How These Activewear Founders are Dominating in a Competitive Industry

In honour of our co-founders Hillary Kerr and Katherine Power’s latest book, The Career Code: Must-Know Rules for a Strategic, Stylish, and Self-Made Career ($24), we’re running an interview series featuring questions about the work lives of inspirational female leaders who are at the top of their fields. So far, we’ve tapped Lisa GershPip EdwardsKelly Wearstler, and more. Up next? Nimble Activewear founders, Vera Yan and Katia Santilli. 


According to the ABC, the Australian fitness industry is now worth around $2.4 billion dollars. And what do active women need to get into shape? Activewear. Born in the heart of Bondi beach in 2014, Vera Yan and Katia Santilli founded Nimble Activewear in order to provide women with long-lasting, stylish apparel that would encourage a healthy lifestyle. 

With a background in fashion and investment banking, the duo have proved to have the lateral thinking required to succeed in a saturated market. Read on to find out how they stay inspired and always ahead of the game.

Vera: I’m the co-founder of Nimble Activewear. I started the brand in 2014 with my best friend Katia Santilli. Since the early days working from our living room, we’ve grown to a team of 14 with a business that operates across online, our retail stores in Bondi Beach and Armadale as well as a global wholesale business. My job is very varied and my days can involve marketing, public relations, operations, wholesale account management, a whole lot of admin as well as strategic thinking on how we drive the business forward. 

Katia: Running our own business means Vera and I are constantly on-the-go and have to wear a few different hats every day. My day usually consists of meetings, emails, designing new products, doing photo shoots and communicating with our production team based in Taiwan. It’s busy, sure, but we love what we do. Nimble Activewear has become a brand women choose not only for its quality, stylish garments but for its commitment to women around the world and the environment and it’s something we’re really proud of. We’re at the point where we’re turning over $4 million annually and the business is growing rapidly. It’s an exciting phase!

Vera: I have an investment banking, legal and finance background, yet I don’t spend all of my time on the number-crunching side of the business.

Katia: In this age of fast fashion, I think people would be surprised by just how much effort we put into every single Nimble Activewear garment! From the laser cut technology, to the creation of our Compresslite fabric (that’s comprised of recycled plastic bottles), to the fact some of our prints are hand-drawn and digitised for printing onto our fabrics.

Vera: My first ‘proper’ job interview was for my investment banking summer internship at Macquarie Bank. I wore a full suit including shirt and cufflinks, nude stockings and sky high pumps.
Katia: My first job interview was for Puma and I probably wore head-to-toe black!

Vera: The founders of Zimmermann, Nicky and Simone Zimmermann. I love where they’ve taken the brand and the fact they’ve built such a successful global business whilst retaining their integrity and staying true to their brand.

Katia: Angela Ahrendts. She was the CEO of Burberry when I was working for them as merchandise manager in their London headquarters and now she’s the Senior vice president of retail and online at Apple.

Vera: Instagram, RagTrader, The Australian Financial Review.
Katia: Catch-ups with one of our mentors; they’re a great way to build our knowledge on our industry and to look at ideas from another perspective. Attending events is a great way to keep up with the latest news and also to hear from industry leaders. I’m obsessed with Google Alerts, too. They’re an easy way to stay across topics I’m interested in.

Vera: I’m an eternal optimist and see everything and every decision as a learning opportunity. Even when something may not have turned out the way I’d intended, I think you can always keep learning and growing from every career move.
Katia: I don’t think I have any regrets. I’ve always loved what I’ve done and how I’ve gotten there. Whether that was working for past employers, or running my own business.

Vera: Cultural fit, eagerness to learn, logical thinking and problem solving skills, attention to detail and the ability to think outside the box.
Katia: Enthusiasm and passion, a go-get-it attitude, a team player, someone with ambition and someone who fits into the Nimble culture. Lastly, dedication is important! I’m not a fan of seeing resumes where someone has jumped around a lot.

Vera: It sounds like a cliché, but I feel most powerful when I’m in my activewear as it means that I’m ready for whatever the day brings. Mascara always helps, too.
Katia: My work attire usually consists of jeans and a tee, however, if I have important meetings I’ll wear a dress and blazer with flat ankle boots. I’m never in heels anymore. They’re too uncomfortable to wear with all the running around I do!

Vera: Honest and upfront.

Katia: Approachable and driven.

Vera: Get active! I find that getting up from my desk and getting some fresh air is the best way to refresh.

Katia: Firstly, I clean my desk! I’m a bit of a neat freak and if my work area is messy, I don’t have a clear head. Taking in something creative or reading a business book gets me inspired, as does stepping away and doing a yoga class, it always helps me refresh my head space.

Vera: Honesty is always the best policy. It’s never a nice feeling to tell your boss that you’re quitting, but I think that it’s always important to give honest feedback as to why you’re moving on. If you’re pursuing new opportunities, odds are they will be happy for you and can be a great connection to have in the future. If the reason is something to do with that organisation, I’m sure that they’ll appreciate your honest feedback so they can improve.
Katia: Be honest, give enough notice and make sure your role is left in a manageable state. Do a proper hand-over or ensure all documents and tasks are completed.

Vera: When I’ve been organised enough to cook the night before I’ll bring leftovers for lunch.
Katia: If I don’t have leftovers from dinner I usually make a salad for lunch. Otherwise, a poke bowl is my go-to.

Vera: Not bringing a notebook to every meeting and not asking enough questions. You can never ask too many questions and it also shows a willingness and eagerness to learn more.

Katia: Not double-checking and reading over work before submitting. Prioritisation of urgent work and attention to detail are so important.

Vera@nimbleactivewear of course! I’ve also recently discovered @badlipreading which is hilarious.
Katia: I have a bit of an obsession with home furnishings and home design, so I love following accounts such as @est_living@arentpykestudio and @mcmhouse

Vera: Sadly, my emails! I’m trying to break the habit, but I can’t seem to shake checking my emails as soon as I wake up and just before I go to bed.
Katia: In the morning I exercise, usually yoga, and then it’s time for coffee. Coffee is a must! In the evening, I apply a good face serum and sip herbal tea before I try to get as much sleep as possible.

Vera: That you will always regret what you didn’t do rather than what you did.

Katia: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. Build a strong team and understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses. When you do this you’ll have the ability to do powerful things.

Shop the full range of chic activewear pieces at Nimble Activewear's website

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