CEO Karishma Bali decided to turn her frustration with a lack of South Asian representation in the fitness world into a full-fledged fitness apparel business.
“My story is a little different than a lot of my South Asian friends. They didn’t grow up with fitness or sports in their households,” Bali said. “You can’t go into a store and see someone of South Asian descent modeling on one of their billboards or sites. I want to encourage that community to integrate fitness to become a better version of themselves.”
Bali is the founder and CEO of Pulse Athletic Apparel, selling affordable and high-quality fitness apparel while striving for inclusivity and a sense of community. Bali founded the company in 2020 during the pandemic, tapping into her personal passion and turning it into a brand.
An Athletic Background
When Bali thinks back to her introduction to athletics, she thinks of her dad: her first coach. A former youth tennis athlete in India, her dad “brought [her] into the tennis world.” For 10 years growing up in a Chicago suburb, Bali trained as a competitive athlete in tennis and soccer, inspired by her parents. After graduating college, she picked up running as a hobby.
“Sports were always integrated into my life up until college, when I became busy,” Bali said.
“Toward the end of college, I was at a bit of a roadblock, wanting to set a goal for myself that had nothing to do with academia, research or my career.”
So Bali trained for a half marathon in 2016 – and “the rest has been history.” Every year since then, Bali has run a full marathon, turning a hobby into an integral part of her life.
“When I was running, paying attention to fitness, all the other pieces in my life started coming together,” Bali said. “I had a newfound hype and excitement to really just do things, and that’s something I wanted to build a brand around.”
Promoting Fitness Journeys
Pulse was a pivot from Bali’s anticipated career path. She holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and biology, and a master’s in biology/medical physiology and global entrepreneurial management.
Before founding Pulse, Bali was in the early stages of creating a medical device, but because of the pandemic, she was unable to continue with the project.
Instead, “one thing led to another,” and she officially launched Pulse Athletic Apparel on June 26, 2020. The company strives for “inclusivity and affordability, without compromising quality,” according to Bali.
“We’re one of the first brands that has a wide array of sizing to include people on both sides of the spectrum, with extra small and plus sizes,” Bali said. “Also, by really having a brand that emphasizes affordability, it won’t deter people from getting started in their fitness journey.”
But the pivot came with challenges, as well. Being a South Asian female business owner has been difficult to navigate, Bali said.
“It can be intimidating. I haven’t met any other South Asian women in the fitness apparel space who own platforms like this,” she said. “But I pivoted my perspective on it to make it seem like this is something I’m trying to ‘pulse’ forward, to push through and be one of the first, because I haven’t seen it.”
An Entrepreneur in a Pandemic
Bali conceptualized, organized and launched a company all during a global pandemic. However, she said although the combination of the pandemic and her career pivot was difficult, the pandemic actually presented advantages in that she could easily access people.
Because everyone was at home and online, she said, she was able to connect with many people across the world and share Pulse’s story.
“When I launched, I thought: this could be the dumbest idea I’ve ever had, or the best,” Bali said. “It’s crazy to think the entire business was created from one desk, one phone, one laptop and one notebook.”
Bali also said the transition between projects also trained her to “become unstuck by continuing to move,” both literally and figuratively. Whether using fitness to clear her mind or creating new experiences through Pulse, she said she grew both personally and professionally this past year.
Reflecting back on the past year, Bali said the first year of Pulse included navigating learning curves and finding their voice. She said they were able to build a “baby community” in the first year, but they are looking to a larger scale as they enter year two.
“We’re looking to really scale globally. It’s very refreshing to go into this with so much knowledge that we’ve gained,” Bali said. “Last year was socially isolating, and I want to make sure everyone sees Pulse as a family, something they can join without judgement or obligation to become a better and healthier version of themselves.”
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