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.
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Sometimes it takes falling to rock bottom in order to be built back up again. I learned this many years ago when the life I'd carefully built for myself and my family suddenly changed. But in those times, you learn to lean on those who love you – a friend, family member or someone who can relate to what you've been through. I was lucky enough to have two incredible women help me through one of my lowest moments. They taught me to love myself and inspired me to pass on their lessons each da
If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today.
In 2010, I was a wife, a mother of three, and had filtered in and out of jobs depending on what my family needed from me. At different points in my career, I've worked in the corporate world, been a stay-at-home mom, and even started my own daycare center. Fitness has always been a part of my life, but at that point being a mom was my main priority. Then, life threw a curveball. My husband and I separated, leading to a very difficult divorce.
These were difficult times. I lost myself in the uncertainty of my future and the stress that comes with a divorce and found myself battling anorexia. Over a matter of months, I lost 40 lbs. and felt surrounded by darkness. I was no longer participating in my health and all efforts to stay active came to a halt. I didn't want to leave my home, I didn't' want to talk to people, and I really did not want to see men. Seeing my struggles, first my sister and then a friend, approached me and invited me to visit the gym.
After months of avoiding it, my sister started taking me to the gym right before closing when it wasn't too busy. We started slow, on the elliptical or the treadmill. This routine got me out of the house and slowly we worked to regain my strength and my self-esteem. When my sister moved away, my good friend and personal trainer started working out with me one-on-one early in the morning, taking time out of her busy schedule to keep me on track toward living a healthy life once again. Even when I didn't want to leave the house, she would encourage me to push myself and I knew I didn't want to let her down. She helped me every step of the way. My sister and my friend brought fitness back into my everyday routine. They saved my life.
I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again. My friend has since moved away, but, these two women made me feel loved, confident and strong with their empowerment and commitment to me. They made such an incredible impact on me; I knew I needed to pay it forward. I wanted to have the same impact on women in my community. I started by doing little things, like running with a woman who just had a baby to keep her inspired and let her know she's not alone. I made sure not to skip my regular runs, just in case there was a woman watching who needed the inspiration to keep going. These small steps of paying it forward helped me find purpose and belonging. This gave me a new mentality that put me on a path to the opportunity of a lifetime – opening a women's only kickboxing gym, 30 Minute Hit.
About four years ago, I was officially an empty nester. It was time to get myself out of the house too and find what I was truly passionate about, which is easier said than done. Sitting behind a desk, in a cubicle, simply didn't cut it. It was hard to go from an active and chaotic schedule to a very slow paced, uneventful work week. I felt sluggish. Even when I moved to another company where I got to plan events and travel, it was enjoyable, but not fulfilling. I wanted to be a source of comfort to those struggling, as my sister and dear friend had been to me. I wanted to impact others in a way that couldn't be done from behind a desk.
I began to rely on fitness, as well as faith, to help me feel like myself again.
When I heard about 30 Minute Hit, I was nervous to take the leap. But the more I learned about the concept, the more I knew it was the perfect fit for me. Opening my own gym where women can come to let go of their struggles, rely on one another and meet new people is the best way for me to pass on the lessons I learned during my darkest times.
Kickboxing is empowering in itself. Add to it a high energy, female-only environment, and you have yourself a powerhouse! The 30 Minute Hit concept is franchised all over North America, acting as a source of release for women who are just trying to get through their day. I see women of all ages come into my gym, kick the heck out of a punching bag and leave with a smile on their face, often times alongside a new friend. 30 Minute Hit offers a convenient schedule for all women, from busy moms to working women, to students and senior citizens. A schedule-free model allows members to come in whenever they have a free half hour to dedicate to themselves. Offering certified training in kickboxing and a safe environment to let go, 30 Minute Hit is the place for women empowerment and personal growth.
Through my journey, I have learned that everyone is going through something – everyone is on their own path. My motivating factor is knowing that I can touch people's lives everyday just by creating the space for encouragement and community. It's so easy to show people you care. That's the type of environment my team, clients and myself have worked hard to create at our 30 Minute Hit location.
Fitness saved my life. If it weren't for the empowering women who stepped up and brought fitness back into my life, I wouldn't be standing – in the door of my own business – today. The perfect example of women empowering women – the foundation to invincibility.
This article was originally published September 12, 2019.