You might be surprised to learn that the majority of the clothing in your closet is going to outlive you. Traditional textiles and clothes can take up to 200 years to breakdown in the landfill.
That means your gym shorts or favorite yoga pants could be sitting in a pile of trash long after you’re gone. Although this is an eerie thought – it’s also extremely eye-opening to the amount of apparel waste we generate and leave behind.
According to reports, an average American will toss out 81 pounds of clothing each year.
That amounts to 26 billion pounds of textiles and clothes ending up in landfills. Additionally, the decomposing clothes release methane, a harmful greenhouse gas.
Perspective Fitwear: Ethical Apparel Made in the U.S.
Stephanie Ertzberger, a first time entrepreneur in San Diego is on a mission to raise awareness about the harmful effects of clothing waste through the launch of her eco-friendly fitness apparel company – Perspective Fitwear.
In the following interview, Ertzberger explains why she decided to develop an ethical fitness line of clothing for women, and how she is leveraging local marketing and advertising channels like Facebook, Instagram and Amazon to educate & empower her target audience today.
When Ertzberger set out to establish Perspective Fitwear – she knew it wouldn’t be easy.
For one, she was determined to manufacture all her products in the United States, which could result in higher production costs.
Another obstacle was that she wanted to create the apparel line from an eco-friendly material (also known as a “smart fabric”). This particular type of fabric can decompose in less than 4 years if placed in a landfill – significantly less time than traditional clothing.
Unfortunately, terms such as “biodegradable fabric” or “sustainable plant-based sources” are often misinterpreted, prompting shoppers to ask questions like, “Is my shirt going to hold up well?” or “Can I wash and wear it just as often as my regular clothes?”
The short answer is yes, but educating customers on the value of these materials is extremely important and vital to the success of the brand.
Triathlete Aims To Empower Women & Establish Brand
Although starting her own business would require financial investment, time, and a lot of patience – Ertzberger was up to the challenge for two reasons:
First, she’s an athlete.
Ertzberger applied herself to sports and eventually became a Division 1 athlete in college. After receiving a degree in Finance, she decided to continue her participation in sports and became a triathlete and marathon runner.
Second – she’s well-versed in the retail industry.
Ertzberger also spent 5 years working in multiple divisions of Macy’s headquarters in New York City. From Buying to Inventory Management to Merchandise Planning, Ertzberger is comfortable navigating the inner workings of a big box retailer.
After leaving Macy’s, Ertzberger made the decision to immersed herself in the start up business community. Utilizing various resources including the San Diego Small Business Association (SBA), she educated herself on how to establish a successful, profitable and most importantly – ethical business.
Q. Why did you decide to launch Perspective Fitwear?
Perspective Fitwear is an athletic clothing company, specializing in women’s multi-sport running, cycling, spinning, and triathlon apparel and accessories.
“We believe that if you look good, you feel good, and if you feel good, confidence comes naturally. You will feel confident and appreciate the comfortable, eco-friendly fabrics, our stylish designs, and affordable prices,” Ertzberger said.
“I founded the brand because I want all women to feel confident and comfortable in their clothing while engaging in any activity they desire. The inspiration actually came from my own participation in the triathlon multi-sport.”
Inspired by her childhood neighbor, Ertzberger knew one day she would be a triathlete.
“Being from Pittsburgh, PA there wasn’t a huge community of triathletes, let alone female triathletes at that time. My neighbor showed me what it was like to be a trail blazer. After graduating from college I embarked on my first race, a sprint triathlon, through my local YMCA. After training and completing the race, I was hooked.”
Fast forward 10 years later, Ertzberger admits she has learned a lot about being a triathlete, from putting together a training program and learning how to swim, to figuring out how to pump (and change) a tire.
“Needless to say, the barriers to entry for women was, and still is, high,” she said.
While the triathlon community has come such a long way for female participants, Ertzberger believes there is so much progress to be made.
“That’s where I come in. I want to empower and inspire women around the world to engage in the sport and fall in love with it, as I did many years ago.”
Introducing: Fitwear for the Weekend Warrior Woman
Throughout her training, Ertzberger became increasingly frustrated with the assortment of fitness wear being offered to women.
“Most of the apparel that was offered catered to the elite athlete or extreme athlete. Even the silhouettes (because it was prominently a male sport), were disappointing. For many brands the concept was ‘pink it and shrink it’ – meaning keep the same male silhouette, make the item smaller, dye it pink and call it – ladies fitwear.”
“The problem was this type of clothing didn’t fit right and it wasn’t flattering at all. As I continued on this journey, I found a lot of other women felt the same way. And it wasn’t just for triathlons, it was a shared feeling across all sectors – especially with cycling and spinning. That was my inspiration to start the company.”
“I will say there are some great apparel products available for running, but very few of them are functional for cycling, spinning and the triathlon world. My goal was to establish a brand with items that were cute, comfortable and functional.”
If you look closely at Perspective Fitwear apparel, you will notice there are lots of pockets to give the piece additional functionality.
“We also put a small pad in our Capri pants. It gives women extra support during a spin class but doesn’t make it look like you’re wearing a diaper. Details like this are important.”
“We want to put the fun back in multi-sport activities. I participate in triathletes because it is something I enjoy – but I don’t need it to completely take over my life. I want to offer products to those weekend warriors – including women (and eventually men) who want to engage in the sport for fun, for their community, and for their health.”
Q. Was it challenging starting an athletic apparel business?
“Yes, I think of course it would be challenging to start any business but especially within apparel and athletic apparel it is very challenging. Luckily, I come from a retail background. So, that gave me a solid building block and a foundation for understanding how a retail business works – from the finances to the lingo.”
After defining her company name and logo – it was time to hone in on Perspective Fitness’ business plan. Ertzberger took some classes at a local business center to help answer questions like:
- Who is my audience?
- Who am I selling to?
- What are my demographics?
- What is my marketing strategy?
- How much am I going to spend on my inventory purchases?
- How much am I going to spend on marketing?
“The business plan was great because it gave me my path forward. Every time I would speak to someone, I had a very consistent platform to go off of and it wasn’t changing all the time,” she said.
“There’s definitely a learning curve in taking yourself seriously when you’re building a business. You just have to keep giving yourself those positive affirmations – I can do this, I am doing this, and I’m going to make it work!”
The Challenges of Sourcing & Manufacturing
Next, Ertzberger had to figure out where to manufacture and source fabrics.
“I knew from the start I wanted to work with a U.S. manufacturer. Promoting our American independence, keeping jobs stateside, and partnering with a facility I could visit were all very important to me.”
“My fiance is active duty Navy stationed here in San Diego on the North Island Navel Air Station on Coronado. We obviously have a lot of patriotism and we want to support our country. Producing products made in America is very important to us.”
According to Ertzberger, some of the benefits of working with a U.S. based manufacturer include:
- Being able to physically see the working conditions of the employees.
- Avoiding language barriers and communication issues.
- Monitoring the quality of the product & oversee production quality.
“Unfortunately, manufacturing products overseas comes with a lot of unknowns. You can’t guarantee product quality unless you’re savvy in that specific type of sourcing,” she said.
“As it relates to sustainable fashion, I will say the biodegradable synthetic yarn that we are using is unique and new. With anything that’s new – it is hard to educate the consumer. Unfortunately, when shoppers hear the word ‘biodegradable’ they instantly think of disintegration.”
“That’s when they will start questioning whether the shirt is going to fall apart or won’t last. Of course, the answer is no, absolutely not.”
According to Ertzberger, the smart material used in her designs maintains the same durability and performance as conventional fabrics and will only begin the accelerated biodegrade process if it is thrown into a landfill.
“Trying to educate customers on the unique smart fabric we use has been a little difficult. In the beginning, I was using the term ‘biodegradable’ but now we’ve shifted to alternative terms like eco-friendly to reassure customers that the product isn’t going to fall apart in the wash or while you are sweating.”
“The company who developed the product made it a point to create a fabric that is just as durable and long lasting as conventional clothing, but also has the ability to accelerate the biodegrade process so that it does not contaminate our planet for hundreds of years.”
Q. How are you digitally advertising your products?
Perspective Fitwear is currently investing in advertising platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Google Shopping, and Amazon.
“Right now, we’re focusing on our local marketing efforts in San Diego. We chose to focus on our marketing efforts locally for several reasons.”
“First, San Diego is already an active community. Naturally, a large portion of our target audience (active women) are already here. It’s also the birth place of the triathlon.”
“We are also targeting other fitness communities across the United States including Colorado, Florida, and Texas.”
Q. Was it difficult to launch apparel products on Amazon?
“I will say that the Marketplace is definitely intimidating. But because I come from a big box retail background, I’m not as intimidated by it as some other start up brands might be to launch a product on Amazon.”
“Amazon can also be somewhat frustrating because they have very specific demands. From product photography to shipping, such high demands (especially for a start up company) can be a roadblock.”
“The good news is – I know it won’t be a race to the bottom to sell my product at a cheap price and risk eroding my brand integrity.”
Although Perspective Fitwear is not leveraging Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) yet, this is something on the to do list for Ertzberger.
“To overnight ship one of our visors (product price $25) it would cost me anywhere from $10 to $30. If I was using FBA, Amazon will charge me their monthly rate plus the stocking fee, but that $3 stocking fee would be cheaper for me to pay than trying to ship it myself. ”
Q. What about Instagram and Influencer Marketing?
“We are definitely going to be leveraging influencers in the near future. I just started that process and we’re in the stages of finalizing the agreements and sending out products. Instagram is a very important platform – especially for reaching millennials.”
“Because we are a start-up, every dollar matters. We are definitely going to be utilizing a couple influencers to start out, but I have to be very strategic about that process.”
“When I’m evaluating if an influencer is a good fit for our brand, I’m not only looking at how many followers they have but I’m also focused on their engagement. For example, how many likes are they getting for each post? Are their followers interacting and posting comments or is it somehow getting lost?”
Q. What can we expect in the future from Perspective Fitwear?
“Expect one piece bodysuits, capris, short sleeve shirts, jackets all in new colors and prints. We’re currently experimenting with new fabric technologies out there to help promote faster muscle recovery and reduce cellulite.”
“You can also expect to see us at more local gatherings including farmers markets and athletic events as we continue to build our brand awareness in the community.”
By 2025, Ertzberger expects her fabric supplier will shift more than 50% of their assortment to include a biodegradable component.
“This is really great news for us. Right now, we are limited to the specific eco-fabrics that they offer with the smart technology. It’s exciting to know that they are expanding this technology into more materials so we can offer a larger assortment of fabrics / products to our customers.”
“Ethical clothing is starting to become a topic of conversation but the majority of consumers don’t fully understand what their clothes are doing to our planet when they choose to throw them away.”
“Almost 90% of the clothes currently in your closet are going to outlive you. When you think about it that way it’s like – wow my shirt has a longer lifespan than I do! Ultimately, I believe participation in this movement will go as far as the people who are willing to learn.”
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