“running a business is like perfecting a yoga pose” – interview with K-Deer owner/founder Kristene Deer

If you follow as many yoga insta accounts as I do, I’m sure you have seen these unmistakable striped yoga leggings everywhere. I for instance was drawn to how unique these leggings were, but I became more interested when I discovered the story behind K-Deer and how the stripes on the leggings represent a different charity. 

Their website states: “Each one of our Signature Stripes is named after an inspiring woman and supports a cause that is close to her heart. Kristine created this program as a way to follow her yogic path of service. Her goal is to bring awareness to underserved causes to truly help make a difference for communities in need, socially and financially. For each sale of our Signature Stripes, 5% of e-commerce proceeds and 1% of wholesale proceeds goes directly to nonprofit organizations who are doing the work to support communities in need.” (https://www.k-deer.com/pages/charity-info)

This past Christmas season I began to really pay attention to what I’m buying and understand the purpose behind gift giving and the meaning of this holiday season. I quickly realized everyone I would have bought a gift for really doesn’t need anything, but I can look into shopping exclusively at companies who give back to charities and that can be my Christmas gift. I looked into Love Your Melon, Bombas socks, and K-Deer for my Christmas presents and fortunately a family member of mine (shout out Aunt Fredda and my cousin Molly) knew the owner of K-Deer and I was able to arrange an interview with the founder, Kristine Deer. 

I went into this interview mainly wanting to know how Kristine selects her charities and about her business model, but I ended up receiving so much more from my conversation and genuinely had an inspiring experience! 

How did K-Deer start? 
Kristine Deer when to college for fashion, and after a few short term jobs she attained an amazing job, which she felt secure with in the industry she loved. Shortly after landing this position, the division she worked in was cut and she found herself jobless and seeking a new passion. Kristine began taking up hot yoga at Fire Shapers as a hobby, but was often frustrated with the yoga clothing and how it wasn’t conducive to hot yoga specifically. Her sister, at the time, worked for a swimsuit designer and would often bring home sample materials. That’s when Kristine had the idea to use the swimsuit fabric for hot yoga pants. 

For those of you who don’t know, when you take hot yoga your body is drenched in sweat. It was such a light bulb idea to think to use material that was made to be wet, to wear when your body is wet. In 2010 Kristine became a yoga teacher and started making these yoga pants in her bedroom, and evolved slowly through the Bikram (hot yoga) community by selling in classes, to trunk shows, and some influencers; but mainly through social media her business grew. 

How are the yoga pants made?
Kristine branched out of her bedroom and opened up an office in her home town, Westwood NJ. She found a fabric mill in Rhode Island that creates the specific fabric needed for these amazing yoga pants. The pants are then printed in New Jersey using wet printing to make the patterns solid on the fabric. K-Deer is a 100% online business, and finally 5 years ago Kristine was able to hire her sister to the K-Deer team! 

Why did Kristine begin to give a portion of proceeds to charity? 
A big part of yoga is giving service to others. Kristine really strived to find a way to fulfil this part of her lifestyle, and she found her place of service when her father was diagnosed with Aphasia and she began to volunteering her time at the Adler Aphasia Center which her dad attended. 

At the same time yogis began to love the striped pattern and Kristine made 3 patterns: Alexa, named after her best friend, Laura, named after the insta-famous yogi Laura Sykora, and Jodi, named after another friend of hers who was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Kristine only had a limited amount of time to volunteer to help others with her business and she really wanted to help raise money for Jodi’s medical bills, so she thought of the idea to donate a portion of all of the Jodi leggings sales to Jodi’s fund. After that was paid she continued donating any proceeds from the leggings to the Adler Aphasia Center. 

Since then Kristine decides which leggings proceeds go to different charities simply based on what she hears in the community or who approaches her. The goal is to change the sense of giving back to an energy in the room so that it can start a positive and service inspired conversation amongst everyone.  

How did you change the conversations in a yoga class? 
Kristine told me that a big factor driving her business is not so much giving money to the charities,  but it is about changing the energy in a room and getting fellow yogis into a give back mindset. Her hopes are that her leggings will become a conversation starter, and that conversation will be centered around giving back to others in need. Hopefully, as the K-Deer leggings become more popular, a fellow yoga student will see the leggings, and the energy in the room will shift to a charitable/giving energy, and a community will be built. 

What advice do you have to anyone who wants to start a business? 
Unfortunately, Kristine told me that she learned the hard way that all business owners NEED to learn to set boundaries. After years of working 24/7 at K-Deer, Kristine learned that she needs to look at her business as work, and not her baby in order to have a healthy live/work balance. Recently she has been trying hard to reconnect with what she finds important in her life, continue to teach yoga, and her business has become successful enough that she can hire people to delegate work to.   

“We are Humans in business, not Women in business.” Kristine stressed this to me when I asked her if she had any advice as a woman in business. She can definitely think of situations in the past where she had been taken advantage of, but she feels that was because of her kindness and not because of her gender. Conversely, Kristine has felt as if she gets more respect because the is a woman in business. Especially, now that she has become a part of the less than 5% of female-owned businesses who have passed $1 Million in sales. 

What’s the most important lesson you would like to leave readers with? 
Working in fashion is a lot of operational work and the creativity side is small, but it’s the magical part you need to keep the spark and become successful.  

Here’s how Kristine suggests you keep the spark burning: 

  1. Get creative, often. Kristine loves painting, sewing, and running when she feels like she needs a creative spark. 
  2. Find people you trust to work with, surround yourself with, and talk with. 
  3. Mistakes won’t kill you. 
  4. Make sure everyone on your team shares a good set of values. 
  5. Learn from your struggles, like they say “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor”. 

Of course, Kristine related running her business to a yoga pose. For those of you who practice yoga, you understand the struggle of trying to perfect a yoga pose. Kristine relates that to fighting through struggles, and then you find the balance and strength to perfect it! 

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