Get ready to work hard, no matter what.
Keep your heart in all that you create.
If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Kimberly Swarth, founder and CEO of Onzie, who is the driving creative force behind the Onzie brand. She is also a devoted yogi, sweat addict and entrepreneur.
Since Onzie’s launch in 2010, Swarth’s sharp eye for trends and expertise in identifying stylish and performance-based fabrics, prints and silhouettes, has placed the brand at the forefront of the athleisure market. Onzie was among the first to experiment with edgy patterns, pops of color and unexpected cuts, establishing the brand as a category leader. As of 2015, leggings (one of Onzie’s mainstays), has grown into a 24 billion-dollar industry and continues to grow.
Under Swarth’s leadership, Onzie has cultivated a loyal following within spinning, pilates, dance and yoga communities around the world. The company is also a favorite small business among studio owners from NY to LA. Onzie boasts a rabid fan base on social media, including their 227,000 + highly engaged Instagram followers.
Swarth manages a staff of 40 employees and oversees all aspects of operation from sales, to fulfillment, design, production and marketing. She prides herself on fostering a positive work environment and company culture that is collaborative, motivating and exciting.
Swarth has been known to jam out to high-energy tunes with her team prior to meetings and frequently leads them in a series of (somatic) stretches before tackling strategy sessions or brainstorms, channeling her Masters Degree in Movement Therapy (MA University of Chicago, 2005).
Swarth’s point of view has been enlisted by Vogue, The Wall Street Journal and a number of fashion and wellness blogs. Pieces from various Onzie collections have landed covers for Yoga Journal Magazine, and have been featured in Elle, In-Style, SHAPE, VOGUE, and more.
Before founding Onzie, Swarth was Marketing/Sales Director at Us Angels, a leading children’s wear brand. There, she helped lead product development, sales and design, and was instrumental in the company’s successful sale to David’s Bridal in 2005.
Kimberly Swarth was born and raised in Los Angeles and descends from three generations of fashion designers and garment-workers. She resides in Venice Beach, CA and can be spotted barefoot on the beach, hand in hand with her husband and their son and daughter.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My love for yoga is what led me here. I was born and bred with a mother who was a yogi. At 13 years old, she would make me practice yoga as a way of kind of keeping my mind clear and disciplining me in some regard and that kind of took me to the path of making magical apparel that women could take to their practices.
Tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?
Year one, I was working as a dance movement therapist at a hospital and barely making ends meet. I’d put everything that I had into this company. My husband and I were even Air B&B ing one of our rooms in our apartment at the time. It was a really hard time to stay dedicated to what I knew I wanted to do with Onzie and developing yoga apparel, and a community that would eventually thrive.
Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
I think it boils back down to my love and passion for the body. That never has changed. Anytime things have been hard, I always just go back to that authentic core place within my soul, which is a love for the human body and its capacity of creating strength, awareness, consciousness and with that became and continues to be my fuel for the brand.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I’ve always been a little bit of a hustler and in my first year of business, I was selling yoga shorts out of a bathroom here at a yoga studio in Los Angeles. I’d go in the bathroom after class and connect with people in the bathroom “Hey, how was your class? I’ve got this amazing yoga apparel, if you are interested to try some on …. Hence buy some amazing clothing that could enhance your practice?” So yes I was selling yoga clothes in the bathroom out of a bag. I literally got kicked out of this yoga studio for selling in their bathroom. I didn’t know any other way to do it, but it did get me started. I also ended up meeting some really dynamic and magical people in the process. Some of those first timer customers actually came to work for Onzie and start creating with me.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
What makes us stand out is AUTHENTICITY. I think that is hard to define… What is authenticity? How does that show up in everything that Onzie does? Whether that be infusing healing stories and mechanisms into all of our clothing, whether that be a print, a silhouette… we bring in a healing power of the mind-body connection into the product that we create and take it through everything we do. The soul we infuse into our clothing is the powerful spirit that stands out in everything that we do. Our community can feel it and touch is as it radiates through the products.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Stay attached to your passion, always. If you have that core place inside yourself of why you’ve started your business and what drives you- in our case was the mind-body connection- that will always guide you through the hard times.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I’m grateful to my mother. She’s literally my guru, she’s taught me everything I know.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Get ready to work hard, no matter what.
2. Keep your heart in all that you create.
3. If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.
4. Have a kick-ass team of people to surround you — they make the magic happen!
5. Get ready to take risks.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I would say promoting and motivating people to drop into experiences with their body to heal them. The power of movement, the movement of thought side by side. I would love to bring these principles to female youth across the globe, so they can have an opportunity to empower themselves in all that they do.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!