Born in Kenya and raised in the United States, Yvonne Bulimo has always been passionate about wellness. After graduating from Howard University with a degree in health science, she returned to Africa with dreams of running her own public health organization.
In her own fitness journey, she noticed she couldn't find any activewear that connected with her Kenyan roots. So she decided to create the product she wanted for herself. In 2017, Bulimo launched Zoezi Sports, an athleisure brand that honors her heritage.
“'Zoezi' is Swahili for exercise," she says. “I wanted to create a brand that represents my culture. The clothes and designs are fashion-forward and fun to wear. I believe if you look good, you'll be more motivated to want to work out."
Bulimo's first product was a pair of black leggings, which she still sells today. Her first capsule collection included leggings, jumpsuits, and track jackets.
Believe in yourself
Once Bulimo saw the initial reaction to her designs, she knew to trust her instincts moving forward. From the beginning, she has considered herself to be her best customer—an approach that can be crucial when launching a business.
“I'd literally market to myself," she says. “I started the brand for myself. I also wanted to make sure that it was very inclusive. My models are different shapes and sizes. I don't want people to feel they're too skinny or too big to wear any of our clothes. I try to bring confidence to the brand. When you have confidence in yourself, it's an easy story to sell."
Confidence also comes from finding your unique selling proposition. Inspired by her entrepreneurial mother, Bulimo differentiated Zoezi in the billion-dollar athleisure market by staying true to her roots.
“Every day on Instagram and Facebook, you see so many different brands," she says. “I feel like we're a little different because we bring African inspiration to the world. Kenyans are very strong. We love to work out. We love fashion. Those are the things Zoezi stands for. "
Protect your intellectual property
Along her entrepreneurial journey, Bulimo says she knew she needed to take steps to protect her business, such as filing for trademarks.
“I always thought, I'll do it eventually," she says. “It wasn't until another company based in Mexico literally copied and pasted my whole idea and started selling jackets and leggings that looked like mine [that] I realized how important protecting your brand was. The next day, I called lawyers."
Bulimo advises other entrepreneurs to avoid the mistakes she made by protecting their company's assets from the beginning. She recommends using LegalZoom, which she calls her one-stop shop.
“Everybody wants to focus on the creative side," she says. “I wasted a bunch of time, energy, and money by having to rush the trademarks. I could have been using that energy to be creating or interacting with my community, which I call my tribe. I tell new entrepreneurs to make sure they have their [employee identification number] and name registered. Get trademarks in the beginning. You don't want to start something and then have someone literally take your whole idea."
With a proven concept and a loyal tribe, Bulimo is ready to keep moving forward. Zoezi focused on women's clothing in the beginning and has expanded into men's and children's clothing. Bulimo sells her products in boutiques and is working on wholesale distribution into major retail outlets.
“I would like to have my first flagship store and gym in three years—a place where you could go to fitness and nutrition classes," Bulimo says. “Zoezi will be your fitness hub. I want to provide wellness activities for students, because fitness starts at home. I'm excited about just growing. I call Zoezi ... my child. So right now she's a toddler and is growing."
While confidence and a good idea will get you far, Bulimo says she's learned that patience is a virtue when it comes to launching a company.
“I have lots of different goals, but I'm trying to slow down and think one quarter at a time," she says. “I used to be the type of entrepreneur that just wanted to do it all at one time. But I realized growing up to the next stage is good. I'm going to enjoy every moment and stage."