We first noticed Lauren Brooks wearing this amazing gold metallic weightlifting belt while volunteering at The 2014 CrossFit Games in Carson, CA. Most belts that we have come across are black or grey with little visual appeal, so seeing something this fun was definitely a breath of fresh air. After a little bit of research, we found out who was responsible for this amazing gem: Unbroken Designs. We stopped by their booth in vendor village and were instantly hooked on the brand after seeing all the unique products they carry.
The owners of Unbroken Designs, Kat Leone and Jennifer Rando, are both incredible athletes and have a real talent for creating great looking products for women. They recently agreed to pull back the curtain and let us all know how two women from wildly different backgrounds could partner up to build a successful fitness design company from scratch.
FC^2: What are your backgrounds (fitness and non-fitness)?
Kat: My background is in fashion. Stumbling into jewelry and then into fitness was a pleasant surprise, far from what I initially imagined my life would look like. I have 9 years experience in the fashion industry and have been involved with jewelry and graphic design predominantly for the last 6 years. Our company, Unbroken Designs, started with jewelry and has branched out quite a bit to include weightlifting belts, knee sleeves, weighted vests, compression arm sleeves and a few more fun categories we have in the works and will be launching later this year. I also have a fashion jewelry company as my side side side project called Vant Jag (www.VantJag.com) with in gaudy and glitzy and very 'LA.' And I spend at least 15 hours in the gym every week. I've been involved with CrossFit for 5 years and have made it to compete at regionals for the last 3. Fingers crossed I can make it back for a 4th this year.
Jen: I actually have a degree in vocal performance from USC. There really is no fitness history here, unless you count all my musical theater singing and dancing! My husband signed me up for CrossFit to lose the baby weight from our two kids. My first session was actually Fight Gone Bad, which just happened to be Kat’s first day as well. From the cutthroat nature that drives perfection for stage performance, I was mentally conditioned for the competitive atmosphere of CrossFit. That awful FGB WOD was all it took to get me hooked! After realizing that we were “pretty good” at this CrossFit stuff, Kat and I took it more seriously. In fact, Kat and I competed at the SoCal Regionals back in 2012 on the same team, and have been very competitive ever since.
FC^2: What initially gave you the idea to start Unbroken Designs? Was it hard getting off the ground?
Kat: We completely fell in love with CrossFit the same way that many people (especially women) do. It was a fun, safe place where everyone was supportive and challenged you to push beyond where you thought you could go. My love for metal and Jen's point of view on what's interesting and fun lead us to making some really unique jewelry pieces that we had never seen before. We were incredibly small, dinning room table with pliers in hand, Jen's kids running around. We were lucky that people liked what we were doing and that our friends supported us 100%. And in the past 5 years our product line has expended immensely.
Jen: Kat and I were both from the SoCal region at the time, so we were able to compete alongside big name OG female athletes and watch them do amazing things with their bodies that we never knew were possible. Having the female role models in such a close proximity was really quite inspiring. Several of them made it to the CrossFit Games in 2011 which was our first world level competition that we attended, and that really demonstrated to us the female presence in the sport. In fact, we had the initial conversation to start up Unbroken Designs in the line at the after party of the 2011 CrossFit Games. We realized the potential for the female market in the sport, and started with just fitness jewelry with a couple hundred dollars. Getting the company off the ground was tough, especially since we were both busy supporting ourselves with different jobs. I vividly remember going to work full-time, coming home and taking care of my two children (who were both under two years old at the time), and then working late into the night on UD after they went to sleep. It was rough, especially since I was not being paid at the time, but I believed in it and that’s what kept the fire going.
FC^2: How do you come up with your designs?
Kat: We do a lot of brainstorming. We are constantly sending each other texts and emails with ideas. Screen shots of tee shirts, shoes, architecture and anything that inspires us. Plus we get a lot of unsolicited input from friends ;)
Jen: Kat and I both have a background in creative arts, and both have definite niche for style. The creative processes are definitely the easiest part for us, and Kat is really great with taking a concept and putting it into a physical form. Inspiration is everywhere, not just in the gym!
FC^2: You both are extraordinary CrossFit athletes. How do you manage to juggle full-time jobs, Unbroken Designs and high level training?
Kat: I HAVE NO IDEA! Plus Jen has two kids so I can't really complain, right? lol. The sport has grown a lot. You almost have to treat training as a full time job now. It's incredibly exhausting and a lot of sacrifices are made but I am so lucky to have a supportive boyfriend who goes above and beyond to keep me propped upright. And I am really appreciative to have a business partner that does it too and understands that for our sanity we do need to take that time to workout.
Jen: We are both working for Unbroken Designs full time now, but as Kat mentioned, training has become full time if you want to remain relevant in the sport. I think of all the aspects of my life, my training has taken a backseat but I still love to compete and have been lucky enough to make it to Regionals the last few years.
FC^2: What has been the biggest challenge in developing your business?
Kat: I would say our biggest challenge is managing our growth without outside funding. We happened to hit a place in the fitness market that hasn't been hit yet and at exactly the right time. Our printed weightlifting belts have become our most popular item and we've always made them in limited edition designs. We received a big spotlight on our brand when Lauren Brooks wore our metallic gold weightlifting belt during the 2014 CrossFit Games and we had to re-evaluate some things to keep up with the attention.
Jen: Like I mentioned earlier, we grew this business from our own pockets, so to see it grow as big as it has in just a few short years is really quite an accomplishment. Kat and I are both constantly coming up with ideas and want to try all these new products immediately, as well as attend all the latest fitness expos to keep the ball rolling. Managing our growth has definitely become tricky puzzle piece for Unbroken Designs.
FC^2: If there was anything you could do differently (in relation to Unbroken Designs) what would it be?
Kat: I have loved learning from all our challenges. From having a background in fashion, the CrossFit/Fitness market has been proven to be incredibly different than the experiences I've had owning fashion brands. And I love learning. I believe as the sport of CrossFit grows, you will need to come into it with something that makes you stand out. For us, that was our products.
Jen: We would love to be everywhere, but of course, since its just the two of us, cannot. Hopefully we’ll be making some changes this year so we can reach all of our audiences worldwide.
FC^2: We first noticed you guys out at the CrossFit Games this past July. Where do you hope to see Unbroken Designs in 5 years?
Kat: I like to dream big so I would say I hope you'll see us in Sports Authority, Dick's and Big 5. And being worn by olympic athletes, world record holders and fitness enthusiasts of all levels. We would like to become a go-to brand for CrossFit and Weightlifting accessories.
Jen: I agree with Kat, we are working hard to make this one of the most recognizable brands in the fitness industry.
FC^2: We've seen some phenomenal athletes like Lauren Brooks, Andrea Ager, Jackie Perez to name a few, rocking your gear. Do you take your company to smaller, more local competitions?
Jen: We started at the local competitions in Southern California, and then when I moved East, vended at smaller competitions in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia. But we mostly focus on the larger events as we get a bigger response from them. This year we'll be at the California and the Atlantic CrossFit Regional competitions as well at the 2015 CrossFit Games.
FC^2: Will we be seeing any new products in the near future?
Kat: We have so many in the works! This year will be an explosion of new products, prints and collaborations. We are really excited about the pieces we are working on for Lauren Brooks. She has really awesome taste.
FC^2: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Kat: Just do it! Not tomorrow, not when you have more time or more money or a better idea. Just go and let it evolve. The market and the people will guide where you should go. Be humble and be smart - listen to what people want and go with it, using your point of view and your spin. Having worked my entire adult career as a designer, I can tell you that many times the things that I love the most are not the things that everyone else loves the most. And don't spend time worrying about the copy cats. They will always exist. Spend more time worrying about the next thing you will do. Let it evolve naturally. But whatever happens, keep going.
We really appreciate Kat and Jen taking the time out of their busy lives and the CrossFit Open season to conduct this interview. We are looking forward to what they will be coming up with next!
In the meantime, our readers and friends can save 10% on Unbroken Designs by using the code: FITNESSCULT off their order.
Besides awesome weightlifting belts, they have jewelry, compression arm sleeves, knee sleeves and weighted vests.
It was great getting to know Kat and Jen a little better. Just to be clear, we are not being compensated in any way for this article. That means no advertising dollars, affiliate fees or free products. Nothing. Happy lifting!
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