Providing Equality in Athletic Wear

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Tired of being limited to the same basic workout wear, Raquel Ponce decided to take action. Though she had no background or experience in design and production, Ponce did have ideas and a can-do spirit.

And with that, she grew Miami Fitwear into a successful company that sells worldwide. Ponce, Miami Fitwear CEO and founder, said the brand is about uniqueness and inclusivity — offering extended sizes, from XXS to 4X.

“I’ve struggled with my weight my entire life, and I couldn’t find my size in the leggings or brands I wanted to wear,” she said. “So, I know what it’s like to feel excluded. I want people to feel good no matter what size they are.

“They can wear bright designs or certain colors and feel confident expressing who they are as people.”

Ponce was living in Miami when she decided to start her company. Initially, she intended it to be a retailer housing other brands, but she soon realized the designs and quality of what was out there were not up to par.

The research and development phase began in Florida, but once she moved to the Rio Grande Valley with her husband, she got production off the ground.

“It took me two years to find the fabric, and then I worked on the website and worked on how I was going to create different designs for different body types,” she said. “Having tried other brands, I thought having a high-quality product that would last a long time was very important. I wanted it to be the best that I could make it.”

Other core practices for the brand include using eco-friendly techniques and being ethically made in Texas.

Staying true to her values has proven worth it. From a small office with a single employee, Miami Fitwear has grown to have 15 employees — the majority female — and 30,000 square feet in total warehouse space. The brand has also expanded to swimwear and protective face coverings.

Ponce shared she is grateful for the success and the impact, but never would have envisioned this entrepreneurial journey for herself.

“If you would’ve told me years ago that I would be in this magazine and doing all this stuff, I would have laughed,” she said. “I would have said, ‘Yeah, right.’ I sold copiers. I was a salesperson and sold artificial intelligence software, so I would never have thought I’d be doing this ever. It’s so crazy.”

While she doesn’t view her skillset from her sales background as transferable to building a brand, she believes her power resides in being authentic.

“I’ve always felt like no matter where we come from, no matter what ethnicity, religion, we’re all human,” she said. “We should all celebrate each other. I enjoy showcasing different body types. Not everyone looks like the standard definition of fitness.”

Through each of her collections, Ponce aims to celebrate different cultures and movements. Her team’s design process is all about getting creative and having fun.

“A lot of the time, we play music at the warehouse, and we’ll have dance parties, and we’ll be like, ‘OK, we’re going to listen to hip hop today, and we’re going to talk about making something based on hip hop. When I was designing my pride collection, it was, ‘Let’s put on pride classics or pride remixes.’”

Amid the success of Miami Fitwear, Ponce remembers to give back. For various collections, she’s donated a portion of proceeds back to the communities that inspired the designs.

The key lesson she’s learned in building a successful business that has worked with major brands, including Peloton, is not to get too confident or comfortable.

“Success is not about being on top; success is about maintaining what you have built,” she said. “Entrepreneurship is a rollercoaster. You have your ups, and you have your downs. It’s all about maintaining.”

In addition to a growing, thriving business to tend to, Ponce values spending quality time with family. This is all possible, she shared, through discipline, consistency, passion, and delegating.

“I wake up early each morning to start my day, and really, that’s how I do it,” she said. “I have things structured. I know exactly what I’m doing every single day.”

As for her vision for the future of Miami Fitwear, Ponce aims to launch a children’s line in early 2023. Longterm, she would like the designs to be sold in major retail stores.

When times get tough, or a problem arises, she tries to remember just how much the brand is impacting lives, and the feeling she gets when she sees someone out in the apparel.

“It gets really hard, and sometimes I feel like throwing in the towel,” she said. “Then, somebody emails me at the right time and tells me they are so happy to have these unique, fun options.

“I love people telling me how happy our leggings make them — how they last and are the best they’ve ever worn. I have clients that are cancer patients and who wear my leggings when going through chemotherapy because they’re so soft. It just really brings tears and joy to my life.”

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Rocio Villalobos