PHOTOGRAPHY, MICHAEL CREAGH // HAIR, ANDRITA RENEE// MAKE-UP, SHAWN LUMABAN// WARDROBE, ALICIA BRISSETT & KRISTINA ASKEROVA// CREATIVE DIRECTION, ALICIA BUCKNOR // SR. STYLIST, KERRIE-ANN MARTIN // FEATURE WRITER, ALICIA BRISSETT
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To many, Heather Thomson is a reality star that got her claim to fame from her appearance on the Season 5 premiere of the hit Bravo reality series, The Real Housewives of New York. However, Thomson’s larger than life personality and career resume include 20 years of experience working as a fashion designer with music moguls such as Sean “Diddy” Combs, Beyoncé Knowles and Jennifer Lopez before launching her own shapewear turned lifestyle brand, Yummie by Heather Thomson. On top of her profession and passion as a fashion designer, this energetic, fun, married mom of two, wears many more hats including consultant, philanthropist, business owner, athlete, licensed health and wellness coach, and soon-to-be author. From being a fashion designer, consultant, and brand ambassador, to her work with the personal development charity, No Barriers, Thomson doesn’t let any of her past failures stop her from achieving her life goals. Instead, the business maven puts one foot forward to teach others, especially women, the need for failure and to never be afraid of taking the next step in their careers and lives.
Sharing her experiences with the world, Thomson soon hopes to put what she has learned on paper and write a book to help others overcome their failures and see their full potential in all walks of life. Facing her fears and realizing her own strengths and potential, Thomson set out to Tanzania and climbed the famous Mt. Kilimanjaro with friend Jeff Evans during the summer of 2016. Being the highest mountain in Africa, Thomson described herself as feeling “invincible,” once she completed the climb, and who wouldn’t? “I’m not one to pat myself on the back that often, but I think that we as women (should) find it important to do that, myself included.
We’re always striving, always working, (thinking) we’re “never enough” and we are!” says Thomson. “And when you set out to do something like that and you accomplish it, it’s not just about the goal, it’s about the journey; to sit back and appreciate what you’ve done in retrospect is really important and we don’t do that enough these days. We’re moving at such an extremely fast pace in this day-and-age, especially as women, juggling and balancing so much. Heads of our households, moms, wives, sister, daughter, friends, and professionals – we have a lot that we juggle, and being on that mountain reminded me of how important it is to slow down and come off the grid.” It’s what she calls, “dirty freedom” that Thomson looks forward to experiencing again in a new climb to the summit of another famous mountain top. In the meantime, this “rock mom” to Jax, 12, and Ella Rae, 9, took the time out of her schedule to chat with Milk & Heels. She gave us a candid look at the mistakes she’s made, how she overcame them, and how she has taken these many experiences in life to raise her children to be curious, thoughtful, and aware young adults.
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How did the trip to Tanzania come about?
It was through my friend Jeff Evans, (who stars on the Travel Channel show Everest Air); Jeff is a mountaineer and a high altitude medic. We met through our charity No Barriers, and he kind of dared me to do the climb. We were climbing mountains in North Carolina for, No Barriers, and he said, “Why don’t you climb a real mountain, Manhattan?” And I was like, “I’ll climb a real mountain,” and he said, “No, I mean a REAL mountain.” As Jeff and I really started to get serious about it, since he’s been climbing Kilimanjaro for many years and this was going to be his last summit there, we wanted to make it a big deal. I had this great platform I had built for myself from RHONY (Real Housewives of New York), and we wanted to use my platform and do something really meaningful with it. It was decided it was to be about women, about what I stand for as a woman and breaking down those barriers of what it’s like to be feminine and shedding those old standards that we’re held to as women. We wanted it to be about empowering women and their vulnerability and to break out of their comfort zones, and to do it with a rope team of women there to encourage and inspire each other, to hold each other up and not knock each other down. We (society) have created some sort of culture where women don’t support each other, when that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Since coming back to the city, how do you find ways to slow down?
I try to reflect back to the mountain. I try to reflect back to the calm and peaceful times I wasn’t on the grid. Things can wait. We’re in this time of instant gratification. If someone doesn’t text you back in five minutes you’re like, “Well where the hell are they?” So just slow down, things can wait; and I try to be present where I am. It really is putting down the phone and not trying to be everywhere else. I’m raising two children in this culture of, I’m only as good as the amount of likes I get on Instagram, it’s the selfie culture and I can see if I leave my children unattended to social media, pop culture, television and this celebrity fascination, they’ll fall right into those traps of comparing themselves to the Jones’s, and not listening to their internal voice.
What advice would you share with young women about being an entrepreneur?
Push fear aside! Fear is our biggest hurdle in life and we’re so afraid. Afraid we’re not going to measure up, afraid of criticism, afraid of failure, and its gets in the way of our opportunity for success. It’s ok to fail and ok to fall, we’re all going to fall; but it’s not in how you fall, it’s how you get back up. Everyone’s going to go down and hit the mat; it’s how you get back up and how you learn and grow from those bumps in the road and how you turn them into your biggest successes. So just push fear aside and go for it! Put one foot in front of the other and step forward.
How do you teach your kids to do that?
I unplug them. I talk to them about life experiences and I show them life experiences. We go outside seeing nature and breathe outside; those are the things I do for myself. I go outside and workout with my trainer that I’m committed to. It’s a commitment to myself and to him, so that’s important too, to commit yourself to other people and being outside, and commit yourself to slowing down. Even ten minutes of meditation every morning is something I’ve been trying to do ever since I’ve gotten back. It’s a practice; it’s not something that comes easily. You have to work for stuff. There’s no silver bullet, so if you know you feel good when you meditate but it’s hard for you to get into, you have to keep trying, taking that time out.
I’ve even been trying to exercise in the morning, and I’m involving my children, my daughter Ella especially. We’ve been trying some exercising in the morning and it’s good daughter-mom time, we get up in the morning and we look forward to doing it together. And the mornings we don’t have time, there’s always a brand new day tomorrow. If something has to be put off, or a goal that you didn’t reach, if you did something crappy and you feel bad about it, you get a brand new day tomorrow.
There are a lot of catty women on reality T.V. Many women seek out to be on these shows and part of reality television. What advice would you give these women when wanting to be on reality T.V.?
You have to walk in your truth and be who you are. Don’t try to be something you think the camera or audience wants to see. I’ve learned that the hard way. Yes, there are things I did that I’m not proud of that I did for entertainment value and I let the people on the show get the best of me and it didn’t show me in my best light, but I’ve never been ashamed of it. It was more that I should’ve done things differently but I always walked in my truth and showed who I was. If I said a snarky comment, it came out of my mouth. If it showed me rolling my eyes when someone walked into a room, even if it wasn’t at that moment when I rolled my eyes, but was from another moment and they just put it there, that’s entertainment and what the show’s about and I was happy that my true colours showed through…
Don’t do anything you wouldn’t normally do. Be yourself, walk in your truth, take your hits, celebrate your achievements and just be true to yourself.
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What did you learn while being on The Housewives of New York?
I learned so much from that show, more than I ever imagined. First and foremost, I have a deep, endearing lifetime sisterhood and friendship with Carole (Radziwill). I love her very much! She’s one of my closest friends and our experience of the housewives brought us there; like your best friend at your first sleep-away camp. I thank the show for the friendships I was able to form and for the opportunity to be in contact with people I wouldn’t normally be in contact with. A lot of the women on the show are not my tribe and so it was really interesting to be exposed to personalities that I’m not normally drawn to or attracted to. I’m one of those people who are a fixer. I like to try to grow with experiences and grow with people, to be able to look back and say that we’ve made that together. But not everyone is like that, not everyone “needs fixing” sort of to speak. I’ve learned that about myself, when to hand it over, to just draw back and watch, and let people figure out their own selves. But again the thick skin, I developed from understanding my own value and self-worth and listening to those who counted, I took those experiences and learned to teach myself lessons and not listen to a bunch of people say, I have a big nose on social media. I listen to the people who know me best and know the value of what I was doing on the show and to contribute in the best way I could.
Is there anything you would have done differently as an entrepreneur and businesswoman?
Absolutely. Contracts! Contracts, contracts, contracts! When you’re writing a contract or signing a contract for that matter, you have to look at that person like they are your arch-enemy not your friend. When you go into business with somebody, you go into it all yummy, and you’re like, “Oh this is good, this is great; we’re going to make nice things together.” But you have to remember that people have ulterior motives and it’s nasty and cut throat out there and you have to protect yourself. So, I would say have other people read your contracts, never sign anything until you’ve studied it and understand it fully. I made big mistakes in the arena of trusting people and I trusted what their words were, and it wasn’t that at all.
There are booby traps in these things. The laws in this country (United States of America) are flawed and some people out there know it’s flawed and take advantage of it.
I’ve made mistakes here and I’ve learned my lesson and the good, as painful and devastating and difficult it has been, is to learn these lessons, so I will never be in these situations again.
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I’ve got both my arms, both my legs, both my eyes. I can see, I can hear, and when you really look at it, you look at the things that are important. Money is really just money and it doesn’t buy you happiness. If you make it once you can make it again. And it’s humbling sometimes to get knocked down. My friend Erik Weihenmayer, who is the only blind man to ever climb Mt. Everest, said, “When you get knocked down you have to allow yourself to wallow in it. Feel the hurt, feel the pain and cry it out loud.” If you allow yourself to feel the pain and wallow, that’s the first step in healing. So let the pain in, let it hurt and experience it. Then give that up, push it away, and keep it moving.
What do you think is the biggest fear for women about being a woman?
I think our biggest fear is caring about what other people think. We’re criticized about our appearances, we’re criticized about our mothering skills, and we’re criticized all the time about measuring up. So I think that as women we get locked down into these comparisons and we’re afraid to be critiqued, we’re afraid to be judged, and you can’t worry about that. You have to go with your intuition and go with what you believe in; don’t be afraid to fall. I learned really quickly while being on the housewives (Housewives of New York), where I got my thick skin, that I am not going to feed into the critiques in the stands. I want to go with the people, who are bloodied, in the ring with me. These are the people I want to hear from. Not the people hurling opinions and judgment from the sidelines. The saying, “Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes,” makes sense. When you’ve been in my place then you can offer me critique. And by the way, please be open to critique. I’m not saying lock it off because amazing growth happens; just be mindful of the critic.
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So what are you working on currently that is new and exciting?
I’m consulting with a few companies, which I find really fulfilling. To get inside a company and see the infrastructure and foundation and see the early mission statements and really lend a hand from a bird eye view has been really rewarding. Giving people tools that maybe they can’t see in front of them, like a forest through the trees, is a process and it can be overwhelming. I like to help young companies and older companies get a new look at themselves and a new perspective. I’ve been doing a lot of public speaking and again, figuring out when the next big trip is going to be. I’m keeping up with my philanthropic endeavors, with No Barriers and being a cause advocate for organ donation. All that while focusing on my kids, taking time out with them and school and helping them when homework is important. It’s really a pivotal time to build a foundation that is solid so they can grow and I don’t want to miss it. I remember a time in my life where I couldn’t get my multiplication tables right and it was really difficult for me. I couldn’t memorize them.
It wasn’t about the math, but more about the memory. Really being present and working with them [her kids Jax and Ella Rae] on school and communication is important. They’re getting to that age where they really are their own little people, so listening to what they have to say and being present is crucial. When I was filming the show and running my business, they were little and I could get away with more than I can now.