From a less than ideal childhood to the ring of the WWE to the world of designing “athleisure" fashion for her Celestial Bodiez line, Celeste Bonin is a woman who makes things happen – no matter what those things are; how they might come up; and how hard it might be to make them happen.
Hailing from Houston, Texas, Bonin will quickly tell anyone who asks that, “No, I don't have a southern accent and, yes, y'all is a word." She now lives in South Florida where, she says, “I live my life in yoga pants and tank tops and I'm not sorry."
Bonin says growing up she was an angel. “A dirty, bug collecting, jorts-wearing angel. I was a tomboy to the core. Once I was able to articulate it, I swore off dresses. I played sports, climbed trees, and refused to let my mom touch my hair. I was, am, and forever will be, the most accident-prone person I know. Yet, I've never broken a bone. EVER (unless you count the nose. Never did see any of those doorknobs coming…or the iron…) I attribute it to all the milk I drank. Oh, yea, and my brick shithouse genetics."
She describes her childhood as dysfunctional. But asks, “Isn't everyone's?" Her father was in and out of her life and her mother raised her and her brother on her own. “She even taught us how to read before we started kindergarten. I was the smart-ass writing in cursive when the other kids were still writing backward “N's." Little idiots."
Bonin says they grew up poor but her mom made sure they didn't really know they were poor until they were old enough to understand what that meant. “I started working at 14 and have never stopped. She says that having a lot of responsibilities, like contributing to the household income, really forced her to grow up quickly and, she adds, “Tt most certainly taught me the value of a dollar."
Celeste Bonin loved wrestling when she was a kid. “For some reason, I was a huge Vader fan. I didn't really start watching again until my early twenties. Seeing the women that were a part of the show really lit a fire inside of me. I was always super athletic and never really had a problem making an ass of myself. I have this really interesting quality about me where I set my sights on something and will literally do whatever it takes to get there. Some call it ballsy. Some call it stupid. Hey, if you never try, you'll never know."
Like many other things in Bonin's life, becoming a part of the WWE had a heck of a lot to do with serendipity.
“I had the opportunity to try out in 2010 through a friend that had previously been a part of the developmental program (basically the minor leagues of WWE). Hardest. Week. Ever. They really put you through the ringer and test your mental and physical fortitude during a tryout. It's a very physically demanding and a cut-throat industry. It's definitely not for the faint of heart. That being said, I loved every second of it. Even the shitty parts. Maybe I didn't love those parts while I was enduring them but hindsight is 20/20. It is so necessary to endure those tough moments to truly grow as a performer, as a professional, and most importantly as a person."
Being a part of WWE afforded Bonin all sorts of opportunities for traveling the world to performing in front of thousands in sold-out arenas and on live TV. “There's nothing else like it. It taught me a lot about myself and gave me the confidence and the 'Fuck it, let's do it' attitude that I have now."
Bonin describes herself as a chaotic, determined freight-train. And what would friends say? “Stupid. Fucking. Asshole. Just kidding. Maybe they would say, resilient, indecent, and headstrong." All joking aside, she has made some tough decisions throughout her life. “I passed up a soccer scholarship opportunity to stay close to home and help with some family hardships. I was bitter at first but it ended up leading me down an amazing path. I started with a few community college classes and then eventually chose to study fine arts with the ultimate goal of a career in special effects make-up and/or set design. I never finished school. I had the opportunity to try out for WWE mid-semester and I just never looked back."
How all of this leads her to the world of fashion is a whole other story. If you ask Bonin if fashion's always been her thing, she'll tell you yes… and no. “I've always put my own flair or style on current trends. I love shopping at resale shops and secondhand places. You really find so many gems. Most importantly, I'm an advocate of comfort over everything. You never know when you'll need to roundhouse kick someone in the face. You know, vigilantly crime fighting."
As for her own personal style, Bonin calls it “hobo-esque, flamboyant military, flannel grunge-chic. This is actually the inspiration behind my new line coming out under Celestial Bodiez. It's comfortable, flattering activewear with a very 'Steam Punk' vibe."
Designing a clothing line was not exactly at the top of her to-do list. But when the idea for Celestial Bodiez came to her, she couldn't help but run with it. “The original concept of #Bootyscrunch (the signature seam in all of my garments), was actually something that originated in my WWE days. My seamstress would sew a ruching in the butt seam of all of my wrestling outfits to create a more flattering fit. I took the idea and ran with it. No one was doing this in athletic wear. I've always known I would do some epic shit in my life but I never envisioned myself as a clothing designer. Well, I guess I never pictured myself as a professional wrestler either. Life is so funny."
Of course, Bonin hopes that her clothing line will be more than, well, just a clothing line. When a woman puts on something from Celestial Bodiez, she wants them to look in the mirror and say, “Fuck yea." "I want them to love the way they look and I want them to be comfortable above all else. When you look good, you feel good, and when you feel good, you are capable of so much."
"I want them to love the way they look and I want them to be comfortable above all else. When you look good, you feel good, and when you feel good, you are capable of so much." -Celeste Bonin
When Bonin thinks about the future, she says the one thing she knows for sure is that she's going to be doing exactly what she's doing right now for as long as she can. “I want Celestial Bodiez to continue growing and to be a big player in the athleisure industry. My goal is not only to continue putting out high-quality athletic apparel but to also build a culture that women want to be a part of. I want to be a voice and use my company and my platform to share my experience as a young executive woman. If I can do it, you sure as fuck can too!"
Although Bonin has thrown herself into the designing world full time, that hasn't kept her out of the ring completely. “I also have been spending more and more time back in the wrestling ring. It's really just a therapeutic thing for me (even though it kicks my ass). After a really rough 2017, which included a nasty divorce, I've realized that I owe it to myself to take some time to do things I love, things that inspire me and ignite passion inside of me."
Above all else, Bonin says she lives by the “Oh Shit Method" and imagines many women could benefit by following the same code. “This is the head on; leap before you look; figure it out as you go manner in which I live my life. Life is too short to wait to try new things; start a business; change careers, etcetera. In fact, if you wait until you're 'ready,' you'll never actually feel ready. No one's ever really ready. You figure it out as you go. If you fail, you fail. Failure teaches you. Failure is growth."
We're here. We're queer. Now that it's pride month, it feels like every store and corporation is flooding us with their best rainbow merchandise, capitalizing on a $917 billion dollar consumer market.
The rainbow flags are out. The mannequins are sporting pride tees. And corporate newsletters are full of interviews showcasing all their queer employees ("Look, we have a gay person here! We GET you!").
To me, this is blatant evidence that the future is queer.
These corporations follow the money, and with 20% of millennials and 31% of Gen Z openly identifying as queer, these businesses have to capitalize on the growing purchasing power of LGBTQIA+ consumers. With a recorded market size of $917 billion dollars in 2016, and a growing interest in socially conscious brands among young consumers, this is clearly a market opportunity that corporations cannot afford to ignore.
However, I'm always surprised by how little attention investors and the entrepreneurial community devotes to this undeniable trend, despite being constantly inundated with overwhelming statistics proving the importance of diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship. Only 2.2% of venture capital funding went to women in 2018, less than .1% of funding has been allocated to black women since 2009, and only about 1% of venture-backed companies have a black founder or Latinx founder. These statistics are over-quoted but underacted upon.
This gender and diversity inequality significantly hinders economic growth, since 85% of all consumer purchases are controlled by women, and startups with higher ethnic diversity tend to produce financial returns above their industry norm.
The data is clearly leading to one direction: investing in women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, veterans, immigrants, and other minority groups in entrepreneurship leads to higher revenue and better business results.
As data-driven and forward-thinking as this industry claims to be, we haven't caught up to the queer founders, particularly queer women, who are rethinking the future. These founders understand and speak to a generation of increasing numbers of LGBTQIA+ people whose market share will only continue to grow exponentially. VCs and investors are already behind the curve.
SoGal Foundation, a non-profit on a mission to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship, is helping bridge this divide between queer women founders and investors with the launch of applications for the second annual Global Pitch Competition for diverse entrepreneurs. Hosted in 25+ cities across five continents, and culminating in a final global pitch competition and 3-day immersive educational bootcamp in Silicon Valley, this is the first and only globally-focused pitch opportunity for diverse entrepreneurs.
Startups that are pre-Series A (raised less than $3M) with at least one woman or diverse founder, apply here to pitch! The top teams selected from each regional round will join SoGal's final global pitch competition and bootcamp in Silicon Valley for guaranteed face time with dozens of top Silicon Valley investors, curated educational programming, unparalleled 1:1 mentorship, press exposure, and a chance to win investment capital.
Women, people of color, and LGBTQIA+ founders: what's the best way to kick off pride? Apply to pitch!
Regional pitch rounds will be held August-November 2019; final pitch competition in Silicon Valley in February 2020. Details and additional cities to be announced.
SoGal Foundation is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and the largest global platform for diverse founders and funders in 40+ chapters across 5 continents; our mission is to close the diversity gap in entrepreneurship. SoGal Foundation's global startup competition represents the first and largest opportunity for women and diverse entrepreneurs and investors to connect worldwide. Join the SoGal community & follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.