As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about empowering women who are encouraging and doing incredible things with their ideas in society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karin Shoup.
Karin created SportsChic back in 2015 in Huntington Beach to simplify and organize every woman’s day with sustainable, multifunctional, and environmentally friendly bags. SportsChic bag fits everyone’s needs whether you love yoga, tennis, or traveling- their beautifully designed bags are perfect for an active woman’s day.
SportsChic is a female-owned business; its goal is to become one of the leading globally recognized socially conscious fashion and lifestyle brands over the next three years.
Such a pleasure having you; please let our users know about yourself and SPORTSCHIC?
Hi. It’s a pleasure to meet you, and thank you for inviting me. I am a first-generation American born to Danish and Norwegian parents, which is reflected in the simplicity and elegance of how I design. I studied Graphic Design and Communications at Pratt Institute, which led to a career spanning corporate design to packaging design from Estee Lauder, NY, to Carrè Noir in Paris. I was also the first American to design and launch a fragrance at the Galeries Lafayette in Paris.
SPORTSCHIC was born out of my background and experiences. I saw a need for a stylish bag that could be used for many different things, from tennis to yoga to travel, and there wasn’t anything out there that I liked, so I got things going full speed. That’s the Viking spirit.
What brought you to this specific career path?
My husband and I moved from Seattle to Marina Del Rey in 2014, and I was so excited to be able to play tennis outside in the sun every day. When I went to the first women’s tennis clinic, I was surprised to see women carrying designer bags on one arm and their tennis racquets in grungy nylon sport-branded bags on the other. It just didn’t make sense to me.
What prompted you to start your brand?
I asked the ladies why they weren’t using a single bag for tennis, and they said they didn’t want to have to take all of their personal things out of their handbags into another bag. So, I asked, what if I design a bag for both on and off the court that does not look like a tennis bag?
They said that sounded compelling, and asked well, what will it look like? I went home and started designing immediately.
What challenges did you face at the start of your business?
First, I did not want to use leather for a number of reasons. One, it is heavy, two, it is expensive and, three, it is horrible on the environment. That led me to use Faux leather which has 70% less environmental impact than real leather, is lighter weight, and is more affordable.
I also wanted the brand to be made in the USA, but I could not find a manufacturer that had the skillset to produce the quality required. So, I had to search across Europe and China to establish a relationship with a factory that produced labels like Kate Spade and Michael Kors.
It took several months to establish a relationship with a manufacturer who could produce at the price points required to compete in tennis which is lower than standard retail. Once I selected a manufacturer, we went through the sample making process which took several rounds, and eventually, the bag evolved with the trademark features the line has today – a proprietary insulation system that keeps drinks and snacks both hot or cold, a UV protected, waterproof faux leather exterior and waterproof nylon interior – both easy to clean and a multi-functional padded laptop compartment.
While I was going through that whole process, the next challenge was, “How am I going to pay for this?” At that time, it was impossible to find funding for a new business. I was fortunate and grateful to be able to borrow $13,000 from a really good friend to get our first line produced.
While the bags were being manufactured, I found my first sales rep for California, who was able to get the bags into Tennis Warehouse, the world’s largest international tennis store, just in time for the holidays.
From there, I was able to network and find sales reps across the country who were interested in the line. As the line evolved from Backpacks and Totes, our online sales began to increase, and customers told us they were using the bags for so much more than just tennis. We started seeing sales in specialty retailers, fitness centers, and golf resorts, broadening our market and opportunity.
Today we are developing a new line called Primativ0 which will be made from cactus, is as durable as leather, has near-zero environmental impact, and will launch in 2022. This product line will have less than a quarter of the environmental impact of our current product line, getting us even closer to our goal of zero environmental impact.
What is the best business advice you would like to give who are planning to start out?
Whether in tech or consumer goods, you need a sample that demonstrates what problem your product solves, and you need to test that with focus groups and/or sample users to correctly identify your customer. Present to buyers to get feedback. Try to set up a collaboration with small local businesses. Create a 3-year business plan to understand what the true potential of starting out means. Finally, do not quit your day job until you have fully researched the market and viability of your product and have funding in hand.
How is fashion evolving, and what is your take on it?
Post-Covid fashion is in a very exciting place. Everyone working from home, participating in Zoom calls, and living in athleisure has changed the perspective on seasonality and how we dress.
More importantly, consumers are becoming educated about sustainability and the cultural and environmental impacts of the fashion industry, which produces 10% of all humanity’s carbon emissions, second-largest consumer of the world’s water supply, and pollutes the oceans with microplastics.
What is an important lesson you’ve learned from running your own business?
Running your own business is challenging and fulfilling on so many levels. However, running a business can be a lonely experience, so being resilient and tenacious is critical. It is also important to be careful as you grow your team. Finding like-minded, tenacious, and smart people that can work closely together is probably one of the biggest challenges for any business as it grows.
Which Bag Brand is Your Favorite Right Now?
I have always liked the chic of Hermes, Chanel, and Gucci. Other brands and styles seem to come and go, but you can always pick out a Birkin from the crowd.
What kind of handbag should every woman have?
That’s a difficult question because women’s needs vary so vastly based on their lifestyle. That is why we have designed a wide variety of styles and colors. I tend to move between 2 of our backpack styles, the Mini and Midi, based on whether I’m working or going out, but I’m a backpack sort of girl.
What is your no-fail go-to when you need inspiration or to get out of a creative rut?
During Covid, this was extremely difficult because I looked to the streets to see what people are wearing and how to improve on that. I love going to the Getty Museum and art galleries for fresh inspiration as well. This past year I have spent a lot of time exploring the National Parks, and there is a very different inspiration that comes from the majesty of nature.
What would you say are the top 5 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur, and why?
There are definitely more than five and they all fall under GRIT
- Ambition – cannot second guess
- Passion – truly love and believe in what you are doing
- Resilience – capacity to recover, elasticity to pivot
- Efficiency – focus on a timeline
- Communication – the ability to network to drive brand cohesion internally and awareness externally
According to you, what five skillsets should a woman have to give them strength?
- I believe some of the innate skills in women are:
- Adaptability / Flexibility
- What is your favorite mantra or affirmation that you say to yourself to keep you going?
N E X T ! Beginning in design in NYC, everything was under deadline for the next client meeting. When you completed that presentation, you just moved onto the next deadline. N E X T ! Design a new bag…N E X T!
In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
I live two blocks away from the beach and wetlands, so I generally walk 4 miles and/or go to Pilates to begin each workday fresh and sorted out.
Lastly, what does success mean to you?
Business success will mean having a loyal global customer base educated on the importance of sustainability and zero environmental impact, one that looks to me as a designer and educator to improve their lives through fashion and ecology. Personal success is having a loving family and being happy in life. I wish that for everyone.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.