While the fitness industry has traditionally excluded and marginalized Black people and those that are not slim and able-bodied, there’s recently been a shift allowing for more inclusive brands to dominate the marketplace.
That’s exactly why Tia Robinson started Vertical Activewear – a size inclusive, sustainably made, Black-female founded activewear company. Robinson noticed major activewear retailers were not offering apparel in styles and silhouettes that work for a variety of activities like dance, barre, pole and movement-based fitness, while also being ethically made. Not to mention, many retailers lack fitness apparel for women above a size 14, despite the fact that the average American woman is now between sizes 16-18.
Robinson has since been disrupting the fitness apparel industry by focusing on creating a category within the women’s activewear market that addressed the growing trend towards more alternative, movement-based forms of fitness while also dedicating her brand mission to be as sustainably as possible. Vertical Activewear is made-to-order to ensure there is no over production. Her patterns are not only bold and unique, but they let you break a sweat in style!
In this interview with ESSENCE, meet the Yonkers, NY native who is at the forefront of non-traditional health and wellbeing trends and is committed to supporting and elevating the needs of women in fashion and wellness.
What inspired the creation of your brand and the name, Vertical Activewear?
I started this line as a way to provide women of all shapes, sizes, and fitness activities, activewear options that were cute and multi-functional, yet sustainable.
I started my wellness journey a few years back where I participate in a variety of forms of fitness — everything from pole fitness to running to yoga and meditation. But I had difficulty finding activewear that worked for all of those forms of fitness — in my size — that aligned with my values. So I decided I would create one.
The name Vertical came to me in a dream. The word denotes the highest point of something — the zenith. It’s a term used in many dance fitness traditions (think of vertical lines and going upside down in pole fitness.) Also, the opposite of horizontal, which is our natural field of view. I took this as a sign that our brand and customers would be unapologetically different…bold and to strive for the highest good. That’s why we make sustainable apparel in sizes XS-5XL for a variety silhouettes for many different types of workouts here in the U.S.
Why was ensuring that the products were ethically made important to you?
In addition, to being a founder, I’ve been an avid meditator for over 15 years and a meditation instructor and coach for over 5 years, so the things that move me as a person and entrepreneur are deeply rooted in how to make this world a better place.
For us, ethics is not only about knowing where our apparel is produced and sourced, but about knowing how our apparel being produced and sourced has a lasting effect on the planet. Many would be shocked to know that the fashion industry is a major global polluter. I know I was. But just as I learned about the importance of clean beauty, buying local, and buying organic – I want our company to be able to share with the world why it is so important to buy slow and sustainable.
As a Black female entrepreneur, how important is it for you to bring more representation to the fitness industry through your product line, the people that you work with, and the culture that your brand represents?
The wellness industry in general has a representation issue. When I see other activewear brands, they don’t necessarily reflect me…as a size 12, black, meditator and active woman. Vertical really gives me and my team an opportunity to challenge what fitness looks and feels like; Showing diversity in our sizes, our models…but also in our experiences. There is a spiritual side of fitness, a mental and emotional wellbeing side, and of course the physical transformative side. There are so many layers to one’s journey towards wellness and wellbeing and we want to be able tap into and show each of those sides unapologetically.
Who are some of your design influences/inspirations? Where do you look for creative inspiration?
We are inspired by how the divine feminine shows up in nature. One of our most recent prints was inspired by the Strawberry Eclipse or Pink Moon that happened in 2020. Bold, functional, clean, and linear lines with a healthy dose of feminine energy is our vibe.
What are the challenges you have been facing launching a new brand and trying to share the importance of sourcing
As the new kid on the block – it is always difficult trying to get the word out about who we are and why we are needed and different. People think – oh this is just another fitness brand. But we are not! Fast fashion and Overproduction is not only having an effect on the global, but is also on marginalized communities. Often becoming an exploiter of black and brown labor, trends and creativity. Our company takes a 360 approach to sustainability, providing textiles, manufacturing, and labor solutions that lessen environmental damage.
Where do you see Vertical Activewear going in the next few years and what are your plans for getting it there?
We have an aggressive plan for growth over the next few years. We are working towards developing innovative, sustainable textiles, a tech component to our on-demand offerings, and I also Vertical Activewear helping start-up brands and big box retailers decrease their carbon footprint by providing sustainable private label options.