I really wanted to reclaim that word, which I had always been taught was a positive thing. Ambition means purpose, determination, having a vision and going for it, and not letting anyone tell you no or get in your way. Let’s be loud about it, proud, name our ambitions and claim them, and not allow anyone to tell us that it’s something we should hide or be ashamed of. I think it’s really important for all of us to engage in those conversations. There are many other words I could think of that have similar power and particular meaning when we use them in the context of women, and I look forward to continuing that conversation through the pages of books. I think, as a society, we need to be honest about this and need more evolved conversations that acknowledge the systemic barriers that are working against a lot of people like women and women of color. It starts with language. Often, it starts in our homes – the messages that we are teaching our children. For me, becoming a parent is where I decided to start that journey, and I look forward to doing more.

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What motivates your work with Phenomenal?

Similar to my journey with kids’ books, Phenomenal is all about raising awareness around the issues and experiences of underrepresented communities, and doing everything in our power – through our platform, through apparel, through content, and through conversations – to raise awareness around those communities. Each of us can do that using the power of community, voice, and creative tools in a way that is accessible and can reach a lot of people. We are proud and committed to supporting the work happening on the ground that activists, nonprofits, organizations, and advocates have been doing forever and ever. We can use our platform to amplify their work, to raise awareness, and to engage the public in that work – especially around issues they may not otherwise know how to engage with, because they’re complex or unfamiliar. I think there’s real power in simply starting thought-provoking conversations that engage people in issues they wouldn’t otherwise be aware of, and doing it in a way that’s accessible and educational. I’m proud that we started off focused on women and women of color, and we continue to be, but we’ve also expanded it to other underrepresented communities – whether that’s farmworkers or the humanitarian crisis at the border. There are so many communities that need our support, and so many advocates and activists doing incredible work. I think it’s on all of us to do whatever we can to support, whether that’s donating or raising awareness and raising our voices around issues that affect different communities.

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What advice do you have for younger women who look up to you?

Be ambitious. Dream big; be bold; go after your hopes, dreams, and convictions; and don’t let anyone get in your way. Don’t let anyone tell you that something can’t be done just because it’s never been done before. I would also add for aspiring entrepreneurs or creative people: life is long, and even if you’re not able to do your life’s work or passion at this very moment, find ways to keep it up however you can. You never know when the moment will come about that allows you to realize your passions and dreams. As corny as that sounds, it was true for me.

I’ve always known that I was a creative and entrepreneurial person, but it really wasn’t until I started Phenomenal that I knew it was the thing I needed to run to, and build, and do. In all the years leading up to it, I kept up my creative interests on the side. I had other little t-shirts, creative projects, and ventures that I was doing while I was in college, while I was working right after college – even after law school, throughout law school, I always had that happening in the background. I recognize, especially as an entrepreneur, that to go off, do your own thing, and start something is a huge privilege. It’s not as easy as it should be for people who want to pursue that, and sometimes it’s really about all these different circumstances coming together. For me, it was that I had financial security, I felt like I had accomplished enough in my career – but the point is, the moment came, I ran to it, and I knew it was that thing that I wanted to do. I could of never have guessed that five years before, two years before. Instead, I think I was ready for that moment because I had been keeping up my passions and interests on the side. Stick with that stuff. I know that it’s a lot to juggle along with a day job and all the things that we are dealing with, but even in small ways, just figure out how to keep it up. You never know when that moment will come about.

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#POWEREDBYHER celebrates women empowering women. Share some names of rising voices you admire, and why.

I have to give a shout out to Time Magazine’s first-ever Kid of the Year, 15-year-old scientist and inventor Gitanjali Rao. A lot of people may know about her, but she is just so smart. Among her many accomplishments, she invented a device that uses carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead in water – an issue that we know affects many underrepresented, low-income communities like in Flint, MI. She’s shown such leadership, and she’s had such an impact on these communities. She said herself, “I don’t look like a typical scientist,” so she’s breaking barriers and showing all of us – especially girls and girls of color – that they can do anything, be anything, and totally change the world.

I would also have to mention 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman, the first-ever National Youth Poet Laureate. As a children’s book author, I personally cannot wait to read her forthcoming books to my daughters.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you, and how does it FEEL to sit alongside inspiring women on a day such as this for the UGG® brand?

I believe that it is really about celebrating and recognizing the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women all over the world. I am incredibly proud to be part of that celebration. IWD is actually the founding day of Phenomenal, so it holds very significant importance and meaning to me. Especially now, having celebrated it with Phenomenal the last four years, I’m thinking about how we can do this more than one day a year. How do we keep this up every day? Let’s draw attention to the incredible achievements and contributions of women all over the world. There are so many extraordinary, phenomenal women who are doing so much – sometimes at the risk of their own wellbeing and lives. They are fierce and courageous. I hope all of us can continue to engage in this work, drawing attention not only to the distinct issues that affect women and women of color throughout the world, but most of all their successes – the incredible work and impact they have had on all of us. These days remind us of those extraordinary moments. There are also so many ordinary people doing extraordinary things that deserve recognition and celebration. I challenge myself to do that. It is what we aim to do with Phenomenal – to do it often, loudly, and proudly. I am honored and proud to be part of the campaign with UGG. I appreciate the commitment you’re making to do your part.

As a leading voice, any closing words?

I just love seeing young women of color leading the next generation of changemakers. I am so confident that we are in good hands. I am personally very proud to follow their lead.

 

Editor’s Note: From March 1, 2021 to March 14, 2021, with a minimum guaranteed donation of $50,000, UGG will donate $25 per pair of Fluff Yeah’s in Apple purchased on UGG.com to HERproject – a collaborative initiative that educates and empowers women in our supply chain. Since 2016, we’ve trained over 33,000 with the goal of 100,000 by 2027.