m: Tell us about your backgrounds, professionally, athletically and academically, and why you decided to go into business for yourself.
Maya: I do not quite have a professional background yet as I’m still a student! I’m finishing a Masters degree in Industrial Design at Carleton University. Athletically, I have played badminton at the provincial level, transitioned into competitive CrossFit, to Powerlifting, and now dabbling in a Figure competition. I put no limits on my capabilities. My passions are broad and seem to be multiplying all the time. There are so many things I love and want to share with the world, which is why I wanted to create a business as an outlet. Through the brand we are creating, my intention is to be a symbol of positive body image, lifestyle, and overall health.
Marta: I currently work as a Recreation Administrator in charge of a University Fitness Centre. I didn`t always have ambitions to work in recreation or fitness but it seems to be a path that I`ve been drawn to. I began academically in political science but made a switch to Human Kinetics after being inspired by a close friend to pursue my interest in fitness. The ability to help someone find their strength and confidence in their body and their own ability is really unique and special. I became a bit adventurous in university where I tried fencing and fell in love with it and I grew to love training. Eventually I competed in Olympic Weightlifting and trained in Crossfit for several years. I think that starting a business is really an extension on the fitness and life journey that I seem to have started way back when.
m: When you decided to start your own company, what steps did you take?
Maya: I had been doing some wholesale retail for individuals prior to this and so through this I knew there was a potential market. As Maya and I talked our philosophy developed and we were able to set out with a few concrete goals in mind.
Marta: We started with one brand we knew and loved: Karma Wear. Although you can find Karma sporadically in some chain stores, we knew we could provide better service to our community. However, Karma is just one brand. We wanted this endeavour to be more than a distribution outlet for someone else, we wanted it to be its own entity. It needed a unique identity and mission. We searched for other existing brands that fit with our philosophies, looked at business models for apparel companies, and researched some case studies to have a clearer idea of the path we wanted to take. We are well versed, educated and immersed in the fitness industry, so we had an idea of our target community’s needs because we are living them!
m: Grit & Grace offers athletic clothing for athletic women of all body types. Expand on this concept, and why you think it’s unique in the industry.
Maya: We’re actually aiming for our apparel to be for men too! But there aren’t as many sources available (sorry guys!) We’re working on getting some collaborations going so guys can feel good about their thighs too. And their big ‘squat bums.’ In all seriousness, though, that’s why we started this company. There are too few companies out there that cater to people, men and women, who have muscle, and some body fat, too! You shouldn’t have to be an 8% body fat athlete to own your muscle and be confident, but when you try to find a dress that zips over your lats and all you can see is “back fat” or you have to buy the biggest pant size just to get them past your calves, it doesn’t make you feel very good. We’ve been wired to think that if we don’t fit the mold, there’s something wrong with us. So we are here to tell people it’s OK to have muscle. It’s OK to have fat. It’s OK to move and lift and stretch and just be human! Whatever stage you’re at in your life, there should be more options than ‘normal,’ ‘plus sized’ and ‘athletic wear.’ Where’s the just plain ‘human’ wear?
Marta: It was really important for this business not to be just another retailer. We strongly believe that when someone feels good in their clothes it helps them to feel confident and good about their body. A huge part of this business is the fostering of a healthy body image and a celebration of what our bodies can do. Clothes should enhance how you feel about your body they shouldn’t constrain you or make you feel ashamed of how hard you just worked in the gym. Everyone assumes that people with ‘athletic bodies’ have it easy but there is a reason I wear pretty much everything with lycra in it. Grit & Grace means being both and not needing to sacrifice one for the other. I actually think the fitness industry is slowly starting to move in the right direction by showcasing a larger variety of body types, as well as celebrating individual achievements and not just those of ‘professional athletes,’ however, as Maya said the need to be comfortable and confident doesn’t end in the gym. We need to expand this to everything that we do.
m: How have you been getting the word out about your business? How have you been able to grow your business?
Maya: We both still have either a full-time job or studies on our hands, so finding the time to grow hasn’t been top priority – yet. We’ve been keeping our eyes out for CrossFit competitions and other events in Ottawa and as far as Toronto, where we’ll set up our Pop-Up Shop and meet the community. We got a website going after the first competition we attended where there was a lot of interest in a website. We are also on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter where we advocate healthy living through articles that also speak our message. In the near future, we will be investing more time into our social media campaign in order to raise awareness about our brand and create a following of like-minded people.
m: What is the most rewarding part of running Grit & Grace?
Maya: The most rewarding part about Grit & Grace is sharing our passion. If we can inspire, cheer up, motivate, and encourage even one person on any given day, we have accomplished our mission.
Marta: For me it is definitely the people that you get to meet and it is rewarding to hear people really respond to the message that Grit & Grace represents. It is a great feeling when what you are passionate about actually makes a difference to someone. We are definitely not just going to stop at clothing.
m: What is the most challenging part?
Maya: The most challenging part is Business! It’s keeping up with finances and accounting and social media. It’s managing stock and placing orders and hoping that people will love the products we offer as much as we do. Also, as much as social media and the Internet is an amazing tool for business development, you are also expected to have a social media presence. This either adds a whole extra level of expertise and time commitment, or it requires money to get someone to do it for you! There are lots of tools out there to help, but there’s always a learning curve and a time commitment involved, which takes away from what you’re actually trying to do,
Marta: Social media is a challenge for me. I am quite comfortable being an introvert so putting things out there is quite daunting but a definitely goal for me to learn more about. Finding time for everything is also difficult, this is where being passionate about what you do and being able to see beyond the paper work is a huge help. I’m also not going to lie; I get butterflies every time I get to open a new box of stock that has arrived, it’s the same excitement as opening presents, so great!
m: Do you have any advice for women who are looking to start a similar business?
Maya: We’re running on passion and creativity right now. Starting a business is a crazy thing…but in some senses it’s also extremely easy. The tools are there. You just need the ambition to learn how to use them. Getting help from people in the industry who have been through the process, or who can put you in contact with the right people is invaluable.
Marta: There is a “leap of faith” involved in starting your own business. If the passion is there then the next step for sure is research, research and more research, but ultimately you do have to take that first step and go for it. I did find that after a while things can start to feel overwhelming and this is where surrounding yourself with people who have done it before is key.
m: Any plans for expansion?
Maya: Of course! Once we raise more awareness and increase our market, I would love to see Grit & Grace move into production. We already have some contacts in the design industry and I would be thrilled to foster those relationships and create some really amazing apparel that breaks away from the restrictions of “sportswear” and “yogawear.” Life is more than sports, yoga, and work. Things are starting to move…but the fashion industry hasn’t quite figured out how to make “sports fashion” not look gimmicky, and the sportswear companies haven’t been able to break away from “yogawear” in addressing lifestyle apparel. So, we’re making it our mission to create a new realm of apparel. Grit & Grace will be a trademark and advocate for “lifewear.”
Marta: I would also love to expand upon our philosophy and build upon my training experience to offer fitness and lifestyle programs. Healthy body image and body confidence is very important to us personally as well as being a key part of our business, so growing programs to support this would definitely be something that we would work toward in the future.