Three weeks ago Tuesday, after a wonderfully rigorous fitness class at the beach, I backed my car into a tree. I shattered the rear window and dented the back door.
Exactly one week later, almost to the hour, I drove that same car off the same road that I drive up and down about five times a day. I destroyed the radiator, damaged the steering system and bent a structural cross-member beyond repair. Coming up the steep, winding road, I was blinded by the bright white light of an early morning sun, and became so preoccupied with trying to adjust the visor that I lost track of my position on the road. I was also so distracted by the many things that were on my mind that it never occurred to me to stop or even slow the vehicle. When I got out and saw the extent of the damage, I started to cry and couldn't stop.
Ordinarily I take setbacks in stride, telling myself that it can always be worse. My child is healthy, my husband still loves me after God only knows how many years, I live in paradise, etc. My instinct is to get practical, stay focused and keep my emotions in check so that I can channel my energy into the areas where it is most needed. But on this particular occasion I couldn't shake it off. Was it because of the two back-to-back accidents? Did it have to do with the fact that our other car, a 15 year-old Toyota, had recently stopped going into any gear other than third? Was it because my nascent business was not growing briskly enough to absorb the expenses I had just, in the blink of an eye and for no reason beyond abject carelessness, incurred?
Whatever the reason, my confidence and sense of optimism shattered like a wine glass on a tile floor. Just like my poor car, I crashed into neutral and couldn't move in any direction without a tow. A pragmatist to the core, my tendency has long been to scoff at the pursuit of attaching meaning to random events. And yet, I couldn't get past the notion that driving off the road was soaked in symbolism.
There is a way in which starting a business has to be driven by a light so bright that it has the capacity to blind you to the myriad pitfalls and risks. Especially if you're launching a grass-roots enterprise with little or no start-up capital, this type of high octane fuel is necessary to transform an idea into an actual product or service, and my tank was loaded when I started Nayad SwimGym. I was convinced beyond discussion that my vision for the world's most perfect swimsuit, which would double as a terrific (and attractive!) sports bra, was going to be the answer to every woman's swimwear dilemma ... just as soon as they got the memo.
Undeterred by a recent business failure due mostly to my ineptitude with marketing, I turned myself inside out to get prototypes made and tested. And when it became obvious that production sewing contractors were beyond my financial reach, I learned how to make patterns and sew the product myself. To my astonishment, I was elated by the acquisition of these new skills and bolstered by what seemed like a river of positive feedback from friends, acquaintances and friends of friends who were wearing and enjoying the suits. I felt unstoppable. The thought of producing a high quality garment that would liberate women of all ages from the swimwear equivalent of the high heeled shoe, locally and in a socially responsible way, filled me with joy.
Then I hit the tree. Then I drove off the road. Then the initial roll I had been on since fall started to unravel. Business slowed. Enthusiasm waned. Support trickled. I was reminded of the period shortly after my daughter was born, after the excitement of giving birth was over and my mother had gone home, when I had nobody to talk to except a very small person whose only interest was in eating twelve times a day and using my body as her personal mattress. I realized, just as I had while the last project I worked on was going precipitously downhill, that no product (except maybe for oil and prozac) was going to sell itself -- no matter how clever, multi-functional and carefully crafted it was. If you wanted something to "catch" you had to get it in front of people and keep it there. Marketing. The same blind optimism, hubris, arrogance, assumption or whatever you want to call it that had propelled me through the start-up phase had subsequently driven me off the road.
I went for a walk. Not that I had much choice. Rendered temporarily car-less, I’d caught a ride into town with one of my husband's co-workers so that I could attend to the various details associated with wrecking a car – then needed to get back to my house which is about 1,000 feet above sea level. Given the circumstances, every initial step of that long, hot walk up the mountain reminded me of the accident, which in turn made me think about my business issues, which caused me to feel as if I was drowning in an ocean of limitation and self-doubt. Maybe the product wasn’t that appealing to most women after all. Maybe they didn’t mind or expected to be uncomfortable in a swimsuit. Maybe the timing was off. Maybe the concept of one garment for land and water, swim and sport, was too complicated, too unconventional, too convoluted – or all of the above. Maybe it had been a huge mistake to think that I could single-handedly launch my own fitness line with no start-up capital. Maybe I should just accept the fact that, without gazillions to spend on advertising and PR, a new business can no longer catch wind in America.
At which point I looked up from the pavement and saw that I was already more than half way up the mountain. I checked my watch. I had only been walking for 35 minutes, and I was starting to feel good. My heart was pumping hard, sweat was dripping out of every pore, there was a spring in my step. I felt the way I live to feel: Strong, fit, unstoppable – and I felt this way because of all the exercise I do every day; the same exercise that had inspired my beloved amphibious fitness line. I was wearing one of my own bikini top/sports bras, naturally, and in it I felt supported yet sexy and free. I took off my shirt, which was drenched, and used it to mop up more sweat. I picked up my pace and was home in another 25 minutes.
Marketing is a challenge for me, there’s no doubt about it, and my instinctive discomfort with that aspect of business may ultimately be my downfall. But that doesn’t mean the whole endeavor has been misguided. Nayad SwimGym is not only a good product; it is an inspired product. It was conceived in a genuine, organic way and is produced with love. This is one garment in which you can run and swim; paddle and surf; practice yoga and play beach volleyball. You can get the colors you love along with the style and fit you need. And it’s affordable, and made in the United States of America, and conducive to the health, happiness and mobility of active women of all ages.
After thinking it over for some time, I decided not to accept the fact that, without gazillions to spend on advertising and PR, a new business can no longer catch wind in America. Even if it’s true, acceptance merges with acquiescence at some point, and that won’t change a thing. Imagine if everybody had accepted slavery, colonization, genocide, legalized apartheid? Imagine what this country would look like had our foremothers not stood up for the right to vote. I hear so many people complain about the domination of big business and the countless problems associated with outsourcing production to developing countries. And yet, it is so easy to stick to the familiar, to the convenient, to what those who have access to the media tell us we should buy and do.
You may not be in the market for a new swimsuit this season. But if you are, consider trying something new. Worst case scenario is that you won’t like it or it doesn’t fit the way you thought it would, and you return it for a full refund – no questions asked. At least, together, we will have tried to take a stand against corporate giants, unethical labor practices and uncomfortable swimwear.
My car is still sitting in the driveway, defunct. But I’ve managed to track down some hard-to-find parts and a mechanic who is willing to do the work in exchange for the keys to our old Toyota. By the end of the month, I should be back on the road. I know I’ll be driving a little slower and a lot more carefully, but at least I’ll be driving. And sewing. And keeping it made for movement.
The most valuable thing I've learned in business so far is this: Know what you don't know. Then try to figure out how much of what you don't know you can learn and learn it. Then look at the balance. Look around. Who do you know who knows what you don't know? If they're available, get out the suction cups and glom on. If not, open yourself up to the unknown.
In my case, I knew that I wanted to design and produce a line of athletic swim and sportswear. I knew that I couldn't sew. But I knew that I could learn how to sew and so I did. I also knew that marketing was a challenge for me. I thought that perhaps I could learn this as well, so I gathered up all the social media and networking tools I could find and figured out how to use them. My attempts were lackluster. As much as I truly believe that every woman on the planet should own at least four Nayad suits, I have never been comfortable tooting my own horn. Clearly, I needed help. I looked around. The coast was depressingly clear.
My friend Anne Nayer is a life coach who believes in the "art of deliberate creation." She says that if you can visualize and verbalize what you need, you can spark its materialization. A pragmatist to the core, my instinct is to view such intangibles as sketchy. But when the exact right person with the exact right skill sets, compatible life circumstances and an instant appreciation for the product I had created literally walked out of the bushes at Magens Bay and into my life one Sunday morning, I had to acknowledge that perhaps Anne was onto something.
Admittedly, I was at a bit of an advantage that day. Kate was visiting from Toronto and through mutual friends we ended up in the same small group of paddle boarders. As usual, I was dressed for action in one of my own Aqua Sport Suits while she struggled to keep up in her strapless fashion bikini. She looked great standing on the beach, but paddling is a two-handed job which didn’t leave her in a good position to adjust and readjust her top in an effort to keep her boobs from falling out. If we’d been in the cockpit of a mega yacht with martinis in our hands, the tables might have been turned. Fortunately for me, we were not.
Our initial conversation took place right then and there, shouting across the great turquoise expanse of Magens Bay about the exploding paddle board community and the dearth of suitable clothing for that and other athletic activities involving water. I told her that I was interested in filling that gap, but my professional and material resources were limited. She eyeballed my work carefully, admiringly, and asked if I had ever considered taking on a business partner. I said that I was open to the idea. She explained that she had recently left her job for a marriage that relocated her from New York to Toronto … perhaps our chance encounter was serendipitous? I shrugged. After we had finished paddling, she asked for my card. I dug one out of my car and handed it to her, then went back to my life. I hadn’t gotten her business card, contact information or even her last name.
So I was surprised when, a couple of weeks later, a message to “the paddle board queen of St. Thomas” appeared in my inbox. Who was Kate Fox? After a minute of mulling, our Sunday morning paddle board session came back to me. I read the email with interest. A few weeks after that, I had become part of an exciting new WE.
Truth be told, my prior experiences with business partnerships (mostly involving close friends and relatives) have ranged from disappointing to heartbreaking to unproductive to downright bizarre. When I started Nayad, I was determined to carry it out on my own. But in addition to being financially tapped out and badly in need of help from somebody who knew (and liked!) marketing, I had to admit that I was lonely. I itched to discuss what I was doing with somebody who was equally invested, and I longed to collaborate by exchanging ideas.
Kate has filled that void in more ways than I ever could have imagined. She is young, vibrant, optimistic, energetic, creative, grounded, methodical and forward thinking. Having worked in the film industry, she is also tapped into contemporary culture and trends in a way that I never was or will be from my beloved perch among the fruit trees of St. Thomas’ north side. She is excited to invest her professional and material resources in Nayad because she believes in its potential, but she also understands what it takes to develop and promote a brand. Ever so gently, she has encouraged me to be more mindful of identity, design and sophistication. Together we have put together some fabulous new looks along with a greatly improved logo and enhancements to our website. Starting right now you will hear her voice, in addition to my own, in all of our communications, and you’ll see her aesthetic not only in our products but also in our presentation.
Across phone lines and Ethernet cables, Kate and I have taken the spirit in which Nayad was created to heart by abandoning caution and transforming the unknown into a dynamic new entity that far exceeds the sum of its parts. Through an ongoing exchange of ideas about fitness, fashion, business, identity and mission we have established a beautiful collaboration and now I can’t imagine running Nayad without her.
Meet Kate Fox.
Welcome to the new and improved Nayad.
On January 1, 2012, my husband and I left the big city lights of Manhattan for the great Canadian tundra (and by tundra, I'm actually referring to Toronto so pardon my exaggeration). We packed our New York apartment, I quit my corporate job at a major movie studio and we crossed our fingers. About 3 months into our move, I was still pounding the pavement in search of a corporate job that in some way was the "Canadian" version of my career in Manhattan.
In an attempt to recharge my job search (and perhaps just have an excuse to over-consume my favorite beachside cocktail, the calorie-free pina colada ;), I took a vacation with my mother, Jill, down to the US Virgin Islands to visit with family. Clearly a Caribbean vacay was the proper prescription. Upon arrival I encouraged my cousin to organize a standup paddle board outing with myself and a couple of her friends from the island. To my good fortune, one of the morning SUP'ers happened to be Jennie Green, a home grown New Yorker (if you were wondering if they really exist, they do ... apparently they all head to the islands after the non-New Yorkers invade their city – guilty.) Jennie, who no question is the US Virgin Islands Queen of SUP, must have been highly amused by my "only good for sun bathing" bikini look as she was decked in what I later came to find out was a first generation NAYAD suit.
On that morning paddle, I came to know a bit about Jennie. Here was a woman who as an athlete herself wanted to make and share a product which made it easier for women to drag themselves out on that morning swim or long run. Here was a woman who wanted other women not to feel the constraints of her workout apparel but rather the vigor of her exercise. Here was a woman who was whole heartedly enthused about the potential of her product and what it could do to enhance women who move. Not just because her magic product sucks in our fat, tucks away our tummies, quiets the thunder of our thighs (because it actually does none of those things and no product will). Here was a woman who simply wanted to create a great product for great women. And because of this, I was instantly drawn to her.
Energy and enthusiasm is contagious and Jennie's certainly was (and is). I couldn't help wondering: When did I stop wanting to create something, do something, and not just be someone? Well. Jennie inspired me to decide that now was as good as time as any. And the rest is nearly history. After a morning SUP outing, a few email exchanges and hours on the phone, a partnership was in full bloom. On this great adventure, Jennie Green & I have partnered to re-imagine NAYAD, an aqua sportswear line for women, by women.
I'm not some super athlete whose dream is to create the best form fitting swim suit. In fact, 9 times out of 10 I would opt for the post work cocktail rather than the gym, much to the dismay of my inner workout goddess. However, my dream has always been to empower women. The shape this dream has taken is due largely to my oh so serendipitous meeting with Jennie, and also to my experience as an only-child daughter of a single mother. I have always believed in the power of women, and more so the power of women when we work together to inspire, encourage and ignite the passion and enthusiasm that each of us has within ourselves.