Joan Casali exercises daily. One day, she had an epiphany as she was sweating it out in the gym: “What if my workout shirt had some terry cloth fabric at the bottom to wipe the sweat off my face?” In 2015, she started designing the prototypes for what would become a line of activewear called Sweaty Tee. Today, the Garden City, New York entrepreneur takes enormous pride in wearing her self-made activewear every time she works out – and is hoping to grow awareness of her brand to fitness fans throughout the nation.
Here’s our lightly edited Q&A, from The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project.
Tell us more about why you started your business.
Once I had the idea for the type of workout shirt I wanted for myself, I designed a prototype and tested it out. It worked well, and I gave a local track team some samples to try out. The runners loved the new design. The shirts are ideal for people who like to workout. I think – and hope – that if this product helps me feel better and more comfortable while working out, then other people will feel the same way, too.
How is your business different from others in your industry?
My business makes two unique activewear shirt styles that have attached mini-towels to quickly remove annoying sweat. There are no similar activewear shirts on the market. We are also very eco-conscious in our production.
Tell us about your biggest success so far.
When a well-known celebrity, comedian Leslie Jones, posted a picture of herself wearing one of my shirts on Instagram. It made me so happy – I was screaming and running through my house!
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Maintaining a supply chain. I decided to switch to eco-friendly fabrics like recycled polyester instead of polyester. I also switched to OEKO-TEX certified terry cloth and using compostable mailers. While these changes are good for the planet, they didn’t come without some growing pains. Finding the right manufacturer was also hard. I’m very happy with my current manufacturer in Detroit, Michigan, but I was defrauded by two manufacturers before that.
Another challenge was managing expectations – I thought that my shirts would be an instant success. Instead, I realized that without marketing, no one knows about you or your products. I was very naive, and it was a very humbling experience!
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
Not yet. It would be significant if I spent all the money I had on one particular marketing concept, fabric, or style – thinking I was making the right choice, only to find out that something wasn’t working. This did not happen to me on a large scale because I refused to invest a lot of money on any one project or design in the beginning.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket unless you have that financial ability early on. Otherwise, go slow yet steady, and stick to what works for you at every step in the process. Hopefully you will find your niche. If not, well, you tried. There’s a lot to be proud of in that.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I kind of trick myself. I say, “Well Joanie, this isn’t working the way you hoped. Your company isn’t that successful, so it’s time to give up.” And I give myself that relief that comes from accepting things the way they are. At some point after that, I get ready to do my workout. When I select a shirt made by my own brand, it rekindles my motivation to keep on marketing these shirts and connecting with buyers.
What is your go to song to get motivated on tough days?
Too many to list. But I would say my top five are,”You Gotta Be” by Des’ree, “World in My Eyes” by Depeche Mode, “Cuts You Up” by Peter Murphy, “Glamorous” by Fergie, and “Naked Eyes” by Luscious Jackson.
Who is your most important role model?
Sara Blakely and Barbara Corcoran. They had a passion for their products and gave it their all. I admire many others like them, too. ◼