Entrepreneur Of The Week – Bella Kinesis
Neither of us was the sporty girl growing up. We both attended all-girls boarding schools where sport activities were compulsory. Almost all options were competitive sports – lacrosse, netball and athletics. We approached these lessons with dread and with the knowledge that we would be chosen last, have the slowest 100m time, or fall flat on our faces after a hurdle. The whole experience put us off exercise altogether. Six years after graduation, we decided to give it another go.
Two different body types meant two different needs. I was underweight and particularly weak, having just left a high stress job and Shaleena was overweight and uncomfortable in her own body. I started with a beginner Ashtanga yoga course. For me, yoga was the first time that I’d actually felt strong. My scrawny arms gradually managed to handle chatarunga – and since then I’ve been hooked. Shaleena became a gym regular and started running. She has now completed two 10Ks.
For sportswear, shopping together was a bit of an issue. We had such different requirements and struggled to find clothes that were fun, supportive and well priced. Cogs started turning and we started thinking about creating our own line. Coincidentally, we were also both spending a lot of time in India. Shaleena was working with a photographer and I was helping my sister plan her wedding in Goa. We would frequently discuss the dire state of women in the country and the constant danger that even we felt walking around Mumbai. Reading the Times of India was just depressing; the rape stories never seemed to subside.
When we got back to London, I was reading ‘Start Something that Matters’ by the man who started TOMS shoes. When I put it down I made a promise to myself that I was going to do just that. Bella Kinesis combines both our love and belief in personal fitness and our need to address the issues faced by women worldwide.
Tell us about you and the business?
Bella Kinesis is an ethical fitness wear brand for women. For each item of sportswear we sell, we fund a business education for a woman in rural India. Exercise not only makes women physically stronger, but also leaves them feeling more confident and empowered. We wanted to give this same feeling to other women by helping them start their own businesses. As one woman shares her force with another, she creates a chain reaction. We call our movement ‘strength for strength’. Bella Kinesis is reinventing power dressing.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Shaleena and I have been best friends since we were kids. We both started to workout around the same time, and when we went shopping together, we felt that most of the workout clothing out there was designed for women who were already fit. As both of us have such different body types, it was frustrating not being able to find something that suited us. We decided to create a sportswear line that was fun, functional, well-priced and flattering for women with different body shapes.
Around the same time, we were spending a lot of time in India and were constantly bothered by the never ending articles we’d read in the papers about violence against women. We wanted to do something to address the issue but weren’t sure how to go about it. We read about the Mann Deshi Foundation and the incredible work they were doing and decided to partner with them. Giving a woman a business education provides them with a lifelong benefit that they can then pass on to their community. We really believe that these are the types of projects that will eventually change the status of women on a national level.
What inspired you into starting a business?
I was reading ‘Start Something that Matters’ by the man who started TOMS shoes. The book had a real effect on me and was the final push I needed to really make the idea happen. Between Shaleena and I, we had a diverse skill set – mine was in finance and hers in fashion. We decided to bulk up our skill set further by taking courses is Graphic Design and Digital Marketing. Then we felt ready to take the plunge and to set the business in motion.
How did you know there was a gap in the market for it?
We did some market research and also conducted a survey asking women about what they looked for in sportswear. We thought we could offer something different to what was already out there. Exercise should make women feel great – we want our clothes to appeal to women no matter where they are on their fitness journey. They should just feel proud that they’ve started! Our designs are bold yet functional with the use of our custom made graphic prints. We’ve positioned our pricing between high street and premium brands to appeal to a younger demographic.
What were you doing before you started?
I was working in investment banking at Citigroup and Shaleena was working for Vogue India. Neither of us had any manufacturing experience so we had to learn about the process as we went along. Luckily we have some family members in the trade, who we can rely on to advise us. It took us a year to launch the collection but we spent the time working on our blog and social media to build a name for ourselves within the fitness community.
Have you always wanted to be a budding entrepreneur and when did your entrepreneurial career first start?
I originally thought I would work my way up the corporate ladder but after a few years in the business, I knew it wasn’t the right path for me. I liked the idea of being an entrepreneur but lacked the confidence to see it through. For me, the scariest part was putting my idea out there and risking being ridiculed. Eventually, I knew I had to let go of all my little hangups and find the courage to get going. Once it happened, I found that most people were incredibly supportive.
How did you raise the funding for the business? Do you own 100% of the company?
We put in half of the funding from our savings and raised the rest of the money through a government backed startup loan. Shaleena and I each hold 50% of the company.
Describe your business model and how do you make money?
We design and manufacture women’s sportswear. We have sourced the best technical fabrics from Europe and have our garments manufactured here in the UK. We currently sell all our products online but will be retailing in pop-up locations this year. In the future, we’d love to have our own stand-alone store!
What was the turnover for the business last year?
We only launched in December 2014 so unfortunately we have no figures to give you.
What challenges have you faced since starting and how easy has it been to overcome them?
Sourcing the materials and finding the right manufacturer were our biggest challenges. We’ve personally chosen every zip, cup, and stitch that has gone into our garments. We’re both new to the garment business so we chose to manufacture in the UK so that we could see firsthand how the clothes were made.
What was your biggest breakthrough?
Our first sales to people we didn’t know! Friends and family have been incredibly supportive along the way, but that external validation felt particularly rewarding.
What is the companies USP?
Being designed by women of different sizes, our line is meant to suit women of all body shapes. We’ve combined high performance fabrics, flattering silhouettes and graphic prints to garments that will work as hard as you do.
Bella Kinesis is not just about fitness; it’s about being strong women. We want to create a community of women that support and encourage each other to improve themselves in many different fields.
What advice would you give budding entrepreneurs?
Find a great business partner – the whole startup process can really take a toll on your emotions. It’s easy to take all the setbacks to heart when you’ve put every bit of yourself into the business. You really need someone with whom you can share the hitches and also the little victories you’ll encounter along the way.
Where do you see yourself in five years’ time?
We’re really excited to grow our team and set ourselves up in a proper office. We hope Bella Kinesis will be known as a brand with great products, great ethos and great service.
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