Holly Peterson on Unstoppable with Kara GoldinHolly Peterson joins me on today’s episode of Unstoppable to talk about her incredibly comfy and fashionable t-shirt brand, Fite Luxury Tees.

We all know that finding the perfect tee can be a challenging task. When Holly moved to London, she was on a quest for the perfect shirt. She couldn’t find it, so she created Fite – a brand dedicated to making affordable but nice t-shirts that are ethically sourced.

On today’s show, Holly talks all about how she created Fite, how and why she self-funded her company, how her network influenced her business and much more.

Enjoy the show!

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Unstoppable with Kara Goldin on Apple Podcasts

“The first thing that I did was I started to talk to my friends and family because I was thinking ‘If I can’t find a t-shirt, am I the only one?’.” – Holly Peterson

Show Notes:

  • What is Fite
  • Where to get a t-shirt
  • How to start a clothing line
  • What the clothing market is like
  • How to fund a company
  • Why networking is important
  • How to ethically source products

“Because I am my own customer, I know that people will love it. They just have to put it on and in one day they will fall in love.” – Holly Peterson

Links Mentioned:

  • Connect with Holly Peterson:

Facebook | Instagram | Fite Luxury

“It doesn’t matter if you can afford to spend $500 for a t-shirt or $30 for a t-shirt, I think that everyone should be able to buy one that is beautiful.” – Holly Peterson

Transcript:

Kara Goldin: Hi, everybody. It’s Kara Goldin and we’re here this morning with Holley Peterson from Fite Style. Thanks for coming in today, Holly.

Holly Peterson: Yeah. Thanks for having me.

Kara Goldin: Really excited to have you.

Holly Peterson: Pleasure to be here.

Kara Goldin: On Unstoppable, we really talk about people who have built businesses that are sometimes going against the grain, sometimes doing things that are the impossible, and we are really excited to have Holly here to sorta tell her story of how she got started and where she is today.

Kara Goldin: So, welcome Holly.

Holly Peterson: Thank you.

Kara Goldin: Let’s start, first, by telling a little bit about yourself … where you came from-

Holly Peterson: Yep. With pleasure. I am a California native and born and raised. Happy to be a Northern California native, specifically, but I lived in both Southern California and Northern California. I’ve worked for several Fortune 500 companies, including Pepsi-Cola and evian Natural Spring Water. Well before [Hint 00:01:00] was around, I was selling water.

Kara Goldin: Interesting.

Holly Peterson: Yeah. I know a lot about that industry and it’s super interesting. Then, I decided that I wanted to really have my paycheck reflect my work ethic. I decided to leave the industry and go into real estate. I sold real estate here in San Francisco for just under a decade.

Kara Goldin: Wow.

Holly Peterson: I loved it. So, maybe that’s how you know my name.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. Actually, I was thinking maybe that was it.

Holly Peterson: I like to keep my clients guessing, so I was Holly McDonald, and then I was back to Holly Jacobson, and then I was Holly Peterson. Any way, that’s a whole ‘nother story. I sold real estate here for a long time. Loved it. Met my husband and we just celebrated our 13 year anniversary last month.

Kara Goldin: Oh, congrats! That’s awesome.

Holly Peterson: Then, we are also our celebrating our twins turning 12 this month.

Kara Goldin: That’s great.

Holly Peterson: Had twins at 40. When they were about two, Carl asked me if I was willing to live in London. Would I move to London and would I commit seven years there? Which is quite a long time because I thought I would never move, never remarry, never have children, and never, never, never; but, I said, “Yeah. Let’s do it!” I remarried. I had twins at 40. Let’s move to London. Why not?

Holly Peterson: So, we lived in London for seven years. During that time, the idea of Fite came about. I was traveling a lot and being a mommy. As your kids start to get older, you start to dress differently. You’re a professional. Then, you’re a mommy. Then, you wanna be a professional again or you wanna be more put together. I was looking for a t-shirt to wear with everything, something I could really care for at home that was easy to wear, but still looked stylish and chic. I couldn’t find one. So, I decided this is really odd. Should I make one? Maybe I should make one.

Kara Goldin: Super great.

Holly Peterson: Now, I’m here.

Kara Goldin: That’s great. So, seven years?

Holly Peterson: Seven years.

Kara Goldin: Okay.

Holly Peterson: Long time.

Kara Goldin: Talk more about what really did you see in the market at that point at-

Holly Peterson: Well, for me, I found t-shirts that were a little bit too sloppy, a little bit too … the fabric wasn’t nice, the weight wasn’t there, the feel wasn’t great. I really wanted something that wasn’t sloppy, that wasn’t too … I could either wear it with jeans or I would pay $500 for it. I didn’t want to … It doesn’t matter if you can afford to spend $500 on a t-shirt or $30 on a t-shirt. I think that everybody should be able to buy one that is beautiful, that washes really well, that holds up, that looks great with everything, you don’t have to choose whether or not you wear this shirt with these jeans or this shirt with this suit. It should be versatile because we’re traveling, we’re moving around. I wanna be efficient. I’m super efficient, by the way, at everything that I do. I love being efficient. I love that in my wardrobe. I want it to be easy. I want it to be seamless. I want it to be chic. I want it to be fluid.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. So, you knew nothing about-

Holly Peterson: Nothing.

Kara Goldin: You said you’ve been in real estate. You’ve been in beverage.

Holly Peterson: Nothing.

Kara Goldin: I always talk about the brands that I see, especially today, as being the most successful or really have the most legs for growing are the ones that really solved a problem for the founder. Right?

Holly Peterson: Yes.

Kara Goldin: Like, they were looking for it.

Holly Peterson: 100%. Yes.

Kara Goldin: Whether it’s your company or Spanx or Hint or-

Holly Peterson: Yes.

Kara Goldin: I’m a huge believer in that. What were kind of the first steps? You decided to make a shirt … how did you even know?

Holly Peterson: The first thing I did was I started to talk to my friends and family ’cause I was thinking, “If I can’t find the t-shirt, am I the only one?” I mean, “Do you need a t-shirt? Do you need a t…? What t-shirts are you wearing? What do they look like? What’s the style? How do you feel in your t-shirt? How do you use it? What’s the need?” I thought, “I can’t be the only one, right?” Everybody was like, “Yep. We’ve been searching for that perfect t-shirt forever. Can’t find it. Too sloppy, bad fabric, too expensive … We want something that meets us in the middle, that can be flexible.” I thought, “Okay. This is something. Everybody needs this t-shirt. Let’s figure it out.”

Holly Peterson: But at the time, I was also moving half way around the world.

Kara Goldin: And you had young kids.

Holly Peterson: I’ve got nine year-olds, I’m moving back to San Francisco, trying to find a school … all the fun stuff.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Holly Peterson: Is really super relaxing. I knew that I wanted to keep the jobs here and I wanted it all to be close. So, the first t-shirt I made was in Vietnam. I made a prototype. I thought, “Yeah. This is really good.” I knew the shape. I wanted it to be feminine, but not too tight. I wanted it to drape beautifully. I wanted it to not be too masculine, too boxy. Just doesn’t look good on the female.

Kara Goldin: My kinda shirt, for sure.

Holly Peterson: We brought you one. We’re hoping that you’re gonna put it on today while we talk.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Holly Peterson: We can go through that and I have a few things to share with you.

Holly Peterson: Finding the right partners here has been a really big goal for me ’cause I wanted it to be close by so I could look at the manufacturing, so I could make sure that the fabric was done properly, that it was weaved here, that it was cut here, that is was made here, that it was packaged here. I wanted everything to be in California, next to me. As you all know, that’s extremely difficult.

Kara Goldin: [inaudible 00:07:08]. Can I see the shirt?

Holly Peterson: Yeah. We brought you what I have on today.

Kara Goldin: I love the packaging too.

Holly Peterson: Thank you. The packaging is on purpose-

Kara Goldin: Really great.

Holly Peterson: For you to travel with it.

Kara Goldin: Amazing.

Holly Peterson: I will let you unfold.

Kara Goldin: Oh, my god. It feels amazing. Super great. Yeah. We should talk to you about potentially doing Hint shirts with these.

Holly Peterson: Yeah. This is my baby.

Kara Goldin: Is this the shirt you have on?

Holly Peterson: Yes.

Kara Goldin: Which I love.

Holly Peterson: This is the cashmere blend.

Kara Goldin: Wow.

Holly Peterson: We weave the cashmere into the MicroModal in Southern California and it’s to a specific weave for Fite. I couldn’t find the fabric I wanted. I knew what I wanted it-

Kara Goldin: It feels so good.

Holly Peterson: To feel like. I knew how I wanted it to look on the body, but I couldn’t find the fabric, so we weave our own bespoke fabric.

Kara Goldin: That’s great. Wow, it feels super, super great.

Holly Peterson: Thank you.

Kara Goldin: So, it’s cashmere …

Holly Peterson: It’s a cashmere and MicroModal blend. The important thing about it is I wanted to be able to care for it at home ’cause I don’t wanna dry clean my t-shirt. I wanna be able to travel with it. I wanna wash it in the sink if I have to, shake it, hang it to dry, and still have it look exactly like it looks now. I have washed this one at least 25 times.

Kara Goldin: Amazing.

Holly Peterson: And it still looks like this.

Kara Goldin: And it looks terrific. Yeah. It looks so amazing. Then, lots of different colors?

Holly Peterson: Lots of colors. Good basic colors … black, white, and navy. What we started with and we’re now launching green, burgundy, and a gray.

Kara Goldin: That’s amazing.

Holly Peterson: We’re coming out with a blush this summer. We also have a linen line for the summer holidays because we all like to … And it’s funny you say that. I made this for myself and then I made the linen line in black, specifically, ’cause I wanted to wear black linen in the summer ’cause I think it looks really chic at night, during the day, all the time.

Kara Goldin: Absolutely.

Holly Peterson: So, I made black linen. Why not?

Kara Goldin: That’s terrific.

Holly Peterson: I wanted to. I am my client.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.

Holly Peterson: Right? You’re your client.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Holly Peterson: That’s how we know.

Kara Goldin: So, building this company … We talked a little bit about that. You’re based in the Presidio.

Holly Peterson: Yes.

Kara Goldin: How many employees do you guys have now?

Holly Peterson: We are a small, lean team of three.

Kara Goldin: That’s great.

Holly Peterson: We’re just getting started. We’ve been in the market for about two years now and it’s taken me a good two and a half years to get the fabric right, find the right partners to produce it in Southern California. Now, we know that we have everything exactly the way we want it, so we’ve been bringing it to market now.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Are you selling it online?

Holly Peterson: Yep. We’re online and we’re in several boutiques across the country. That piece is growing. It’s a very experiential product. I don’t know if you’re willing, but maybe you could pop it on while we’re talking.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. I can put it on over this.

Holly Peterson: I think it’s important to really feel the product and to experience it to know what it’s like ’cause it’s not just another t-shirt.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. It feels amazing.

Holly Peterson: It’s really a beautiful fabric and the way that it fits …

Kara Goldin: I’m gonna put it on over my very thin sweater.

Holly Peterson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: Definitely. I mean, this is the kind of clothes that I wear, for sure. So, have you self-funded the company to date?

Holly Peterson: Self-funding, yes.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. Interesting.

Holly Peterson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: What do you think are the biggest challenges that you have, besides figuring out where to make it?

Holly Peterson: I think, really, the biggest challenge was to ethically source it here in California and to make it here because it’s easy to go to another country. It’s easy … See, that’s so pretty.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Holly Peterson: On you. It looks fantastic.

Kara Goldin: Even with my sweater underneath.

Holly Peterson: Even with your sweater. Yes.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.

Holly Peterson: For us, it was really important to keep the jobs here and to make sure that we could see the fabric being weaved, to be make sure that it was done properly, and that we were monitoring all the outcomes because it’s a very luxurious fabric. If you don’t watch it … every single roll has to be monitored. To find the right people to do that, it’s taken us years.

Kara Goldin: A long time.

Holly Peterson: Years.

Kara Goldin: To be able to do it.

Holly Peterson: To do that. Yeah.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Holly Peterson: So, we’re a team of three and we’re in the Presidio, like you said; but we are working with partners that really are looking for the one piece that can pull all their outfits together. Online, we’re showing people, “Look, you can wear what I have on today with some slacks. You can put your trainers on. You can put your raincoat on and still look chic and put together.” I put my shoes on. I have heels, with my jacket, still look put together during the day for work.

Kara Goldin: That’s great.

Holly Peterson: It’s a super flexible piece.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. That’s awesome. That’s really great. There’s so many of these companies that are starting. I’m just thinking of [Breeze 00:12:08], down the street, too.

Holly Peterson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: One thing that we were talking about at this dinner I was at last night, but it was interesting because the theme was how people are really going back to figuring out what do they actually need, from a shopping perspective, and kind of this mass thing is … it’s been ending, I think, for a while.

Holly Peterson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: I certainly like more boutique sort of shopping versus the large, mass department stores, unless I need to buy kind of commodity stuff like at a Target or whatever. But the sort of clothing stores that are selling mass today, I think that they’re closing, right?

Holly Peterson: Yes.

Kara Goldin: For the most part.

Holly Peterson: Yes.

Kara Goldin: All over the place. I think that these smaller stores, small format kinda companies, are really solving a problem for people, whether it’s the Breeze concept of doing the slipper like things that people can just wear around, or a product like yours too. I think it’s [crosstalk 00:13:10]-

Holly Peterson: Well, you probably heard yesterday that Goldman Sachs announced they’re having a more relaxed dress code. They actually put it in writing.

Kara Goldin: Wow. That’s amazing.

Holly Peterson: I think the progression and on trend today is fewer, finer things. Things that can be worn day and night, with a suit or with jeans, but still look very put together. I think the message of Fite is we are a really pretty, beautiful fitted tee, but it is an elevated tee that you can wear under your suit or with your jeans. It’s interesting because I think history repeats itself. You remember in the 70s where we went to the casual business wear. Now, it’s a relaxed environment, but you still need to look put together and you still need to be ready for whatever that day has in store for you. If you’re at Goldman Sachs, you have on your slacks and a really beautiful, comfortable t-shirt. You should be able to pop on your trainers and a fun jacket and go to Quiz Night, or you can pop on your boots and your jacket and you can have your pop-up client meeting.

Holly Peterson: I think having a flexible wardrobe that is still chic and pretty is the trend, like the Birdies and the Fite and pairing everything together in a way that takes you to New York or takes you to the beach.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. No, absolutely. Absolutely.

Kara Goldin: A couple more things that I wanna talk to you about. The Dress for Success Program, can you talk a little bit about that? I think more and more companies are figuring out their philanthropy or their social good and really sharing that with their customers, or potential customers. I’d love to hear why you chose Dress for Success.

Holly Peterson: When I was fortunate enough to stay home with my kids for many years, I did a lot of philanthropy work because I think that working, in general, is very good for your mind and it keeps you engaged and it keeps you connected to society and it keeps just a really healthy mindset. I loved Dress for Success. Their goal is to bring women to the table, really prepare them for the interview, and to be gainfully employed. In the end, I think that’s what everybody wants. We want to be employed. We want to feel … it gives you self-worth. It gives you pride. It starts the ball rolling into setting the example for your family, and your daughters, and your sisters. I love the fact that we can donate shirts so they can look and feel their best. Also, our time, and energy, and help them prepare for the interview, and teach them how to ask for the job, and get the job, and keep the job.

Holly Peterson: That was just a perfect marry for Fite because we want people to feel comfortable and look good, whether it’s me, you, or anyone else that’s working at the hotel, or at a restaurant. If you look good, you feel good, and that comes across in everything you do.

Kara Goldin: Totally. Just giving people more confidence.

Holly Peterson: Yes. 100%.

Kara Goldin: [crosstalk 00:16:46]. So ultimately-

Holly Peterson: I really enjoy working with the ladies there. I think when they see us and we say, “Look, you’re worth it. Let’s get you dressed. Let’s get you the interview. Let’s get you the job.” Then, they get to come back.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.

Holly Peterson: And they get three more outfits. Then, we can kind of pair them together and say, “You can wear this during the day. You can wear this at night. You can wear this at work.” It’s really hands on. We love that part.

Kara Goldin: I was just at a women’s weekend, just last weekend, with 20 other women. Dress for Success … we all had to bring something for it. I think it’s great and I think it’s great that women are giving their time back to an organization-

Holly Peterson: We’re also gonna do some trunk shows coming up because I realized they need hand bags and they need shoes. As the workplace changes, the clothes that are donated need to adjust and change too. So, we’re trying to really help them get what they need, in order to service each lady in the way that she needs.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Your clothes are perfect. They’re easy. They don’t need a lot of ironing.

Holly Peterson: No.

Kara Goldin: Yes.

Holly Peterson: Exactly.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome.

Holly Peterson: They can care for them at home.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. More than anything.

Holly Peterson: Yeah.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. What did you think was the most difficult part in actually starting this company?

Holly Peterson: The most difficult part, by far, was making the fabric. Getting the fabric made to a standard that was acceptable for me … I really wanted to have a certain weight and a certain look. It just didn’t exist.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Holly Peterson: You can buy fabric that’s inexpensive. We see that everywhere. To really build your own fabric and build the look of the t-shirt and the way it drapes and the way it washes, it was really weaving that fabric. It took time and energy, but it was worth it. Once you get there and you have the product that’s beautiful and it’s exactly the way you want it to represent the brand and who we are as people, we’re different, we’re versatile, we’re flexible. We need our clothes to be that way too.

Kara Goldin: That’s awesome. Then, what was your first sale? How did you end up getting it out there? Was it retail? Was it online?

Holly Peterson: Really, it was a trunk show at my house. Invited friends and family. They were like, “Wow! This is really beautiful. This is really great.” I’m like, “Yeah. I’m not joking.”

Kara Goldin: So, you tapped into your existing network.

Holly Peterson: Yes.

Kara Goldin: And they came over.

Holly Peterson: They came over. We had a lovely trunk show and we sold 150 t-shirts in four hours. It was crazy.

Kara Goldin: That’s insane.

Holly Peterson: The best part about it is really them coming back. I think that it’s easy for people to experience something once, but for them to want another one and to come back and to get other colors and to explain to me that, “Yes, this is exactly what I’ve been looking for. I really love this t-shirt. I love the packaging. I can use it to travel.”

Kara Goldin: Give it as gifts.

Holly Peterson: Yes.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Holly Peterson: Which is what’s been happening.

Kara Goldin: I found, when we were starting Hint, we used to live just up the road and we were right across from the school. During school drop off, I would see some of the … My kids didn’t go to that school, but I would see some of the parents that I knew and we were coming up with new flavors. I’d walk up to their car and say, “Can you try the product?” I still run into people, 14 years later, who are like, “I remember when you were just starting that.”

Kara Goldin: But the ownership, of feeling like I was there when you were first starting this … I bet you’ll run into people along the way who were at your first trunk show.

Holly Peterson: Yes. I have friends that helped during my first trunk shows that were working for free.

Kara Goldin: Yeah.

Holly Peterson: They’re like, “Look, we’ll just help you out.”

Kara Goldin: Which is amazing.

Holly Peterson: I said, “Great. Thank you.” I think just seeing … when you go to events and you run into friends and they’re like, “I’ve got my Fite on. It’s under my sweater, but it’s cold, so I’ve got my Fite on.” Or, it’s under their jacket. That’s when you think, “Oh, that’s great.”

Kara Goldin: They love it. Yeah. No, that’s really great. I get asked a lot, “How do you actually get started?” You talked about that, figuring out what was the problem you had to solve around the actual materials and then also tapping into your community, I think is such a huge thing that people just don’t really even think about. That is such a massive … especially if you’ve drew out a big community here-

Holly Peterson: Word of mouth and referral is the best client ever.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. Right. All the way along the journey, I think, more than anything.

Holly Peterson: Yes.

Kara Goldin: On your site, you have a quote, “If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun.” I love that.

Holly Peterson: Yes.

Kara Goldin: That’s so great. What does this quote mean to you?

Holly Peterson: Well, I just think that we are often told to stay in your lane, do what you know. I think that we need to experiment and try different things and go in other lanes and know that you can learn new ideas and be willing to be open at all times because my grandfather used to tell me, “When you stop learning and you stop trying new things and new ideas, then it’s over.”

Kara Goldin: Yeah. I agree. That’s such great advice.

Holly Peterson: Always … at 50, at 52, at 55, at 25, at 70. Don’t be afraid to start something new.

Kara Goldin: That’s amazing. Where do people find you now?

Holly Peterson: They find us online fitestyle.com.

Kara Goldin: Okay.

Holly Peterson: We are in several boutiques that are listed on our website.

Kara Goldin: F-I-T-E?

Holly Peterson: F-I-T-E.

Kara Goldin: Style.com

Holly Peterson: Which started as a fit tee and evolved into a luxury t-shirt you can wear with everything. We’re online at fitestyle.com and we’re in several boutiques. We’re at Betty Lynn, here in San Francisco on Sacramento Street, and many other places. We’re in New York now and Texas and Ohio.

Kara Goldin: That’s so great.

Holly Peterson: We’re in the boutiques where the discerning shopper is. She knows what she wants to wear and she wants it to be really, absolutely beautiful.

Kara Goldin: I have some ideas, but what makes you unstoppable?

Holly Peterson: Well, I am 150% sure that the product is beautiful and that it’s exactly what I want to wear. Because of that, because I am my own customer, I know that people will love it. They just have to put it on and wear it one day and they fall in love.

Kara Goldin: Well, I love it. I’m wearing it right now.

Holly Peterson: Thank you.

Kara Goldin: I wish you all could see this.

Holly Peterson: Thank you.

Kara Goldin: For those who are listening. Very excited.

Kara Goldin: Holly, thank you so much-

Holly Peterson: My pleasure.

Kara Goldin: For coming in. We’re really excited for all your success. We’ll be watching you and very, very excited.

Holly Peterson: Thank you. Thank you for having me. Thank you for having Fite.

Kara Goldin: Yeah. Absolutely. Thank you.