People 16 July 2018
When Jenny Gresla set out to uncover what women weren't getting from current athletic clothing brands, she discovered that an overwhelming amount of women wanted exactly what she did. There is no one image of femininity for all women to aspire to; yet, through her own personal experiences it quickly became apparent to Gresla that popular fitness clothing brands continue to market to a specific demographic of women.
Modern fitness campaigns emphasis the completion of goals, often depicted through a specific size or appearance. Both stylistically and conceptually Gresla realized that prominent athletic clothing companies were neglecting comfort and body confidence, at the sake of female empowerment.
Thus, Sela Fit was born. Gresla's aspiration to promote body positivity resulted in a size inclusive activewear and shapewear brand that celebrates women at every stage of their fitness and wellness journey. Despite already having a full time career in advertising, Gresla set out with her entrepreneurial venture determined to save women from the experience she had endured. Sela Fit launched this June and until October will continue to release its debut full collection. We sat down with founder and CEO, Jenny Gresla to understand more about her inspirations and goals for Sela Fit.
What inspired you to launch a size inclusive activewear/shapewear brand?
I have been active in sports and working out my entire life. I never had issues finding clothes that I felt comfortable in until my mid-twenties. I went through some 'life stuff' - as most people do - and noticed my body went through some changes as a result. None of my workout clothes fit right anymore, and the new clothes I was buying weren't really flattering or comfortable, and I didn't want to exercise in ill-fitting clothes. That phase in my life was so eye-opening and I realized there were many other women out there experiencing similar things.
"'Be delicate. Be bold. Be everything.' means acknowledging & celebrating the intricacies of what it's like to be a modern woman, and the pushes & pulls we face on a regular basis" - Jenny Gresla (Photo Courtesy of Sela Fit)
First, I never realized how much of your life is impacted when you don't practice self-care – even your energy levels and self-confidence can suffer as a result. Second, I realized that a lot of what's offered in the market isn't geared towards women at the beginning (or in the middle) of their fitness journeys. I saw a huge opportunity to help women of all shapes & sizes and in various stages. I didn't want any other woman to feel the way I felt, so I decided to launch Sela Fit – an inclusive brand that's centered around body positivity. Our mission is to help women redefine their curves, essentially creating athleisure and shapewear pieces that are flattering to their bodies and curves versus making them feel they have to look a certain way or be a certain size to wear the brand.
"Our mission is to help women redefine their curves, essentially creating athleisure and shapewear pieces that are flattering to their bodies and curves versus making them feel they have to look a certain way or be a certain size to wear the brand." - Jenny Gresla
2. Were you self-funded? If not, are you still raising? How much are you hoping to raise in your next round of funding? And do you think gender affected your raise?
Sela fit is 100 percent self-funded. I've been a consistent saver for most of my life. I didn't know what I was saving for, but I knew I needed to save for something big on the horizon. Funding is something I may seek as the brand grows, but I want to be extremely mindful about how it plays into the business. Since I haven't raised funding yet, I'm not sure how gender will play a role, but I do think it's important for there to be a level playing field regardless of gender. I've noticed a recent shift into the emergence of female-owned businesses, and I'm grateful to be a part of this new dynamic.
3. In what other ways do you believe your entrepreneurial experience has been affected by your identity? Did you ever feel that as a millennial you had to prove yourself more?
I have always been an extremely focused and diligent hard-worker. That has been ingrained into my identity since a young age, so having those qualities has really helped my entrepreneurial spirit. If you had asked me ten years ago if I thought I had to prove myself more by being a millennial, I would have said yes. However, over the years, millennials have shown to be challengers and disrupters across various categories like communication, travel and business. Nearly half of millennials have a “side hustle" today which I absolutely love, because it tells me we're setting out to create and fill the void for goods & services that are truly needed in the market.
4. What other challenges did you face both in creating and promoting Sela Fit?
The biggest challenge of creating sela fit was that there was a lot I didn't know, including how to run a business, the ins and outs of the fashion industry, the manufacturing process, etc. What I did know is that I liked my sense of style and knew what I was seeking in athleisure pieces. The question was, did everyone else want that too? To help answer this question (and the many others) that were running through my head, I initially created a survey for friends and family who passed it onto their friends, etc.
To my surprise, all of the women who took my survey were looking for similar things. At that moment, I knew I was onto something. Over the course of this whole experience, I've really learned on-the-fly. I always joke that I'm getting my MBA in the “school of Sela Fit." I also feel there's this huge karmic and serendipitous force working with me because I have truly met the right people at the right time who have given me the guidance, advice, etc. that I needed in that very moment.
5. What was your business plan in the beginning? How has it evolved?
My business plan has always been simple and concise with two core concepts. First, everything we do must stay true to the sela fit brand and our mission. Every single facet of the business should be funneled through our founding principles, while we continuously evolve & better ourselves. Second, we must always abide by the mantra that “as long as doors open, we'll continue to push through them." What started out with a ten-question survey and two tank tops, has now evolved into a full collection that includes tanks, t-shirts, bras, leggings, coverups and bodysuits.
6. What's your point of difference from other activewear/athleisure companies?
We have four key points of difference from other activewear & athleisure companies: first is that sela fit sits at the intersection of athleisure and shapewear. A lot of our pieces have both athleisure elements and shapewear characteristics built into them. Sela fit is also an inclusive brand. We strive to provide all women a similar experience with our brand regardless of their shape or size. Every piece in the collection ranges from XS – 3X and we charge the same for each item, regardless of the size.
In addition Sela Fit sees women across all stages of their fitness journeys. For days when she's feeling bold and daring, we have crop tops and bodysuits. For when she's not feeling as confident, we have flowy tanks and tees. There's something for everyone for every day of the week and for every part of the journey. And finally Sela fit is committed to giving back. We've partnered with Girls in The Game, an organization that helps girls build self-esteem & confidence and gets them active in sports and exercise. It's really important for us to work with the next generation of female warriors.
7. What's your favorite product from your own line?
I really love everything, but if I had to choose just one product, I would choose our leggings. We call them 'The Everything Legging' because they're so versatile that you can wear them with everything… a tank or crop for a workout class, or a cover-up for running errands, etc. There's compression throughout, and additional compression in the high-waisted band to provide extra support in the tummy area. They should be a staple in every woman's wardrobe.
8. Who are your favorite fitness bloggers and athleisure brands at the moment?
There are so many of them. I love personal trainer Anna Victoria, Jessamyn Stanley is just so cool and I love her mindset, Bethany C. Meyers of The Become Project is doing really amazing things, Lexi's Clean Kitchen has some of the yummiest recipes on Insta, I love Kaisa Keranen's approach to fitness, Ashley Nelson of @ashleynii has such fun & inspiring content… and who doesn't love The Everygirl. I'm also really inspired by The All Woman Project. The list could really go on & on. Two athleisure brands that I really admire are Athleta, for their “Power to the She" movement, and Calia by Carrie Underwood for their approachability and style.
9. Why are you drawn to Girls in the Game? How do their goals reflect your brand's mission?
As women, we can be really tough critics – on both ourselves and each other. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to create an uplifting and inspiring brand that had a give-back component to the younger generation. I'm drawn to Girls in the Game because their entire mission is centered around empowering young girls and helping them develop into confident women through various sports and leadership activities. I think girls should be instilled with self-esteem and confidence at a young age. Plus, I love the parallels between sela fit and Girls in the Game - they focus on the youngest generation and we're focused on the generations that can mentor them.
"As women, we can be really tough critics – on both ourselves and each other. From the beginning, I knew I wanted to create an uplifting and inspiring brand that had a give-back component to the younger generation." - Jenny Gresla
10. Why was it important to you to create a brand promoting fitness and wellness for every woman, at every stage of their fitness journey?
I created sela fit to be inclusive. If we only focused on the end stage, then we would be going against everything that we stand for. We all move at different paces, but not a lot of brands take that into account during the design process. The focus of getting to the end result takes the spotlight, meaning the beginning and middle parts tend to be forgotten.
How is anyone ever going to get to their “end" if they don't feel supported in the beginning or middle of their journey? Personally speaking, getting back on track (and staying on track) was one of the hardest things for me. I would have loved the support of a brand like sela fit back then.
11. In promoting your brand you seem to utilize Instagram the most in advertising Sela Fit, how do you believe Instagram is changing the entrepreneurial experience for millennials?
Instagram is such a huge platform for both millennials and emerging brands. It's a great way for an up-and-coming brand to interact with an engaged audience at scale. It's also a pretty fun tool for us to communicate our core values, what we stand for, and sell our brand in a non-intrusive way.
12. What is the significance behind your logo? How do your logo and your designs convey your mantra “Be delicate. Be bold. Be everything"?
The logo is a symbol for our foundational tagline – “redefine your curves." The two crescents represent the physical curves of a woman's body, but also the whole notion of Sela Fit being a brand that's with you from day to night.
The name Sela is an acronym to the four key parts of the overall health and wellness journey: see your potential, embrace the journey, live with intention and act with perseverance.
I later learned that “Sela" actually means “rock" in Hebrew. It felt very serendipitous to me as I'm building a brand that strives to be the foundation for all women in their journey.
“Be delicate. Be bold. Be everything." means acknowledging & celebrating the intricacies of what it's like to be a modern woman, and the pushes & pulls we face on a regular basis.
13. What do you believe is the significance of depicting and celebrating women of all sizes on social media?
In today's world, it's so vital to celebrate women in all shapes & sizes. We want to be representative of all women… how can we do that if we only feature one particular size? For as long as I can remember, society has defined “skinny" for us, has told us to fit into “X" size… and that's just not realistic anymore, nor is it healthy. Every woman is uniquely designed. What's a healthy size for me, may not be a healthy size for you… and to be honest… your clothing size doesn't really tell the whole story. We want sela fit to be a positive and encouraging experience for every customer. Everything in the collection will range in size from XS – 3X, and products are the same price regardless of the size. If we didn't take this into account, it would 100 percent go against everything we stand for and our inclusivity principles.
14. How do you hope your brand's mission of body positivity will improve confidence for women who feel they don't fit society's beauty standards?
Body positivity is a huge part of our brand DNA - it's at the heart of what we do. However, while it's at our core, we are being extremely careful about how we address it. A lot of the messaging out there is that you have to love yourself and love your body 100 percent of the time. This is just not reality. We are all bound to have bad days… days where our arms seem too flabby, or our tummies are too bloated, or our booties are too round. We want to communicate that yes, you absolutely should love yourself and the body you were created in, but you're going to have bad days and it's okay. Just pick yourself up the next day and move forward.
15. What's next for Sela Fit?
We have a lot of exciting things to come. We'll be rolling out new products (and new colors) on the first of each month so stay tuned. We're really excited about the new styles that we're launching.
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.