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.
Women in the workplace have always experienced a certain degree of discrimination from male colleagues, and according to new studies, it appears that it is becoming even more difficult for women to get acclimated to modern day work environments, in wake of the #MeToo Movement.
In a recent study conducted by LeanIn.org, in partnership with SurveyMonkey, 60% of male managers confessed to feeling uncomfortable engaging in social situations with women in and outside of the workplace. This includes interactions such as mentorships, meetings, and basic work activities. This statistic comes as a shocking 32% rise from 2018.
What appears the be the crux of the matter is that men are afraid of being accused of sexual harassment. While it is impossible to discredit this fear as incidents of wrongful accusations have taken place, the extent to which it has burgeoned is unacceptable. The #MeToo movement was never a movement against men, but an empowering opportunity for women to speak up about their experiences as victims of sexual harassment. Not only were women supporting one another in sharing to the public that these incidents do occur, and are often swept under the rug, but offered men insight into behaviors and conversations that are typically deemed unwelcomed and unwarranted.
Restricting interaction with women in the workplace is not a solution, but a mere attempt at deflecting from the core issue. Resorting to isolation and exclusion relays the message that if men can't treat women how they want, then they rather not deal with them at all. Educating both men and women on what behaviors are unacceptable while also creating a work environment where men and women are held accountable for their actions would be the ideal scenario. However, the impact of denying women opportunities of mentorship and productive one-on-one meetings hinders growth within their careers and professional networks.
Women, particularly women of color, have always had far fewer opportunities for mentorship which makes it impossible to achieve growth within their careers without them. If women are given limited opportunities to network in and outside of a work environment, then men must limit those opportunities amongst each other, as well. At the most basic level, men should be approaching female colleagues as they would approach their male colleagues. Striving to achieve gender equality within the workplace is essential towards creating a safer environment.
While restricted communication and interaction may diminish the possibility of men being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment, it creates a hostile
environment that perpetuates women-shaming and victim-blaming. Creating distance between men and women only prompts women to believe that male colleagues who avoid them will look away from or entirely discredit sexual harassment they experience from other men in the workplace. This creates an unsafe working environment for both parties where the problem at hand is not solved, but overlooked.
According to LeanIn's study, only 85% of women said they feel safe on the job, a 5% drop from 2018. In the report, Jillesa Gebhardt wrote, "Media coverage that is intended to hold aggressors accountable also seems to create a sense of threat, and people don't seem to feel like aggressors are held accountable." Unfortunately, only 16% of workers believed that harassers holding high positions are held accountable for their actions which inevitably puts victims in difficult, and quite possibly dangerous, situations. 50% of workers also believe that there are more repercussions for the victims than harassers when speaking up.
In a research poll conducted by Edison Research in 2018, 30% of women agreed that their employers did not handle harassment situations properly while 53% percent of men agreed that they did. Often times, male harassers hold a significant amount of power within their careers that gives them a sense of security and freedom to go forward with sexual misconduct. This can be seen in cases such as that of Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby and R. Kelly. Men in power seemingly have little to no fear that they will face punishment for their actions.
Source-Alex Brandon, AP
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook executive and founder of LeanIn.org., believes that in order for there to be positive changes within work environments, more women should be in higher positions. In an interview with CNBC's Julia Boorstin, Sandberg stated, "you know where the least sexual harassment is? Organizations that have more women in senior leadership roles. And so, we need to mentor women, we need to sponsor women, we need to have one-on-one conversations with them that get them promoted." Fortunately, the number of women in leadership positions are slowly increasing which means the prospect of gender equality and safer work environments are looking up.
Despite these concerning statistics, Sandberg does not believe that movements such as the Times Up and Me Too movements, have been responsible for the hardship women have been experiencing in the workplace. "I don't believe they've had negative implications. I believe they're overwhelmingly positive. Because half of women have been sexually harassed. But the thing is it is not enough. It is really important not to harass anyone. But that's pretty basic. We also need to not be ignored," she stated. While men may be feeling uncomfortable, putting an unrealistic amount of distance between themselves and female coworkers is more harmful to all parties than it is beneficial. Men cannot avoid working with women and vice versa. Creating such a hostile environment is also detrimental to any business as productivity and communication will significantly decrease.
The fear or being wrongfully accused of sexual harassment is a legitimate fear that deserves recognition and understanding. However, restricting interactions with women in the workplace is not a sensible solution as it can have negatively impact a woman's career. Companies are in need of proper training and resources to help both men and women understand what is appropriate workplace behavior. Refraining from physical interactions, commenting on physical appearance, making lewd or sexist jokes and inquiring about personal information are also beneficial steps towards respecting your colleagues' personal space. There is still much work to be done in order to create safe work environments, but with more and more women speaking up and taking on higher positions, women can feel safer and hopefully have less contributions to make to the #MeToo movement.