How two best friends turned their side hustle into a $4 million activewear business.

Video by MWN

It’s the fantasy of every set of best friends: Dream up a business, work together 24/7, be outrageously successful.

Best mates since they were in year eight attending a Melbourne high school, Vera Yan, 30, and Katia Santilli, 31, are doing just that.

In 2014, frustrated by the lack of options and the obscene price tags of workout gear on the market, the pair created Nimble Activewear as an affordable, colourful solution.

Fast forward to now and Nimble Activewear turns over $4 million annually. A pretty impressive feat to achieve in such a small amount of time, right? But the pair are quick to point out that the brand isn’t an “overnight success”.

“Katia and I were both working in other jobs at the time and continued to work in those jobs while we balanced the business,” explains Vera, who only quit her job to focus on Nimble full time in 2016.

“We invested all of our savings at the beginning and it took a while before the business could support itself. We made the decision to keep our jobs so that we could support ourselves and continue to invest back into the business.”

With Yan’s background in finance and law and Katia’s creative and business skillset, the pair worked tirelessly from their kitchen (yes, they live together too) where they packaged and sent orders in the early days.

The duo decided to focus on producing activewear in fun prints (think khaki flower print leggings and navy leopard print shorts) that are made from custom, technical fabrics (think lightweight leggings that have the power of compression tights).

It’s this quality and aesthetic that’s propelled the brand on to score a coveted spot showing at Fashion Week in Sydney last year, receive the ‘In-Store Customer Experience Of The Year Award’ at the Inside Retail 2017 Retailer Awards and open two successful bricks and mortar stores open in Bondi and Melbourne. Yep, it’s clear Nimble has no plans to slow down.

With 14 staff now working from their Sydney office and sales spiking, you’d think Vera and Katia would be sitting back pretty comfortably.

“Never! I don’t want to get to a stage where we sit back and exhale because I feel that would mean we’re not pushing ourselves hard enough,” explains Vera.

“We owe it to our customers and to our staff to keep moving the brand forward.”

So what’s the secret to turning a side hustle into a fully fledged business? Persistence.

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“So many people go into it thinking success is going to happen overnight and then they get really discouraged when it doesn’t, even though they’ve got these fantastic ideas and they’ve put so much into it. There’s a lot to be said about persevering – just keep on going,” explains Vera.

“It’s also important to seek out mentors. It could be a friend, a friend’s parent, anyone – people are generally really happy to help and share how they got through similar challenges.”

While some might be a little apprehensive about living, working and socialising with their best friend, Katia and Vera aren’t phased.

“We’re very close but we’ve really worked on that relationship, it’s definitely not without its challenges when you’re with each other 24/7, so it’s all about communication,” says Vera.

“It’s so amazing to have someone there going through all the highs with you but also someone to weather all the lows with, too.”

While competition in the activewear arena has reached fever pitch, Vera says she and Katia are staying focused on running their own race:

“We’re very glass-half-full and we’re very positive. Rather than dwell on challenges or failures we turn them into a learning, a good thing.”

Edwina Carr Barraclough is a Sydney-based beauty and lifestyle writer and social media and content strategist. You can see more from her on Instagram or Facebook.

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