Donna Browning of Sweaty Bands
Donna Browning, an adrenaline junkie, knew she was on to a good business idea when her non-slip headbands garnered her fans at her local gym. Now, as owner of Sweaty Bands
, she partners with megabrands and everyday exercisers to make staying fit a frustration-free experience, no matter the hairstyle.
How did you start your business?
I’ve always felt like I had something in me, something to give or share. I just didn’t know what it was. As soon as I started making Sweaty Bands and they started to click with people, I said to my husband, ‘I have to share these with women all over!’
I spent many, many nights with my laptop in bed. First, I started going to ladies’ days and house parties and selling them there. I realized I needed a website, so I went to GoDaddy and searched for available names. I wrote a huge list one day and typed them in one at a time. Sweaty Bands was available.
I paid a friend from my kids’ school, and he helped me load my photos and content into the website. I look back and it’s insane! The first day I launched my website, I had a sale. I put the band in a bag right then and there and drove it to the buyer’s house with balloons on it—my first sale!
How did you come up with the idea for your business?
I was always in search of a headband that would work while I taught my exercise classes. I had seen some around, but they didn’t work in my hair because I wear a microphone while I teach. I borrowed a sewing machine from a friend; bought elastic, ribbon and velvet; and started sewing like crazy at my kitchen table until I found a good combination of materials that worked.
I started wearing Sweaty Bands when I was teaching. When I first made them, I had 30 to 40 and was wearing them constantly. I was selling them to my students, and carrying them around in a Ziploc bag in my gym bag. One day, I literally got mobbed in the lobby; I probably had 15 women around me wanting to buy them.
What resources here did you take advantage of and how did they help?
I went to a weekend seminar in Cleveland called Ladies Who Launch, an organiztion for women entrepreneurs. I took my sewing machine and stayed in a crappy hotel, but it gave me the courage to say, ‘I’m going to do this and I believe in this idea.’ That was big. It was also just grit. My husband helped me; he has a sales background whereas I have more of a creative background. I also had a friend, Carla Caruso, who helped me take Sweaty Bands around to different stores. I’m sort of a shy person, so she is the one who, locally, got me into a bunch of stores.
What does a typical day in your business look like?
We have a 6,000-square-foot office and warehouse that we’re bursting out of with about 100 employees total. We have a facility in North Carolina, also, along with a group of local ladies who sew for us. In our office, we can have 25 people at a time working and packing orders.
Day to day, I work closely with designers coming up with new styles, and I stay on top of current inventory to make sure we reorder any styles that are selling a lot.
What’s next for you and your company?
We’re working on enhancing our website right now and just sent our first shipment out to Nordstrom last week. We’re in every Nordstrom store—all 117—and online! It’s been a crazy, wild growth; such a blessing, so much work, so worth it. It has changed our lives completely.
Interview by Robin Donovan