Style Q&A: Fitness Entrepreneur Traci Tate
Over the last 20 years, Columbus native Traci Tate, with her husband, powerlifter Dave Tate, built EliteFTS, a big company that sells weightlifting equipment and apparel from its facility in London, Ohio. Now, Traci is branching out on her own with a brand called Strong(her), a name she holds dear.
Traci’s personal story is an inspirational one. At age 16, she became pregnant, which required her to leave St. Francis DeSales High School to attend a public school in Columbus.
“It’s made me who I am today, to be honest,” Traci says, of the early pregnancy. “That’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done through my life. I told myself I would never, ever rely on someone else. Life happens to you.”
After Traci’s daughter was born, the baby was adopted by another family. Traci is grateful today that the two have reconnected, and she is thankful for the two teen-age sons that she and Dave adopted at birth.
A high school athlete, Traci played both softball and soccer. She was later sidelined by a knee injury—which is when she took up weightlifting. She and Dave met at Bowling Green University due to their shared interest, in fact. After they graduated from college, Dave became a personal trainer while Traci went to work in medical offices, eventually becoming an office manager where she learned strong business skills. Dave was selling products to his clients when the two eventually decided to launch a business. EliteFTS was born in 1998.
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“From a brand to a culture, what started as a website solely providing a Q&A, articles, and seminars progressively transformed into a company that has been educating and outfitting the strongest athletes around the world for more than 20 years,” says the company’s website.
Once the company began selling products, EliteFTS became busy enough for Traci to quit her job and return home to run it out of a spare bedroom. Eventually, the business moved into a bigger facility with both Traci and Dave working full-time, now employing a staff of 17 and working with various sales contractors.
For years, Traci has wanted to launch a women’s apparel line. “I had to do an activewear line,” she says. “The mom in me says that jeans are the way to go. Denim is apparel that is never going away.”
Strong(her) took a while to plan, to find the right products, design the tech involved, and market the brand. “You can’t be discouraged about how long it takes to do something like that,” explains Traci. She works with global manufacturers to produce the products she’ll sell. “I do support world trade,” she says, acknowledging that product pipelines have also become challenging right now.
With plenty of years of success and experience, Traci has been conservative in the spending required for the launch. “I’m confident that I know how to roll things out and not overspend,” she says.
Strong(her)’s website was finished in January, but marketing was delayed due to Covid-19. Traci has stayed focused. Products are casual: jeans, shirts, tees, tanks and activewear.
Initially, she was planning to introduce her apparel line to specific retailers. However, the Covid-related shutdown required a pivot. Sales, for now, are only online at strongher.com. It’s fortuitous, perhaps, that Traci’s apparel is designed for the casually dressed customer in a world in which so many people are, well, casually working at home. She’s confident her brand is designed for the times.
“Because everybody has experienced so much with the pandemic, we are stronger,” says Traci. “We are making it through this. I think it’s going to inspire people.”
What excites you about the apparel business?
I have always loved a challenge and it is rewarding to me when others can relate to the Strong(her) brand and be a part of it.
You named your clothing brand Strong(her). Can you explain why?
Life is not easy. My brand is reinforcing that you are [strong]. We all have our personal journeys, and I wanted this brand to be a positive representation of who we are.
How did you choose your product line?
I wanted to reach as many people as possible. I chose trends that have stood the test of time and will continue to stand [stronger].
You launched in January and then the pandemic hit. How has that affected your new business?
I would have to say, this was an unexpected delay in our launch. However, our message is even [stronger] as we are taking it one day at a time.
Do you have any tips can you give us about casual fashion now that people are working from home so much of the time?
We are still taking pride in how we look. Your solid tees and tanks are taking the lead. With video conferencing on the rise, a casual yet clean look is taking hold. Denim remains solid year-round, with skinny jeans providing a comfortable stretch to flatter all shapes.