Co-founded by best friends, Shireen Juma and Lee-Anne Solomons, The Heraia (The Her-ai-yah) is an activewear brand made by women for women. The name ‘Heraia’ was inspired by the first ever recorded women’s athletic competition, held back in 6th century B.C. The competition was made up of sixteen fierce female athletes, and held in honour of the goddess Hera.
Today, this powerful inspiration translates into The Heraia. Successfully launched last November, their sleek monochromatic activewear exudes the same quiet strength and confidence that those early Olympians represented, but for the modern woman. We catch up with Shireen Juma and Lee-Anne Solomons and talk about their journey into becoming full fledged Girl Bosses, and how their friendship has lifted them up along the way.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, what inspired you to start THE HERAIA?
We have been best friends since we were little and have grown up with similar interests and values. I (Shireen) have built a long career in HR within financial services and have a more of a business background, while Lee-Anne’s focus and vast experience has been in Fashion and Buying. About 3 years ago I was made redundant which lead us to reflect on our life choices. Lee-Anne and I were having a tea and natter in bed one day (as best friends do lol) when we started discussing what we would do instead of our ‘traditional’ careers. We decided we both would love to try and start our own project and ‘The Heraia’ was born. We chose activewear as we both enjoy taking time to focus on our fitness and wellbeing.
Lee-Anne actually got made redundant a short while after that and so we had some time to put some of the wheels in motion before we both went back to work. We pumped our redundancy money into the business and we haven’t had any outside investment as of yet.
We have worked so hard (while working full time jobs, because the bills keep coming even when you are trying to build an empire lol) to try and build a brand and finally launched last November. So we run The Heraia evenings and weekends and have tough day jobs too.
Lee-Anne and I do everything; from design, fabric and trim selection and development, to working with the factories to produce the garments, to finances and marketing, and also managing social media. We do it all — just the 2 of us. Although we are lucky to be surrounded by an amazing group of friends and family that have supported us from day one.
Where did the inspiration for the name THE HERAIA came from?
We actually spent a long time thinking of our brand name and we originally landed on different name. Then Lee-Anne came across a really cool article about what was essentially the first women’s Olympic event — it was held in honor of the goddess Hera and the event was thus called ‘The Heraia’.
The Heraia was the first recorded women’s athletic competition held at Olympia in the sixth Century BC. 16 amazing women ran races in honour of the goddess Hera. The winners were crowned with olive branches and legend says they were then blessed with strength from the goddess herself — this is the vision that we want to express through our brand.
Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
We want create activewear to last, for women, by women. We are not about fast fashion and instead are more focused on quality, the best construction, and finishing. We handpicked the finest fabric, created bespoke luxury trims, and tried to create a chic and modern collection that will make women feel amazing. We have tried to be super thoughtful about shape, support, and silhouette and tried to consider every detail. (Even down to the gusset to eliminate the dreaded camel toe!)
Our style is simple yet stylish and we went for a monochrome palette. We made sure the black stay black no matter how much you wash them. So we really have tried to think of everything and create a product women can love and wear over and over again.
We also tried to create product that you’d be happy and comfortable to wear in life and not just at the gym. So you can mix and match or dress certain things up or get them super sweaty in a workout. We also chose to support local and manufacture in the UK.
What advice do you have for women who would like to become a GirlBoss like yourself?
SJ: We are still growing and learning all the time and our business is still very small, but we have certainly learned some important lessons along the way. My advice would be to start building your brand early, even before you have a finished product. As soon as we decided on our brand name we started to think about what we stood for and what our brand ethos and aesthetic would be. We started to build our following from day 1, so that people could buy in and begin to understand what we were about as quickly as possible. I think we now have a clear brand identity and that we are unapologetically us. We are all about girls supporting girls and honouring other women just as they are — whether you go smash workouts everyday or drink wine and eat pizza in your undies. We understand the importance of balance and created a collection with that in mind too. Something for everyone.
LS: My advice would be to try and stay positive even when things don’t seem to be going your way. People will inevitably let you down (sometimes in a major way) but try and stay focused on what you are trying to build and why you are doing what you do. Take a moment to feel the feelings (its ok to be upset or angry or frustrated) but always learn from it and keep going. We are friends first and foremost, so we always try and be kind to each other and remember that everything comes from a good place. When you are as close as sisters, its easy to lose patience with each other, or when you’re tired and over worked you can read a short email or text message the wrong way. On top of The Heraia, we naturally each have our own personal stress from high pressured day jobs or just life. So we actually need to just sit down and remind each other that we are ALWAYS on each others’ sides. When in doubt, we always try to remember the best in each other and assume the most positive intention.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced as an entrepreneur so far?
We have honestly come up against every possible challenge and speed bump in existence. It’s been tough. People who over-promise and under-deliver, end up completely setting our process back. Creating so much extra work as well as wasting so much time and money. We didn’t have a lot to begin with so small loses/let downs actually feel like a big blow. We have persevered though and we see it as a learning curve.
We’ve had wobbles and tears, but of course we’ve had wins. Ultimately we are so proud of what we have been able to achieve on our own and that we have been able to launch product that we’re proud of this past November. Small business, Big dreams!