Austin Meacham

Hi, I’m Austin Meacham, an associate at Valor Ventures. I’m here with my colleague Bryanna Barnett, and we’re excited to welcome Startup Runway Finalist Tia Robinson of Vertical Activewear

Bryanna Barnett

Hello, my name is Bryanna Barnett, co-host for today’s Atlanta Startup Podcast. We are joined by an amazing entrepreneur today, Miss Tia Robinson of Vertical Activewear. Tia was part of our 9th cohort of Startup Runway finalists and she’s an incredible person. We’re really lucky to speak with her today and hear more about what she’s working on. Tia, thanks for being here. For those who don’t know, Vertical Activewear, would you mind sharing about what you do and what you’re working on currently?

Tia Robinson

Sure. So, thank you for having me. Just to give some background in terms of Vertical Activewear, we are a sustainable lifestyle brand. That’s created for women of all shapes, sizes and fitness interests. We are direct to consumer brands so you can find us online at www.verticalactivewear.com. And again, happy to be here.

Austin Meacham

That’s awesome. Tia. Yeah, we’re really glad to have you. I’m curious. What do you think about the B2C market and how it’s changed with COVID?

Tia Robinson

Oh, wow. Well, I think it’s amazing. I think in terms of how it’s changed, as it relates to COVID, it definitely showed the need in terms of making sure that you have an online presence as a brand, in order to be able to sustain customers, and a strong presence is amazing, especially since the majority of the stores were closed. We were all under quarantine. Certain things couldn’t be purchased and even if they could be purchased, from an online standpoint, there were delays depending on where you were looking to buy or purchase those items for or from rather. I think it’s been a really important time to be in this space. I’ve definitely learned a lot as a founder and CEO, as it relates to COVID and the importance of direct to consumer marketing and businesses over the past couple of months.

Bryanna Barnett

Wow, I really appreciate that insight, especially with everything going on. I’m sure our listeners would love to hear what some founders are thinking about as they move through these times. Of course, you know that you already were kind of ahead of the curve with your online presence. But I would love to hear if you’ve made any other changes during this period or in general in order to work through your product, your service, your product line, and the things you have going on.

Tia Robinson

Yeah, definitely. Well, one of the things that I’ve been working on and looking to make the transition towards even before COVID-19 hit was bringing my manufacturing process here to the US, right? Making sure that the brand was the US made was very important to me, and also transitioning the brand so that really is focused on sustainable living. Sustainable lifestyle, more eco-friendly fabrics, and really not focusing on having a whole bunch of inventory. But you know, being very conservative when it comes to production and what that does to the environment. Those were all things that were important to me and things I was looking to transition towards before COVID. When COVID hit, it just really reinforced the importance of some of those changes that I had made at that point and changes that I was going to be making or would need to make post-COVID. For instance, a lot of folks had difficulty getting inventory if they were using vendors overseas. So there was a period of time where a lot of folks if you didn’t have inventory on hand, had difficulty with being able to replenish products. Being able to work with someone or work with a vendor that’s here in the US helps to mitigate some of those issues in terms of being able to have the products to be able to fulfill orders, to keep the business going, and also to service my customers were truly, truly important. I was glad that I started making that change before COVID. During COVID, just really getting an opportunity to speak to the customers inquire about the brand and inquire about the things that they’re looking for. One of the big things that I noticed during this particular time was that folks were really, really focused on wellness. They were really, really focused on being active, despite the gyms being closed. Folks working from home, working out while at home, eating healthier, these were all key factors that my customers shared with me during this particular time. It really allowed me to know that I was on the right path when it came to Vertical. What it is that they need, in particular, to be able to help sustain them during this time, because I always want to be of service. I always want to be able to help my customers when it comes to their personal wellness growth. So being able to offer them things such as classes online, either through Facebook or Instagram, being able to have more conversations about wellness and different things that they can do. Whether that be meditation, or meal preparation, and what it looks like to do some weight training at home, these were all things that allowed us to be able to help serve our community and our customers and to keep people motivated during this time. A lot of learning that we learned during this period.

Austin Meacham

It’s really awesome to hear. Can you share your inspiration for starting the company as a whole?

Tia Robinson

Wow. Well, my inspiration started probably back in 2009. I started my personal wellness journey around that time. I was looking for some ways to get into the shape that were going to be fun and keep me interested in fitness. I started doing a variety of different forms of fitness such as dance pole, yoga, barre, you name it, I tried it. One of the things that I had a difficult time finding was activewear that fit those forms of fitness. But in addition to fitting those forms of fitness, a brand that really represented me in terms of my style from a fashion standpoint and then also fit my body type because though I am very active, I am not your sample size body, when it comes to what people equate a fit lifestyle with. I’m not a size small, right? I have a larger frame and a larger body. I wanted to make sure that I was wearing stuff that still was fashionable and stylish from an activewear standpoint, that was supportive and functional, that was in my size that I could integrate into my current wardrobe and that worked for all of these different forms of fitness that I was doing. I decided that I would go ahead and have someone start making some stuff for me. And from there, I would wear some shorts or wear some leggings and go to class. My classmates would say, “Where did you get that from?” And I’d say I had them made and they’re like, “Well, you know, if you may have one made for me, I’ll pay you for it.” And 10 months later, I found myself selling probably $17,000 in like shorts in a short period of time and having the foundation for a business. That’s really where Vertical started. It started with me just making stuff for myself and people liking it and wanting to pay for what it is that they saw and then me saying, “Hey, this has some legs here.”

Bryanna Barnett

Wow, I really love to hear that backstory. It’s super inspiring. I know. I got my first hint of it during Startup Runway listening to your pitch. And speaking of such, I’d really love to hear about your experience with Startup Runway, or maybe some key takeaways you have from the event. Would you recommend this to other founders?

Tia Robinson

Oh, sure. Well, I mean, I would start with the last question, I would definitely recommend it for other founders. If there was one thing that I got out of it, though, I got multiple things just as a founder, being able to practice your pitch, right? Being able to talk about your business and your brand in a very succinct way directly to investors is super, super important. The practice that you put into it and the preparation that you put into, it definitely prepares you for having more of those conversations. So I would say at the very least, just being able to prepare your pitch and get in the mode of starting to think around how conversations should be facilitated when it comes to talking to investors, is truly, truly truly, truly important. It’s definitely something that I feel like CEOs and founders need to practice doing because it’s super, super helpful. One of the things I absolutely loved about the experience was the mock board presentation. I feel like I got tons out of that experience in terms of just being able to prepare a “board meeting” in front of founders, and folks that really have experience working with startups, and helping startups seek funding. As well as investors and being able to just sit and kind of be able to pick one pain point to talk about and to get their insight, to get their thoughts, to be able to get their knowledge to pick their brain and ask questions was a very amazing experience. It was cool. Because this was a real pain point that I was experiencing. And being able to have that caliber of folks in the room, being able to give insight was something that you know, I won’t forget. It’s immeasurable. I definitely would recommend it and that was probably the highlight of my experience.

Austin Meacham

That’s, that’s really amazing to hear. I’m curious how you felt about the virtual pitch? Was it better or worse for you?

Tia Robinson

The pitch battle was great. I think a lot of folks are like, “Oh, you know, what’s the new norm look like when it comes to hosting these types of things, and facilitating meetings and things that are stored in?” I have experienced it in just working virtual, so it’s not something that’s new to me in terms of concept, but I thought that the way that it was done was in a way that allowed us to be the brand, or the business or the CEO and the founder, to really present their presentation in an authentic way. I have pitched in front of an auditorium of folks, in addition to pitching in a small group. I would say that this was probably one of the more easier experiences though I recorded a few times. Usually when you pitch, you pitch one. But this allowed me to really be able to hit all of the points and all of the bullets that I wanted to address when speaking to a potential investor. I enjoyed the experience.

Bryanna Barnett

We definitely love to hear that. I know that with the pitches, you also received quite a bit of feedback from some prominent venture capitalists. So I was wondering, did you have any feedback or insights that you received that particularly resonated with you or that you could really resonate with?

Tia Robinson

I think all of the feedback I pretty much took with open arms and was very receptive to it. I got a lot of kudos. I got a lot of folks that said, “Yes, this is great.” I got some folks that understood the space because they were probably women and they understood some of the challenges that I addressed in my presentation. I had some folks that were like, “Great job. This is not definitely not necessarily my space of expertise. But I think you did a great job in terms of your presentation.” And I got some tidbits in terms of things to be able to make my pitch a little bit stronger. I took everything that I received from the folks that took the time to look at my presentation, to read my executive summary, and to take a moment to just type up some words and be able to share and pour that into me. I took that and definitely applied it. I’m definitely going to use it for my next pitch. So I took everything and accepted it with open arms.

Austin Meacham

It’s awesome that your feedback was so comprehensive. I’m sure it was really valuable. I am curious, as we start to look to the next cohort of Startup Runway founders, what are some of the little pieces of advice that you would give to people for our next event?

Tia Robinson

I would say, to do it. I think sometimes we as CEO, and founders try to wait for the perfect time to start the process or what we perceive as the perfect time to start the process to engage with potential investors. But I think that this experience was so much more than only just engaging with potential investors. There were folks that I met from other businesses that we’re able to connect on LinkedIn, and be able to share different tips and tools in terms of things that we’re utilizing currently within our businesses and our practices that are helping to push the needle, right? There are folks in the room that offer different services that could be able to help. And then also there were folks during my mock presentation that were like, “Hey, you mentioned this brand and this brand, I know somebody from there.” or, “You mentioned this retailer, and this retailer, I know somebody from there that I can connect you with, right?” So it’s just bigger than only getting ready and gearing up to ask for an investment. It’s really about helping to position your business in the best way that you possibly can so that your business can thrive. So I would just tell folks to do it, there’s no harm in applying, there are some really great exercises that you’ll take on to be able to move your pitch presentation to the next level. I don’t think that there’s any harm in that. It’s just additional knowledge and information that you get that I think it would be beneficial to any CEO and founder. So just get out there and do it.

Bryanna Barnett

I love to hear the passion behind what you’re working on and what you’re doing. I kind of want to shift gears here. I know that obviously, you’re really passionate about the mission of Vertical Activewear. At this time, I’m curious to know more about what kind of customers you’re looking at or looking for right now to serve?

Tia Robinson

Sure. As I mentioned, Vertical Activewear is a sustainable lifestyle for women of all shapes, sizes, and fitness interests and so we are rolling out a new website in November to really be able to spot like that because we make activewear that is for women who do dance, who do yoga, who do barre, who work out at the gym, who want to use their apparel as leisurewear. It’s made from recycled plastic. So it’s really for the woman that is focused on the environment, self-awareness, self-expression, self-care. You know, we want to focus on being a greener brand. Being diverse because we speak to a variety of forms of fitness. Sustainable, we only produce what we need, overproduction is really one of those things that we really like to focus on. So we really, really do a good job in terms of being able to just produce and manufacture what it is that we need because we understand that that helps to reduce carbon emissions and also inclusivity, right? So our size ranges from extra small to 2XL at this moment, but at the launch of the website, we’ll be going from extra small to four XL. So whatever journey you’re on as it relates to your wellness, you will be able to find apparel in your size that works for your form of fitness, that’s good for the environment by purchasing some Vertical Activewear.

Austin Meacham

Totally awesome to hear. It’s great that you’re going to show inclusivity, that’s so important. I am curious about the sustainable activewear industry. Where do you see that going as the industry evolves?

Tia Robinson

Well, the thing is we understand and we know that overproduction is a huge, huge, huge issue as it relates to the environment. We’ve got plastic bottles that are polluting our oceans. The fashion industry has been known for overproduction in terms of over making fabrics, and the fashion industry is one of the top pollutants in terms of the environment. I think a lot of folks are moving in the direction of educating themselves on the importance of overproduction and sustainability and looking for different ways that they can go ahead and mitigate that. We just really wanted to make sure that we were making this change in the ship early in our company. Because I’m a meditation instructor and a life coach by trade, I’ve been doing this work for five years now. I’ve been a meditator for 13/14 years. And so just in terms of my own personal consciousness, I saw that it was important for me to educate myself on this process and figure out ways to make sure that I’m integrating it into everything it is that I do and I touch and that includes Vertical Activewear. So I definitely do see that there’s a shift in the industry but we’re a young and new company, and scrappy and we’re able to make that transition really, really quickly. And definitely make it one of the top pillars as it relates to where we stand as a company and as an organization. I think it’s important for us to do that and we’re starting to see the industry as a whole start to move in that direction.

Austin Meacham

Well said.

Bryanna Barnett

Yes, that’s definitely an interesting perspective to be able to listen in on. Of course, you’ve spoken about the mission and how you’ve come to this point of wanting to push forward with inclusivity and sustainability and being a whole, well rounded, healthy individual. But I’d love to hear more personally, as a founder. We know about all the trials and tribulations that comes with working with an organization of this nature, what are some of the things that kind of drives you to keep going and keep looking forward when times are tough?

Tia Robinson

I love what I do. I love my customers. I truly love what it is that I do. And I can’t see myself doing anything outside of what it is that I’m currently doing. So it’s very simple. It’s not always easy, but it’s very simple for me because I absolutely love and have a passion for what it is that I do. I’m excited about the little things when it comes to Vertical. That could be sourcing a recycled piece of elastic, right? That’s like a win for me. To the big things, in terms of being able to pitch and get investors on board that really believe in the brand. As I said, it’s very simple to me, sometimes it’s not always the easy decision to be an entrepreneur. Because the days become a blur. You’re constantly problem solving and focusing on being solution oriented. You make sacrifices in your personal life, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Because I absolutely love what I do.

Austin Meacham

That’s fascinating to hear that you love what you’re doing so much. That’s the goal for many people and what you’re doing is absolutely amazing. I’m curious about how can people contact you? What are the different mediums where people can reach you? 

Tia Robinson

Sure. So we’re at www.verticalactivewear.com and like I said, our new website will be launching in November. So as long as you go and register and join our mailing list, you’ll be notified when that new email or the new website drops. We’re also on Instagram at @verticaactivewear, and Facebook as well at Vertical Activewear, and we also have a YouTube page as well, if you search Vertical Activewear. So those are pretty much the mediums that we are on and we’re pretty active. Yeah, more to come in 2021 as

Austin Meacham

Thank you so much, Tia. We really appreciate everything. This has been absolutely incredible. You are an amazing entrepreneur. It’s really great hearing the inspiration behind Vertical Activewear and all the things that go on. So thank you so much.

Tia Robinson

Thank you.

Bryanna Barnett

Yes, I definitely want to second that. I love your passion. I love the mission of Vertical Activewear and what you guys are doing. I just want to thank you once again for taking the time to speak with us for participating in Startup Runway and we wish you the best and we hope to speak with you again soon. 

Tia Robinson

Thank you.

Lisa

The Atlanta Startup Podcast is produced by Valor Ventures as a service to the startup and investor community. We couldn’t do it without the support of our sponsors–Atlanta Tech Park, the global innovation center, and Write2Market, Atlanta’s favorite tech, and healthcare marketing firm. If you’d like to get your information on the Atlanta Startup Podcast, our share a message with our listeners, visit us online and check out our affordable rate card. All advertisements here are tax-deductible donations to the Startup Runway Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is connecting underrepresented founders to their first investor.