Niko Winstral Harriton '97 majored in English and French and minored in anthropology at Union College before beginning her career at the William Morris Agency as an agent trainee. She then spent 12 years as a television news producer at prominent news organizations and on many different shows. Niko was in charge of finding, creating and producing news segments as well as field producing during breaking news events. She travelled all over for stories -- to NASA for the Columbia Space Ship explosion. To Newtown, Conn., for the Sandy Hook School shooting. To the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. She contributed excerpts to the book Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11. They detail her first-hand experiences on the front lines of those terrorist attacks in New York City. Today, Niko is owner, founder and creator of MaskMottos.com. Maskmottos masks are reusable, high-quality custom face masks that meet World Health Organization recommendations. Follow Niko on Instagram at @maskmottos
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career or volunteer activities?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 39 years old. Since my journey with the disease, I have had a miracle baby at 43 and have been involved with many cancer support organizations, including volunteer work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital. Listening to the patients, I recognize the fear in their voices and their vulnerability to COVID-19 and its harmful effects on people with pre-existing conditions. I wanted to do something actionable to fight the coronavirus by making high-quality masks in fashionable colors with funny mottos, monograms, corporate logos, memorable movie quotes and inspirational sayings. “Say it on a mask” is my motto. I am hoping that the public will embrace the use of masks.
Through my connections in the breast cancer world and from my entertainment industry background, I created this inspirational line of masks with logos for Amy Robach (anchor of “Good Morning America” and host of “20/20”). For every mask sold from Amy’s line, MaskMottos donates a mask to the 5 Under 40 Cancer Foundation. 5 Under 40’s mission is to provide funding for medical, wellness and beauty services to women under the age of 40 who have been diagnosed with breast cancer, or have tested positive for the BRCA gene.
Unfortunately, it took a shocking diagnosis for me to find my true passion, which is to reduce the spread of COVID and help the public incorporate face masks into their everyday wear.
Who inspired/inspires you, both professionally and personally?
Amy Robach has been a huge inspiration to me. I reached out to her through my news contacts in 2014 when I was diagnosed and was told I would have to receive chemotherapy and lose my hair. I had seen that Amy was diagnosed after she took a mammogram live on “Good Morning America” for a segment they were doing during breast cancer awareness month. I always admired her poise and strength while she went through her cancer journey live on air. Amy advised me on which stylist to use in preparation for my hair loss. We actually met at the salon and I will always remember the tears we shared together in discussing our cancer journeys. I was at the beginning of mine and she had just completed her last chemotherapy.
What advice would you offer today’s women students, not just at Union, but across the country?
My advice for anyone, whether male or female, would be to be their own advocate when it comes to their health. Speak up for what you believe in and don’t just sit on the sideline and listen to what doctors tell you.
What was your most formative experience at Union?
My term abroad with Union in Rennes, France, was my most formative experience from my college days. I found myself in another country, not really speaking the language and being the only American living with a French family who were strangers to me until my first night in their home. I believe this experience abroad helped me to grow independently as well as made me a more confident person. I may not have known or appreciated it at the time, but my immersion in another culture forced me to come out of my shell and become much more sociable and responsible. I was able to use all the tools I learned from this experience with my work on delicate news stories and today with my growing business.