AT 20, most girls are worried about their social media accounts, fake IDs, and who they’re going out with on Saturday night. FIT student Serena Esformes isn’t most girls: she has an activewear line to run between classes, midterms, and date nights. Esformes, a Miami native and self-proclaimed fitness fanatic, is the founder and head designer of SMAK (an acronym for Serena and her siblings) Apparel. Her goal with SMAK Apparel is to take men and women from boot camp to brunch without the need for a wardrobe change. Her love of fitness and innate entrepreneurial spirit led her to an “ah-ha” moment while attending the University of Southern California and noticing that her peers’ wardrobes mostly consisted of activewear. SMAK Apparel was born to be both high-performance and stylish. Esformes, who is now pursing a degree in Fashion Merchandising and Management at the Fashion Institute of Technology, spoke to Lady Clever about running her business while she’s still in school and her foray into the worlds of fashion and business before she can even legally drink.
What inspired you to create SMAK Apparel?
While living in LA, where everyone is so health-conscious, I realized there was a niche in the market for high-design, high-performance workout apparel. I wanted to create an activewear line that could be worn for sweating or socializing, from boot camp to brunch and beyond.
Why did you want to jump in and start your own line at such a young age before finishing FIT?
I personally think that doing is the best education you can receive. I’m definitely learning a lot in school, but it’s nothing compared to what I’m learning in this trial-by -fire experience.
Is SMAK Apparel your first entrepreneurial endeavor?
Yes, SMAK is my first venture, and I look forward to watching it grow.
Why did you want to create an activewear line as opposed to ready-to-wear clothes?
It just made sense to combine my two favorite things — fashion and fitness — for my first endeavor. I LOVE working out and am constantly trying any and every new fitness craze — exercise is one of my greatest passions. At the same time, I’ve loved fashion since I was a little girl playing in my mom’s insanely amazing closet — it’s just such a unique space because there’s always something new to get excited about.
Where does the inspiration for your designs come from? Is there a certain design aesthetic you follow?
I’m interested in what’s edgy, sexy, sporty, and versatile enough to be worn from the gym to mall. I like to be ahead of the trends and design styles specifically for the season — with its mesh paneling, our Peekaboo Collection is perfect for the transition from summer into fall.
What types of materials and fabrics do you use for your line?
For the first collection, we used a spandex that holds you in tightly to make you feel extra fit. We also used “Power Mesh” on some of the pieces for a little sex appeal, but also to allow for air while you’re sweating.
Was it important for you that your customer be able to wear your clothes not only to the gym, but before and after their workout as well?
Activewear has become every-day attire — there have even been articles circulating lately about how fitness pants have replaced the skinny jean as a wardrobe staple. So, the whole premise of SMAK is that each piece in the collection could easily be worn every single day for almost any “occasion.” This was a priority for me.
Does one aspect tend to overtake the other? Functionality over fashion, or vice versa?
We’re high-performance and high-design. Each piece in the collection is comfortable enough to lounge in, cute enough to go out in, and extremely functional for your workouts. I refuse to compromise on any of those design points.
What’s been the biggest challenge starting and running SMAK Apparel?
Overseeing the LA-based production and manufacturing process while in school in NYC.
What about being only 20 years old? Is that challenging when running your own business?
It’s challenging at times to be taken seriously when you’re as green as I am, but I’m persistent and passionate and strongly-opinionated, so I’m usually able to overcome that obstacle pretty quickly. I’m also learning that it’s important to not let yourself be immediately swayed by every piece of advice that comes your way just because it’s being offered by someone with a little more experience. You have to trust your gut.
How do you balance your creative duties with the business side of your company?
I’m all about balance and am very organized, so I am able to keep the two separated while devoting time to each. I am definitely more of a creative person, but I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed the business side of running SMAK. I’m studying fashion and entrepreneurship at FIT, so it’s been an exciting challenge to apply what I’m learning to the line.
What about balancing your personal and professional life? Has that been difficult?
Yes! Starting a business while in school and trying to enjoy this phase in my life can at times be overwhelming, but I just remind myself of how much I love what I do, and how rewarding it is to apply hard work to making my dreams come true.
What are your goals for SMAK Apparel?
My short-term goal is to spot a stranger wearing SMAK on the street! My long-term goal is for SMAK to become THE workout wardrobe staple.
What has been SMAK Apparel’s biggest success to date?
We partnered with the HollyRod Foundation on our launch and were able to donate a portion of our proceeds to their amazing cause.
*HollyRod Foundation provides care to those living with autism and Parkinson’s disease.
Why was partnering with HollyRod important to you? How did you choose that organization?
I have been involved with charitable organizations my entire life, so it was important to me to attach a cause to SMAK’s launch. I really admire all that Holly Robinson Peete’s done with the HollyRod Foundation — and I look up to her as a female entrepreneur – so her foundation was a natural fit for me and the brand.
What is the best piece of advice you received as a woman starting her own business?
“You’ve gotta give it your all.”
What is one piece of advice you would give to women starting their own business?
Never accept no for an answer. Really! Never.
Have there been any gender-specific challenges you’ve faced being a woman starting a business that you don’t feel like a man would have had?
Luckily, no – not yet, at least!
Anyone else ready to hit the gym? Maybe the bar after?