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Diving Deep with DYI Founder Leslie Denby on How She Grew Her Cult-Favorite Fitness Clothing Brand

February 11, 2019

I’ve been following the rise of DYI‘s popularity since the beginning when they were exclusively carried at Define studios around Houston. When we collaborated with them back in December for one of our holiday giveaways, I knew I needed to pick the brain of Leslie Denby, the founder and creative director of the brand. She is catering to so many customers who are craving workout clothing they feel confident both exercising and living in.

DYI yoga pant leggins - activewear for her - yoga - workout clothes -

Shop this DYI look here.

I love the prints she uses, the soft fabric, the unique styles that feel fashion-forward and the brand’s mission, which also happens to be its namesake, Define Your Inspiration. Read on to see how Leslie started this business with a baby on the way, moved her manufacturing facility from California to Texas and what’s to come in 2019 for DYI.

Leslie in the DYI production facility in Houston

LZ: What’s your background, and how did you jump into this business?

DYI: I graduated from TCU with a degree in business and fashion, but even as a little girl I was always designing things, cutting up t-shirts and trying to tie-dye stuff. After college, I moved to New York and worked for Chanel in their PR department. It was kind of a Devil Wears Prada scenario where I thought to myself, “oh my gosh, do I really want to do this fashion stuff?” When I moved back to Texas, I didn’t know if I wanted to do stay in the industry; it’s kind of a snooty business and didn’t always make me feel great. I met my husband in Dallas, and he’s from Houston, so we decided to move to his hometown. Around that time, my brother was opening up a new workout studio called DEFINE body & mind and asked me to be his retail buyer. I was super inspired by the atmosphere there but really wanted to start our own line, so we started DYI together. That’s the reason it’s called Define Your Inspiration because it stemmed from his workout studios, so the clothing line is quite literally a sister brand. He came to find he wanted to focus on fitness as opposed to fashion, so we decided to split into two different companies and work alongside each other. He moved forward with franchising his studios, and I moved forward with DYI. We knew we needed to scale the business because you can’t just sell to one store if you’re buying a thousand yards of fabrics. We made the joint decision to sell to other studios similar to his, so I hired a sales rep, and here we are today!

LZ: Where were you making when you first started?

DYI: Out in LA. Everything was there: our fabric, patternmaker, samples. We did a really small production run there. I came up with my designs, sent them to the patternmaker, she helped it come to life, and then we put it into production.

LZ: So you were going back and forth from LA. Had you had kids at the time?

DYI: I was pregnant with my first when we started this, which was weird timing, but there is never a good time. It was one of those things where, as a mom and a woman, you power through and juggle everything. The turnaround time was the toughest aspect. It could take roughly six to seven weeks to get a sample back after small tweaks, so I just decided to buy a sewing machine and find a seamstress here in Houston to minimize that time constraint.

LZ: How did you go about starting production in Houston?

DYI: We found a seamstress, and I had a little space at the Spring Street Studios, so we tried a small production run there with just a couple sewing machines, and it’s grown from there.

LZ: How did you source your prints? Did you have the print machine here as well?

DYI: No, the print machine isn’t here. It was never easy working with someone else, so that’s why I kept bringing everything in. My parents are go-getters with entrepreneurial spirits, so we learned that from them.

LZ: How long have you guys been in business?

DYI: We’ve been in business for five years and really started selling to the public (outside of the Define franchises) about three years ago. I hired a sales rep, and she hit the ground running calling potential partners. We chose really nice fabric which was a big selling point for many. People really liked our product, so the business started growing organically through word-of-mouth.

Shop my leopard leggings (linked here) and turtleneck here.

LZ: Tell me about your price points. Where do you guys fall?

DYI: I would say we’re similar to Lulu Lemon and maybe a little bit less. We’re middle of the road, I would say. You’ll have your $295 pair of leggings, which I didn’t want to do, like Lucas Hugh or Stella McCartney. And then there are some of the less expensive brands, but I didn’t want to go that route because you start to sacrifice quality significantly.

LZ: What’s the wash situation with yours?

DYI: We try to make everything super comfortable. We don’t use elastic in our bands as that creates a lot of discomfort for women. Instead, we aim to make everything really smooth, so you want to avoid drying to prevent pilling and preserve the quality of the fabric. That’s true of all activeware really.

LZ: What types of activities does your line cover in terms of the workout world?

DYI: Define your inspiration isn’t just the name of our brand but also the message we hope to convey in encouraging our customers to move in many different ways. We estimate 70-80% of our customers are barre or pilates studio clients, but we cover yoga, running and tennis, which we’re hoping to tap into more soon. It’s very fashion-forward, which I think is a draw for a lot of women.

LZ: Yeah, I feel like for so many of my friends, their leggings become a definition of their personal style. It’s not just your standard black leggings as your mom uniform. There are now options when you’re in the mood for something different and even something that suits different seasons. It really is becoming its own space in personal style.

Shop my leopard leggings (linked here) and turtleneck here.

LZ: It sounds like you’re really capitalizing on this wholesale market to all of the different studios, so what’s next for you guys?

DYI: We are revamping our brand with the launch of DYI Sport and DYI Street in the new year. We’re honing in on sport styles by making our designs specifically suited for ‘on the run, or the yoga mat, barre or tennis court’. DYI Street is dedicated to the more comfortable, everyday styles that you may or may not wear to your workout class. We imagine a casual dress as part of this collection that our customer feels and looks good in. This all goes back to our origin of using really comfortable, quality fabric for designs that don’t make you spill out or make you think, “hey, I don’t feel good in that!”.

LZ: That sounds exciting! When I think about finding clothes like that, I can think of two pieces of clothing that I’ve washed 2,000 times. There’s one pair of black pants, and they’re not workout pants, and then a cardigan made of comfy cotton, and it covers everything so it’s something you throw on to wear around the house, or you could go to the grocery store in it. They’re comfy day clothes that are super cute.

DYI: Yes, that’s exactly what it is. I think people like to feel comfortable!

Big thanks to Leslie for letting us take a peek into her production facility and diving deep into the backstory behind DYI. We love hearing how other women combat the challenges of building their own brands, and we can’t wait to follow along and see what the future holds for this fashion-forward fitness biz right in our very own neck of the woods. Hop here to shop all of DYI’s styles and discover why they’ve gained such a loyal fanbase.

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