Q&A with Alissa Benishai
Founder, Phat Buddha Wear
Phat Buddha Wear is quickly becoming one of the most sought-after yoga wear lines in NYC, known for their seamless, one-size-fits-all yoga bras and tights, as well as the signature glitter leggings. Founder Alissa Benishai grew Phat Buddha from a simple idea — she was sick of having to classify her body into a clothing size. So why not make yoga wear that shifts to fit your body, instead of the other way around? Phat Buddha has since been featured in the New York Times, as well as the gamut of health and wellness magazines — and is steadily growing. Alissa shares how she started from the dressing room up.
How did you get the idea for Phat Buddha? When/where was the original idea?
The original idea for Phat Buddha was born in 2009 in a Lululemon dressing room on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. An aggressive sales associate assured me that I was a size small, bra top. I got stuck in the bra top and could not get it on or off. With my mother's suggestion to cut it off and tears in my eyes, the idea of a one-size bra top popped into my head. And what a wonderful idea it was.
What is different about Phat Buddha than other workout wear?
Everything. We are a ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL BRAND. This is a retailer’s dream. Furthermore, it’s a customer’s dream, as well. Imagine not having to go to the size large or even worse, the extra large rack! We are also seamless, eco-friendly, and organically correct. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
What were the steps in creating your own clothing company? How do you even start?
I wish there was a handbook for every rewarding obstacle in life. My mom always told me you must wake up in the morning and love what you do, otherwise it’s not worth doing. I took the three things I enjoyed most in life — traveling, yoga, and service — and created Phat Buddha. I began by traveling to Colombia, and through connections met up with some extremely creative people who took my ideas to paper and made them real. It was incredibly hard work, but it was a start. Then I approached the people I knew, studio owners where I practiced yoga or Pilates, one thing led to another, and Phat Buddha was on its way. We are now produced in the U.S., and can be found in top retailers nationwide, as well as studios, gyms, spas, and hotels. I get satisfaction knowing that Phat Buddha is a vessel, allowing people to feel good in what they are wearing.
What was the first real breakthrough for you?
There have been quite a few breakthroughs that came as the result of some very hard knocks. The biggest breakthrough was the factory. Disappointment in Colombia, along with the falling dollar, brought us back to the States. However, our next factory walked with our money and merchandise. Not one to quit, "I kept my eye on the prize,” and we are now in a good place that is dependable and is capable of meeting our ever-expanding needs.
The second biggest breakthrough was getting into mainline U.S. stores. Placement in stores like Bloomingdales and ShopBop validate to the market that Phat Buddha is a serious player in terms of product placement, quality, pricing, etc. In addition, these vendors are now our windows to the world.
The final breakthrough is the name. Getting our name out there is the goal. We have achieved that goal, and feel that the sky is not the limit!
How did you get people to notice Phat Buddha?
A wonderful journalist, Courtney Rubin, believed in us early on and watched us as we began our journey. This past April, she wrote a half page piece that landed in the Sunday Fashion Section of the New York Times. This got people to notice!
What has been the biggest setback?
Every obstacle in business has allowed me to move forward and become stronger. With every setback, I have grown as a business woman. I am so thankful to my mentors, who during these times, urged me not to lose faith.
How do you create your clothing designs?
By analyzing future trends in the market — color, style, art, etc. I look for inspiration in many places. For example, this season, I found the artist Banksy and his work to be inspiring and did a group of silhouette-based leggings.
How do you feel the growth of the fitness fashion industry has affected people's healthy lives?
Everyone wants to be part of the next best thing — young, old, and in between. When fashion turned to fitness, the people followed. Get someone in a great fitness outfit, and it is only natural that they will want to show it off. Where else to show off wonderful fitness fashion than in a gym, studio, or club? And for those who were not into fitness, the trend was enough to lure them to the fashion.
Do you feel any obligation to help change the standard of beauty from skinny to strong?
It's all in the mindset. I’ve had my own personal struggle with body image, as do many women. Throughout my struggle, I’ve learned to eat healthy and appreciate the way that I look, no matter what size I am. Therefore, creating a brand that takes the initial "Do my pants fit?" out of the equation is of primary importance.
Where did the name Phat Buddha come from?
The definition of PHAT is very good, excellent, or cool. I coupled this with my love of yoga and the word Buddha — Phat Buddha. Of course, this presented immediate problems, as you can only imagine. But, I prevailed with the name and have since copyrighted it, so that it’s all mine.
Any advice for our readers?
My advice to the readers is: If you can think it, you can do it. That, and: Work as if you don’t need the money. But the most important advice I can give is to GIVE BACK in whatever way you see fit. Remember those who helped you along your journey, and do the same for those behind you.
Alissa Benishai is the founder of Phat Buddha Wear, and originally grew up on the Upper West Side. She is very active in the fitness community, attending classes and fitness forums often, and continuing to grow and shape the Phat Buddha line.