Stephanie Perez: “Stay humble, and treat everyone with respect”

“Stay humble, and treat everyone with respect.” Whether you’re talking to a high-powered CEO or a new hire in an entry level position, everyone deserves basic human respect. This is a core value of our Perspective Fitwear company culture, which I know in the long run will help with talent acquisition and reduce employee turnover […]

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“Stay humble, and treat everyone with respect.” Whether you’re talking to a high-powered CEO or a new hire in an entry level position, everyone deserves basic human respect. This is a core value of our Perspective Fitwear company culture, which I know in the long run will help with talent acquisition and reduce employee turnover rate. Talented and hardworking people are attracted leaders who respect others, never stop learning, and create a work environment where these two things are non-negotiable.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Perez. Stephanie Perez, founder and CEO of Perspective Fitwear, graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in finance. Stephanie worked as a buyer for Macy’s and later Petco before realizing entrepreneurship was her true purpose, and she founded Perspective Fitwear.

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?

When I started training for triathlons in 2010, I couldn’t find high-quality women’s performance apparel that was also flattering and fashion-forward. As a former Division I athlete, I had encountered this problem before: most high-tech athletic gear was cut for men, or generally didn’t fit well. After buying men’s cycling shorts to wear for training, I was determined to fill this gap in women’s sports apparel: in 2017, I founded Perspective Fitwear.

I wanted to create a space where women of all sizes, all athletic disciplines, and all levels of skills and abilities could find high quality athletic apparel that was both trendy and silhouetted specifically for women’s bodies. I never want a woman to feel limited in what she can pursue or achieve because she doesn’t have the right gear.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

20% of global landfill waste comes from the retail industry alone. Traditional synthetic fibers commonly used in athletic wear can take 200+ years to fully decompose in landfills. Here’s the rub: the “high-tech” aspects of athletic apparel — sweat wicking, fast drying, etc — usually come from synthetic fibers.

Perspective Fitwear is disrupting the athletic fabric industry with Good Human Tech™ fabric. Our fabric incorporates an innovative accelerated landfill degradable technology that enables Perspective Fitwear pieces to fully decompose within 3 years, only in a landfill environment. Athletic wear can be technical and sustainable: we believe your leggings shouldn’t outlive you.

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?

In the first year of the business, I made some pretty funny goofs when it came to managing my own expectations (spoiler: they were too high!). For example, when I was launching the website I thought “I better have PLENTY of boxes on hand to fulfill the upcoming flood of orders.” I didn’t know how many boxes to order, so I went with my best guess. About two weeks later, 10 stacks of cardboard boxes showed up floor-to-ceiling in front of my condo door, with even more boxes crammed into my parking space. Three years later, the Perspective Fitwear team is still working through these boxes. I took the saying “If you build it, they will come,” a little too seriously: I thought my new website would nearly crash from the sheer volume of visitors and sales.

Like so many entrepreneurs, I sustained the ego blow of realizing very few people knew about Perspective Fitwear at that point. Brand awareness and customer acquisition is a slow burn, especially in the beginning: I learned that ramp up time is real.

Mistakes like the box debacle have helped me be more intentional and thoughtful in all facets of my business. When we opened our storefront in La Jolla, California, this summer, I kept the first year sales expectations realistic: fortunately, we’ve been over-performing!

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

I got my nose for business from my dad, and especially in the early days I really leaned on him. An accomplished businessman himself, my dad always picked up the phone when I called, and without fail steered me in the right or a helpful direction.

As Perspective Fitwear grew, so did my need for additional mentorship. I was accepted into the Spring 2020 San Diego Sports Innovators (SDSI) cohort, which was a game changer. Picture this: it’s January 2020, and COVID-19 is barely on anyone’s radar in the U.S. My goal with SDSI was scale: I had an incredible product, a great team, and a strong business plan that relied heavily on increasing revenue through marathon and triathlon expos.

Fast forward to March 2020. Endurance events are cancelled for what would become the entire year, sports-related businesses are at a standstill, and the world is steeped in uncertainty. SDSI could not have come at a better time to help us pivot. The entire mentorship team immediately shifted to virtual meetings, which really kept us organized. The mentors helped us think outside the box, kept us nimble, alert, and proactive to steadily develop Perspective Fitwear in the rapidly changing environment of shelter-in-place orders.

I’ve continued a mentorship relationship with the lead mentor from my SDSI cohort, Donna Desrosiers. I can’t begin to express how important ongoing guidance is, no matter what industry you’re in or how much experience you have. Keep learning.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Disruption is at its best when it challenges the status quo to improve. Take the athletic apparel industry: the status quo for athletic fabric is synthetic fibers that also languish in landfills for centuries. Perspective Fitwear is challenging that status quo: the technology to offer highly technical fabric that’s also landfill degradable exists. No more excuses: we’ve elevated the status quo.

Another measure of the true “disruption” in an industry is how widely is that net cast? Are there long-lasting and far-reaching positive impacts to this disruption? Between Perspective Fitwear’s landfill degradable fabric technology and our closed production cycle, we recognize that the potential to positively influence change happens on many levels. I think this is also true of ‘disruption.’ How many different industries, individuals, ecosystems, etc. are positively impacted by a ‘disruption’? Does your disruption create an elevated status quo that industry leaders should aspire to?

In terms of negative disruption, you could apply the same logic using “negative” instead of “positive.” Does this disruption lower the status quo for an industry, good, or service? Does it cause widespread and negative impacts? Does it enable other companies to lower standards that ultimately harms consumers?

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

1. “Remember the ‘Rule of 12’” — My dad, Chuck Ertzberger. In sales, it takes on average 12 points of contact before someone converts/says yes. On my toughest days, this keeps my chin up in the face of constant rejection. You need stamina to make it as an entrepreneur, and the mental endurance to make those 12 points of contact with as many people as possible.

2. “Stay humble, and treat everyone with respect.”- My parents. Whether you’re talking to a high-powered CEO or a new hire in an entry level position, everyone deserves basic human respect. This is a core value of our Perspective Fitwear company culture, which I know in the long run will help with talent acquisition and reduce employee turnover rate. Talented and hardworking people are attracted leaders who respect others, never stop learning, and create a work environment where these two things are non-negotiable.

3. “Know the numbers.”- A former boss. I interned at GNC as a college sophomore during business school. I was undecided in my business major, but was required to declare by junior year. My boss at my internship told me to go with finance: “know your numbers and you will naturally become a leader.” So much of life is about understanding numbers: if you’re good with numbers, people will naturally look to you for direction because many decisions are made based on a bottom line, a budget, etc. I took this to heart, chose finance and am so thankful that I did. If not for my former boss’s encouragement, I don’t know if I would have felt empowered or courageous enough to stick with such a challenging program.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

By going into men’s activewear! Our brand identity is deeply tied to empowering women in movement, but I strongly believe men should also have access to our incredible fabric and designs. I want to continue to move and shake the athletic apparel industry by expanding with my existing brand to new customers all over the world.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I love all things Simon Sinek: his podcasts, YouTube videos, books, etc. His research on successful leadership and teamwork in various industries, with companies big and small, really informs how I approach my role as CEO. I like his philosophy of looking at things differently, and how it’s a leader’s role to inspire and promote change within people and organizations. I agree with his view that leaders must take accountability for their employees and the work culture. I also love his philosophy on marketing and how to engage with customers on a deeper level. Offer your community something bigger than themselves: inspiration is the greatest gift you can give!

I’m also a huge fan of the “How I Built This” podcast. It’s inspiring to hear other successful entrepreneurs’ beginnings and struggles, and know that I’m not alone, and much of what I experience in these early years is probably very normal.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I have two, and they’re both so influential to me that I couldn’t pick one.

  1. “The way to get started is to stop talking and begin doing” — Walter Disney.
  2. “Commitment is what transforms a promise into reality. It is the words that speak boldly of your intentions. And the actions which speak louder than the words. It is making the time when there is none. Coming through time after time after time, year after year after year. Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.” — Abraham Lincoln

Want the #1 secret to accomplishing anything? You have to START. After that, you put in the work over and over in order to achieve your goal. Whether you aspire to run a marathon, launch a business, change careers, etc, you need to just start. Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words: both these quotes drive this home for me.

From playing as a D1 collegiate athlete, landing my first job with Macy’s in N.Y.C. in their elite “Executive Development Program,” to completing the New York City marathon, and starting my adventure in triathlon: these quotes fueled me every step of the way.

I moved across the country to San Diego, CA, out of the comfort of my East Coast-based friends and family seeking greater career and life opportunities: I had to START. I wasn’t sure I could actually do it, but I trained for and finished a full IRONMAN: I had to START. I developed a vision for Perspective Fitwear, and the positive impact it would have on women: this was my biggest challenge yet and I had START.

You finish what you start, and when you commit to something you give it your best. Every time. Even when you don’t want to. Especially when it’s hard. Why? “Commitment is the stuff character is made of; the power to change the face of things. It is the daily triumph of integrity over skepticism.”- Abraham Lincoln.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

“No one should ever miss out on an opportunity because they don’t feel good about themselves.”

This is derived from one of Perspective Fitwear’s core values that “no woman should ever miss out on an activity because she doesn’t like the way she looks or feels in her activewear.” But if you pull the lens back and apply it more broadly, I really like it applied towards empowering people to pursue their goals, whatever they are.

You might fail (heck, you’ll probably fail) at first, but I hear it so many times: people don’t allow themselves to even try new experiences or rise to new challenges because they’re preoccupied with self-consciousness. I understand and empathize with this: there have been many times in my life that I felt this way. But guess what? The juice is worth the squeeze. I love the idea of supporting a movement where people aren’t limited by their self-perception: work on being the best version of you, and don’t worry about anything else. It’s all about perspective.

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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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