Christine Emilie Lim of The Short Spine: “Due to the circular economy we live in, we need to help each other”

Due to the circular economy we live in, we need to help each other. The more women founders we have, the more they themselves can become investors, board members, advisors, and others to be in the seat where men have dominated. More female founders and investors mean more creation of innovative products or services that […]

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Due to the circular economy we live in, we need to help each other. The more women founders we have, the more they themselves can become investors, board members, advisors, and others to be in the seat where men have dominated. More female founders and investors mean more creation of innovative products or services that we, as women, truly know about, such as those targeted to pregnant or menopausal women — both of these examples are key milestones in any woman’s life.

As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Christine Emilie Lim.

Christine Emilie Lim is the CEO/Founder of The Short Spine, a slow fashion, sustainable activewear brand that was born in the middle of the pandemic due to the need for hypoallergenic, sustainable sports clothing. She is also a certified Stott Pilates instructor and has more than a decade of product/marketing experience at leading tech companies in Silicon Valley as well as at venture-backed startups. Christine received her MBA from the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University in the Netherlands and B.S. Business Administration in Marketing and International Studies from the Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, Bloomington.

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?

Health and wellness have always been my top priority because I truly believe that if you have a healthy body, you have a healthy mind. It all started growing up with scoliosis. As a kid, I already felt constant lower back pains. By the time I was 17 years old, there were already many times that I couldn’t even walk properly and stand straight upright. I also started traveling internationally by myself in my teens and partaking in many outdoor adventures, which eventually took a toll on my body. It was only in my mid-20s when I finally went to a doctor who recommended either Pilates or swimming to strengthen my core.

When I started to take Pilates religiously, I started to feel physically better — gone were the days that I could not get up from my bed without pain. After many years of being a Pilates student, I invested in a teacher training program to be able to teach others on how to become more body-aware and make their bodies better.

In the middle of the pandemic last year, I started having new skin allergies, which I really don’t know where it was coming from because I was hiking out a lot with my dog in different, new places. I wear leggings every day and needed one that would not make my allergies worse. This is when I discovered hypoallergenic, eco-friendly fabrics and realized that there were not many sportswear brands that catered to those with sensitive skin. Combining my technical Pilates know-how and the market gap in the sportswear industry, The Short Spine activewear was born.

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

I mostly teach Pilates to private clients. What makes it a very fulfilling job is that when clients come back to see me and say that they definitely feel better because they saw the improvements within a few sessions. More so as their private instructor, I listen to their stories both about their personal and professional lives, so the class becomes a form of therapy for them as well.

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?

When I started working with manufacturers for The Short Spine’s first collection, I designed all the apparel myself. Even though I have some digital design background but not in apparel, I thought that I provided them with the right amount of detailed mock-ups and instructions. However, it turned out that the devil is all in the details. The first set of samples I received was a big disappointment because there was missing information that I didn’t provide to them. For instance for female leggings, getting a camel toe is a big no-no and a common problem for many women. That issue can be mitigated by adding a crotch gusset, which is the triangle-shaped seam that you see on the crotch area. Although I have worn different brands and have had camel toe problems of my own, I didn’t know what the triangle-shaped seam was for until I started designing my own leggings!

Because I didn’t have the luxury to hire a professional activewear designer when I was starting, I had to quickly absorb all the terminologies, cuts, measurements, types of fabric, and others in sportswear design by furiously googling all these. In the process, I learned a new profession as a sports apparel designer. Indeed, it was a very fun experience, but mistakes can be costly, especially when producing physical goods. Currently, I am on the lookout for a seasoned sportswear designer to advise and review our designs.

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?

I’m grateful for growing up with a very strict paternal grandmother. She was the matriarch of the family and a woman ahead of her times. She passed in the 90s, but during her healthy years, she was regularly traveling internationally and ran a business together with my grandfather. My grandmother is one of the few people who I know can immediately light up a room full of people whenever she walks in. Her fierce aura was undeniable. No one wanted to mess with her, especially when it came to her business dealings. Even after her death, her legacy still lives on. When I am at family gatherings, those who knew my grandmother would always speak fondly of her. I also dedicated an entire chapter about her in a book I co-authored entitled, “Impact With Wings: Stories to Inspire and Mobilize Women Angel Investors and Entrepreneurs,” which is the first book for women written by all women authors about angel investing.

Having a strong female role model, such as my grandmother, has helped me navigate my own professional, entrepreneurial goals. She showed not only me but also the community around her that when you have the right mindset and attitude, regardless of how society limits our potentials especially as a woman, there is really no limit.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers gave me a better perspective on what really makes very successful people. I never believed in luck because I do not consider myself as a lucky person, but I do believe that if you were in the right place at the right time when the stars align for you, then you can achieve enormous success.

I resonate with this because my first travel startup didn’t reach product market fit despite all our best efforts and preparation. The value propositions were too forward-thinking that our targeted consumers were not ready for it. For The Short Spine with the research we conducted, I truly believe that the US mass market is now ready to be introduced to more sustainable options for their sportswear/athleisure needs. As we move towards a post-COVID era, we are positioned to capture consumers who are now more environmentally-conscious and have safety in mind with the current bamboo fabric we are using that is eco-friendly, anti-bacterial, hypoallergenic, and odor-resistant — our collection is also sustainable travel-ready!

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

“Success is a journey, not a destination. “ — Arthur Ashe

I spent a major part of my teenage years and earlier career traveling and living in different countries. It definitely opened my eyes to the many realities of the world. This quote resonates to me because I realized earlier on that moving to a new destination or country for a better life is not the end all and be all because thereafter, another challenge begins to be able to adapt to a new culture and environment. Nothing is ever the end journey. I have regularly celebrated life milestones and personal achievements in small doses or even a simple imaginary pat on the back, knowing that when I wake up the next day I can face the next challenge with a smile on my face.

What’s most important in this journey we call life is that we are able to leave an impact and become a positive influence on others. Even when we are no longer in this physical world, leaving a legacy behind to our beloved ones is also another journey in itself.

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

Certainly, one articulated spine at a time! I say that because as a pilates Instructor, my goal is to teach my clients how to become more body-aware. One basic movement I always hone in is spinal articulation, which increases range of motion and strengthens muscles, improving my clients’ overall physical wellness and productivity. When they feel good in their bodies, I know I’ve made a difference in their lives!

Inspired by a pilates exercise called short spine, The Short Spine’s brand is also rooted in the works and teachings of pilates, helping people strengthen their bodies. The Short Spine’s vision is to be able to make people feel good with what they wear as well as help the planet by committing to sustainable and environmental responsibilities.

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?

The lack of entrepreneurial female role models is one that I strongly believe holds back from women founding companies. Unfortunately, not many women grow up having one or are able to know someone close enough in their lifetime. I’ve articulated in some of the questions above how having a strong matriarch, my grandmother, instilled in me the confidence that if she could do it despite all the societal challenges she faced during her time when it was rarer to see female entrepreneurs in the 80s and 90s, then I know I can do it too.

Secondly, the gender pay gap affects how much a woman can earn at the start of her professional career and thereafter. Females make less, and therefore, can save less, which holds them back from embarking on their entrepreneurial ambition. Oftentimes, becoming a founder comes with a heavy financial burden, especially in the first few years of starting a business when the founder may forego any income and/or use her own savings to fund the startup.

Can you share with our readers what you are doing to help empower women to become founders?

A few years ago, I started angel investing and have primarily backed female-founded companies with a social impact focus on their businesses. We live in a circular economy, meaning that the more successful female entrepreneurs we have, the more potential that they themselves become female investors. I also co-founded WingPact, an all-female angel group, and together with my co-founders, we published the first angel investing book for women, “Impact With Wings: Stories to Inspire and Mobilize Women Angel Investors and Entrepreneurs,” in 2016. It has been widely distributed both in the US and internationally, providing resources for women to understand if angel investing is appropriate for their investment portfolio and inspirational stories of how other women at different stages of their lives started angel investing.

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

Due to the circular economy we live in, we need to help each other. The more women founders we have, the more they themselves can become investors, board members, advisors, and others to be in the seat where men have dominated. More female founders and investors mean more creation of innovative products or services that we, as women, truly know about, such as those targeted to pregnant or menopausal women — both of these examples are key milestones in any woman’s life.

Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Can you please share 5 things that can be done or should be done to help empower more women to become founders? If you can, please share an example or story for each.

1) To male allies, please stand up!

Sometimes, men do have a significant network and the experience that can elevate a female founder’s business. However, the problem many women face is finding a male ally who will genuinely help because he believes in the business and the founder’s capabilities and doesn’t have any hidden agenda. Currently, there is no product that can seamlessly find and connect female founders to genuine male allies. A few male allies we have seen surface, such as Mark Cuban, were connected with founders through intense, relentless networking from the female entrepreneur’s end.

2) Form like-minded female founder communities

When men come together socially, it is easy for them to talk about money, investments, their next business endeavors, and others. However for females having an all-girls day out, talking about finance, investments or business ideas is usually shied upon. There is always a risk of being casted out as the girl who is too money-motivated. Thus for potential female founders revolving around friends who are non-entrepreneurial, go find yourself a safe, like-minded community where you can bounce product ideas with, and share your entrepreneurial journey, successes, and challenges.

3) Make the funding round an even playing field

Many studies have reported that women CEOs or executives in large companies are usually held to a higher standard than their male peers. Similarly for female founders raising an investment, there are implicit biases and preconceptions that make it harder for women to secure funding. Despite the progress we’ve made in our society, we still have not yet removed the elephant in the (funding) room. The 2017 Harvard Business Review study that compared what questions male versus female entrepreneurs are asked by venture capitalists is still relevant up to this day. There is still a lot of work to be done to make the funding process an even playing field.

4) More platforms to amplify female founders’ voices

Not only am I referring to building a robust social media channel, but also what’s more valuable for a starting business is landing or getting press articles published on top tier publications. There needs to be more platforms that can supersize these marketing or press efforts — efficiently and cost-effectively — in order to amplify a female entrepreneur’s journey to both inspire other women to become founders and gain awareness of their new business.

5) Support Female-Founded Businesses

Supporting a female-founded business doesn’t necessarily mean being a paying customer, especially when you are not the target audience. Support can come in many forms, including sharing articles about female founders you believe in, sending a simple congratulatory message, or if you know your female friend is starting a business, check up on them and see if they need a mental break.

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.

Now that I am building a sustainable activewear brand, what I find most interesting, especially from leading academics and sustainability organizations, is that large, multinational corporations have the most influence and capability to bring major, positive changes for our planet to become healthier. Therefore, my goal is to scale my business to greater heights and work with others who are not only passionate about sustainable fashion but also are taking actions in their daily lives to make a positive change in their communities, so that The Short Spine can have a massive impact in improving Mother Earth.

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.

It would definitely be with Elon Musk for many obvious reasons and not so obvious ones. In retrospect, we both entered the US as university students, and I definitely believe that those teenage years uprooting oneself to another country — which not many people get to do — has a huge effect on our perspective in life as we go through adulthood. Additionally similar to my various interests, he was able to pursue different types of businesses, and I’d like to know how he juggled and made it all happen. Since Elon recently tweeted that he is getting a shiba inu, I would also bring my sidekick, a shiba inu named Truffle who also helps promote The Short Spine!

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