Socialize with people of all ages — I believe it is good to have friends from different generations, it gives perspective and it is insightful to see how we view the world differently. When I gave birth to my baby girl it became even more evident that I have to be more in the present. You can learn so much from babies. It is amazing to see their determination, focus and presence. The way they make deep eye contact, how they observe and mimic, how they try and try and try to learn to do things for the very first time, and never give up.
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Helena-Alexandra Hjerth.
Helena-Alexandra Hjerth is the Founder, Creative Director and CEO, at Pebbles Pilates www.pebblespilates.com — a sustainable and timeless Pilates activewear designed in Sweden. Helena-Alexandra was introduced to Pilates in 2010 to treat her scoliosis. She got curious to learn more about anatomy and how movement can support overall wellbeing, which led her to take her practice to the next level and become a fully certified Pilates instructor. While practising and training she struggled to find well-fitted and high-quality activewear, and this is how the initial idea of Pebbles Pilates was born.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I was first introduced to Pilates ten years ago, while living in California, to treat my scoliosis and to improve my mobility. I got curious to learn more about anatomy and how movement can support overall wellbeing, which led me to take my practice to the next level, and to become a Pilates instructor.
When hanging upside down in a Pilates position called ‘Walkover’ with a t-shirt falling over my head, I got hung up on the idea of a well-fitted and comfortable activewear brand. I decided to leave my job to fully immerse myself in developing my business idea.
I have always been interested in working with sustainable fashion, and I could now use my knowledge I gained in Business school. I wrote my business thesis on Green Fashion — ‘an exploratory study of national differences in consumers’ concern for eco-fashion’. This was almost a decade ago but I am still proud of it. The paper was mentioned in The Financial Times and presented at the International Conference on Ethical Fashion in Milan.
I spent a year developing my brand, and released my first signature jumpsuit in 2018. My brand Pebbles Pilates www.pebblespilates.com is still today the only Swedish-based brand that focuses exclusively on designing Pilates activewear.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
I don’t have a specific story, but rather all the traveling I have gotten to do for my work. Through my work trips, I had the opportunity to meet many people and witness different cultures. This has inspired me in the way I developed and run my business.
On my travels around the world, I noticed that many of the women I met are putting too much pressure on themselves to be perfect in all aspects of life, and they often struggle to be their own best friend. My aim with my business is not only to produce comfortable activewear, but also to unite women in the world of Pilates. I believe that Pilates transcends beyond culture and so does fashion — it is a way of moving and expressing yourself without using words, which brings a sense of freedom.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
The ever so known mistake — trying to do too much on my own! Sometimes I think that I might have left my full-time job too soon, but leaving my job pushed me to create a lifestyle and work-life balance that suited me and my family.
Going ‘all in’ and being part of every step in the production chain — from initial idea to the final product — have taught me a lot about how to run a business, but also the importance of finding a balanced lifestyle. It was a bit overwhelming at the start, researching, developing patterns, sourcing fibres, visiting factories, and building a community of ambassadors, are only some of the things that I needed to get my head around.
With any business, it is important to not only have the right skills and knowledge, but also a passion for what you are doing. Back in 2010, when I lived in California, I started to teach Pilates in order to learn about anatomy and how movement can support overall wellbeing. Today, I have both a FULL STOTT certification and Equinox Pilates Institute certification. Being more knowledgeable about our bodies has been very useful for me and also when designing activewear for others.
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?
The one person who made me take the leap to start the business is my husband, without his encouragement and support, Pebbles Pilates wouldn’t be here today. It is hard to pick one particular person, as all the amazing people within the Pilates industry have inspired me including studio owners, instructors, and all the women who practice Pilates. They have all been part of my success in building the brand, from our design process to the final product. We bring on industry leaders, namely prominent Pilates instructors who test drives and feedback on our design. But also, all the moms, daughters and women who practice Pilates. That is our way of ensuring that quality and timeless design meets function.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
Pilates helped me with my scoliosis, and also during my pregnancy and post-birth recovery. I want to share my journey and learnings, and get more people to experience the health benefits of practising mindful workouts such as Pilates. Apart from muscle toning, it improves posture and flexibility as well as reduces stress and tension. Getting women to move, work on their posture, and body awareness is very dear to me.
I hope through our activewear, people will be inspired to take up Pilates and become more mindful about how they move and live their life. It feels good to know that our outfits are part of their precious time of self-care.
The fact that our sportswear is worn by women when they are in their self-care moment, means we have to be careful with the design. A seamless and delicate design will help you connect to your movement and to be present in the workout.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
- Sleep — Having a healthy sleep habit is important for both physical and mental health. I make sure I get enough sleep, even if it is harder now when I have a little baby girl.
- Eat and stay balanced — A balanced diet is key to better wellbeing. I eat a nutrient-rich diet that makes me feel happy and good. I try to tune in with my body to feel what nutrients it needs, even more so now, when I am breastfeeding. I source locally-produced foods, everything from vegetables, chocolate to meat.
- Conscious movement — Every day I go for a walk and most days I practise Pilates for at least 20 minutes. It helps me to sharpen my mind and let me be more present.
- Socialize with people of all ages — I believe it is good to have friends from different generations, it gives perspective and it is insightful to see how we view the world differently. When I gave birth to my baby girl it became even more evident that I have to be more in the present. You can learn so much from babies. It is amazing to see their determination, focus and presence. The way they make deep eye contact, how they observe and mimic, how they try and try and try to learn to do things for the very first time, and never give up.
- Laugh — One of my best friends is probably the most intelligent person I know, and she also happens to be a Shaman. She always reminds me of the importance of laughter. A true laugh is a sign of true presence and liberation.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I believe strongly in two movements, firstly, it would be a movement of freedom to move. It is important to exercise every day, especially now when many of us are working from home. Even if it is a low-impact workout it can improve your mood, lower symptoms of anxiety, help you relax and sleep better. We just launched a campaign called ‘PebblesPilatesMoves’. This is an initiative where we let industry leaders within Pilates test-drive our sportswear in action and people can follow the journey and join the workout.
Secondly, as a new mother and first-time parent, I have experienced for the first time the post-birth recovery process. I am certain Pilates has helped me during and after having given birth. But, I noticed that very little is being done on a state level, at least what I have experienced in Sweden, and I wonder why we are not better in working proactively with this. I want to change this as I believe fewer women should suffer from pain or complications, and fewer women should hopefully not need to go through surgery, as a result of complications after having given birth. If we would work more reactively with rehabilitation and follow women more closely before, during and after pregnancy, this could be very beneficial for many new parents.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Remind yourself every day to trust yourself, and tell yourself why I do what I do.
- Trust your gut feeling and instinct — it is often right.
- Don’t stress the process.
- Manifest your dream and vision.
- Connect with people who share your business values and also learn from those who don’t.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
For me it is sustainability. We need to take direct action to protect our earth. Brands need to take their responsibility, and I also think we need to educate the consumer and raise awareness about what impact their fashion choices have.
Sustainable fashion is a big part of where my focus lies in our business right now. We constantly challenge ourselves to improve the design process and to source sustainable materials. Minimizing the environmental impact is an ongoing journey with no shortcuts. We don’t follow seasonal trends and to reduce waste by using fabric that has been produced with unwanted raw materials that were collected and converted into new fabrics. The upcycled fabric is sustainably manufactured at a factory in Portugal that produces renewable energy from its own solar panels.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights!