Tia Robinson of Vertical Activewear: “I don’t think it is a matter of women not starting companies”

I think more women should become founders because we bring diversity and perspective to the table and we need women at the forefront of addressing and solving women-focused issues. As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tia Robinson, Founder of Vertical Activewear. Tia […]

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I think more women should become founders because we bring diversity and perspective to the table and we need women at the forefront of addressing and solving women-focused issues.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Tia Robinson, Founder of Vertical Activewear.

Tia Robinson is a founder, certified meditation instructor and well-being coach that was introduced to meditation over 14 years ago while looking for a holistic remedy from work-induced burnout, panic attacks, and stress. Tia teaches people how to leverage the use of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) to help manage everyday stressors in both their personal and professional lives. The certified personal and business development coach and has worked with organizations such as Black Girls Run!, Georgia Tech and Silence the Shame. In 2018, she launched The Pause Practice — a holistic concierge & mindfulness coaching service based in Atlanta, Georgia built on the principles of meditation, positive psychology, restorative movement & yoga, and stress management. In 2017, Tia launched Vertical Activewear, an on-demand sustainable activewear brand made for all women.

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?

Sure! Vertical started because as a certified meditation coach, and lover of various fitness styles, such as yoga, dance, and pole fitness over the past 10 years, one of my biggest frustrations was that I couldn’t find a brand that represents me and my holistic approach to wellness as an active woman. Also — around 2015 — I was diagnosed with toxic mold syndrome and the at led me to learn more about toxins and pollutants. I found out that the fashion industry was a major polluter, mainly due to overproduction, and decided to do something about both of those issues by creating Vertical Activewear — a size & sport inclusive, slow-fashion brand for women made on-demand in the USA.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

I was recently awarded the NAACP & Beyoncé Small Business Impact Grant. I almost didn’t apply because I never thought that I’d win. I told myself — she just launched Ivy Park…why would they pick Vertical. But I made I promise to myself that I would apply for everything I qualified for and I found out at the beginning of 2021 that I was a recipient.

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?

Well, it was on the day I found my first clothing manufacturer. After months of research, I flew out to LA and scheduled a few business trips, I was racing through traffic to get to my meeting on time. I found a parking spot…headed to my meeting, which went great and then proceeded to walk back to my rental car. It was gone.

Unbeknownst to me, I parked in a no-parking zone and my rental car was towed. It took me 2hours to locate my vehicle, I was still on such a high from finding, who I thought was a manufacturing partner. I paid my fine with a huge smile on my face. The clerk said he hadn’t seen someone smile on the job in 30 years! I shared the story with him, and he gave me the name of another recommended manufacturing company. I ended up scheduling a meeting with his contact the next day and going with that vendor.

Lesson — Sometimes you might have to pay a fee, but what’s for you is for you and will never pass you by!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

There are so many people that have helped me along this journey. Family, friends, mentors…they have all helped me immensely in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I also have a team of coaches that have helped me with my mindset, pitching skills and just overall business acumen.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?

I don’t think it is a matter of women not starting companies. I know a ton of women with amazing businesses. Black women, in particular, start businesses at six times the national average in the US yet receive less than 1% of venture capital funding. I think we need more female-founded venture firms. I know a ton of women that have businesses that are saving real-world issues that women face on a day-to-day basis. But when they go to pitch for funding — oftentimes the room is filled with men who may not quite understand the needs, wants and desires of women.

Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?

I think we need more diversity in the VC space. Luckily, we are seeing it now with more female-led VC firms being set-up, but we also need to see diversification in the types of projects that are being funded. This is a future goal of mine — to be able to invest in other businesses once my I reach a certain level of success.

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

I think more women should become founders because we bring diversity and perspective to the table and we need women at the forefront of addressing and solving women-focused issues.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder. Can you explain what you mean?

The myth that you should do every job in your business as a start-up. I subscribed to this notion when I first started Vertical. I soon learned that it wasn’t a realistic belief if I wanted to scale. So now I spend time on those things that will yield a greater return on my time (customer acquisition and sales) and outsource the rest.

Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?

No. Being an entrepreneur is not for the faint of heart. It comes with a lot of responsibility; you have to be responsible for both the good and the bad. The highs and lows. And above all else, you have to be resilient. If you don’t have the ability to take risks, criticism or be flexible I would not suggest becoming a founder. But if you are solution-oriented, willing to be a sponge, and have a passion for creating…then this might be the perfect path for you. I know it is for me.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. That 80% of the job is financial — you (should) spend a majority of your day working on customer acquisition, sales and funding. So — If you don’t like numbers — you need to get to the point where you LOVE them.
  2. Outsource the things that are not going to yield a greater return on your time or scaling the business — I spent way too much time in the beginning of my business creating decks, designs and sitting in on photo shoots and I was missing opportunities to share my brand story.
  3. Understand the Importance of Storytelling — people want to know who you are and why you got started. I spent a lot of time behind the scenes, but once I started to share more about me and the brand…people started to make the connection and the orders started coming in. This has also been helpful during the pitching process — Storytelling has the ability to connect people and brands on a deep, emotional level. So, don’t be afraid to share who you are.
  4. Being a Founder Doesn’t Make You a Boss per se — I was talking to a group of young girls about being a founder and a lot of them mentioned wanting to be their own boss as their reason for being attached to entrepreneurship. I let them know that being a founder or CEO doesn’t mean you don’t have anyone that report into. No matter how you are funded, we still have customers, investors, stockholders, executive teams or mentors, board members you accountable to. What it does mean is you are a leader and visionary.
  5. Mindset is everything — investing in your mental well-being as an entrepreneur is important so you can continue on the path the reach your goals. Find a healthy outlet that will help you withstand some of the obstacles that will come up. I meditate daily…that is my practice for grounding myself and staying centered, flexible and resilient.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

Vertical Activewear is a slow-fashion brand for women made on-demand in the USA. My goal is to one day become a VC myself. Investing in businesses that are wellness focus.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I actually have two. 1) Tiffany Masterson the founder of Drunk Elephant — I am obsessed with clean beauty and I’ve been in awe of her success over the past few years and would love to learn the steps that she took to be able to sell her company for 845M dollars and 2) Nas — as a New York native I find Nas’ story of being a Rap God turned VC guru to be intriguing, encouraging and so New York! I’d love to learn more.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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