Today, athleisure wear is arguably the biggest fashion trend on the market. Everyone from celebrities to your mom is wearing yoga pants 24/7, and nobody questions it. But a few years ago when Kristine Deer was just beginning her Bikram yoga practice, she found it difficult to find something comfortable and practical to wear for the 90-minute class. The fact that this style of yoga takes place in a room with temperatures surpassing 100 degrees Fahrenheit made showing up in her once-trusted soccer shorts an uncomfortable experience. So when her sister, a swimwear designer, brought home fabric one day, Deer's design background took over: She began experimenting by creating her own activewear apparel.
Fast forward a few months later, and Deer was simultaneously training to be a yoga instructor, and offering up her modest designs for sale online. A few successful sales later, and Deer stopped thinking of her signature "Bum Bums" — shorts designed specifically for sweaty adventures, like hot yoga — as a hobby, and started thinking of her designs as a viable career move. Today, K-DEER is available online and globally at select yoga studios. To learn more about how Deer makes her brand stand out among countless athleisure offerings today, we partnered with smart water® to talk about her innovative approach to running a business, and why she makes fitness a part of her everyday life.
"A week before I graduated from training, I made my first sale. ... It was the moment that made me recognize that [designing yoga apparel] was exactly what I was supposed to be doing.”
The Inspiration Behind K-DEER
“I went to college for design, and even before that, design was very much a part of my life. After design school, I took any job I could as a freelancer and eventually landed a position as an assistant designer. I learned a lot — but when I lost my job, I took up Bikram yoga. The practice fed me physically and emotionally, but it wasn’t creative. Not until my studio started to introduce a different style of yoga called vinyasa did I feel creativity in the practice. A teacher from Florida planted the idea of becoming a yoga instructor in my head, and as I began the training for that, I built a creative outlet for myself through designing apparel for myself to wear to class.
As I trained to become a teacher and make yoga apparel, I recognized a great opportunity. It just clicked: I put a few of my designs [online]. A week before I graduated from training, I made my first sale. That was the moment where I realized, ‘Wow, I sold something to a random person who found me online.’ It was the moment that made me recognize that [designing yoga apparel] was exactly what I was supposed to be doing.”
On Growing Her Business
“I used to hand make all the apparel in my childhood bedroom. Everything was hand cut and sewn. I got thousands of labels made to establish the brand. In my first year of K-DEER, I made 800 pairs of shorts in my childhood bedroom. I used to handwrite all of the addresses on the envelopes, take packages to the post office, fill out the customs forms myself — I learned by doing. It was a labor of love and it was exhausting, but it was really hard to hand it off. When I started getting inquiries about wholesale and studios asking to carry my brand, I realized it was a great opportunity because not everyone shopped on Etsy or is on social media. So I took a risk, and allowed someone else to [produce my designs]. I think the point in which you realize you need to make a change is when you get burnt out, and realize, ‘I can’t grow anymore, I hit the ceiling, so I have to make a change.’”
"There’s so many decisions that I’ve made in my life that I’ve realized all come from that foundation [of yoga].”
On Making Tough Decisions
“Looking back, I think about all of the things that I considered really scary — decisions I had to to make, and choices I had to commit to — and they’re not so scary anymore. So as I keep moving forward and come faced with a choice, I have to remind myself that the little temporary pain you feel, and temporary challenges that you go through, are simply there to help shape you. Once you get over them, you’re ready for the next step — and the next opportunity that's waiting for you.”
How Practicing Yoga Helps Her Be A Boss
“[Yoga] taught me discipline that helped me realize I could actually start a business, and to be honest, the business was built with a foundation in yoga. And the way that I run my business always comes back down to the yamas and niyamas*. … In my relationship with my customers and my vendors, and anyone outside of myself, I have to check back into make sure that there’s truth, there’s non-violence, there’s not attachment — there’s so many decisions that I’ve made in my life that I’ve realized all come from that foundation [of yoga].”
*yoga’s ethical and moral codes
"We want our customers to wear something that helps them stand out while they take that personal time … If she feels confident, that shows."
On The K-DEER Community
“[K-DEER as a brand] is just trying to show up for a community that is all about taking care of themselves, feeling empowered, and doing something positive for themselves. Women tend to be caregivers, and knowing what that’s like firsthand, I know how important it is to say, ‘No, this is for me. Yoga is for me.’ That time is so important to have for yourself, and we want our customers to wear something that helps them stand out while they take that personal time … It’s less about the actual clothing, and more about how the woman actually feels in it. If she feels confident, that shows."
Why The Brand Is Environmentally Conscious
“We care about the sustainability of our product — our fabric is made in America and our garments are produced and printed in America. We go to the mill and the factory to make sure that everything that goes into our garments is honest and is being cared for properly. We ask questions about the waste water, we ask questions about the garbage — that’s really important because with every single garment made, there’s a footprint involved. Most [clothing companies] ship their fabric from Asia, which means it has to go on a boat — there’s many miles and fuel involved. So by the time it gets to the consumer, the environmental impact is huge. Most people don’t really realize this about the things they purchase and consume, but [being environmentally conscious] is really important to me.”
“We market to women of all shapes, sizes, colors, races and abilities. That’s a conscious choice, and when you wear K-DEER, you become a part of that community intrinsically."
The Ingenuity Of K-DEER Apparel
“In all honesty, the design of what we make is extremely unique to anything that’s on the market. I came up with [the design] after really thinking outside the box about what makes a garment uncomfortable. The most uncomfortable elements of a garment for women all have to do with seams and trim, like elastic. Most garments have a center front seam that creates an ill fit for the female form. I didn’t want to feel like my body was being changed by my garment, I wanted the garment to complement me. I think the ingenuity of our design lies in is the actual pattern I created. It solves a problem for women, which makes K-DEER so special.”
On Keeping Things Accessible
“We market to women of all shapes, sizes, colors, races and abilities. That’s a conscious choice, and when you wear K-DEER, you become a part of that community intrinsically. ... For the last two to three years, I myself have been at least a size 10 or 12, and my own personal struggle with self-acceptance, as well as having family and friends that couldn’t fit into our size range early on [in the business] really made it apparent to me that I wanted to make the brand as accessible as possible. My goal is to continue to grow our offering within all sizes. Now, we’re extra small through 4-XL.
It’s so important that we don’t discriminate. The point of being active is to take care of yourself, and everyone should feel empowered to do so. Knowing how powerful the clothing has been for the women who have worn it thus far only means that every woman deserves to have that chance with us.”
"Fitness is the thing I do for myself, and no one else.”
Why Fitness Is Part Of Her Everyday Lifestyle
“For me, fitness always kind of comes back to being a moving meditation. It’s the time that you get with just yourself and your thoughts, to feel challenged physically. Many times we don't treat ourselves very well, and I think fitness is an opportunity for me to treat myself well, challenge myself, and show up for myself — because sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I care more about making sure all my employees are happy, and that there’s less stress on their plate, which can be exhausting. Fitness is the thing I do for myself, and no one else.”
On Standing Out In A Crowded Athleisure Landscape
“There’s an oversaturation of activewear [in the market], and more and more people are trying to get in on an opportunity. We started before that wave began, but we still continue to make an impact because our quality is as excellent as it is. Our attention to detail allows us to create prints that are not seasonal or trendy, but classic — they’re beautiful. As for this athleisure trend that’s going on, well, we’ve been wearing our leggings for a long time now, day in and day out. And nobody really noticed that’s what we were doing because they just looked so mature and classy. And that's our goal: to continue to show up uniquely, but do it in a way where every woman feels that they can go from their active life, to go have lunch with a friend, or be out in public in their activewear, but not look like they’ve just stepped off of the treadmill. Because that’s what we want: we want to be comfortable, we want to be confident, and for busy, professional, active women, our product definitely stands out in the crowd. Especially since it comes from a sustainable, American-made, female-run, locally-supported and locally utilized business.”
Featured above: Kristine Deer of K-DEER.
Photos: Jeff Holman