Starting at 50: Depend on no one but yourself

Kara Baker @ Move Athleisure
Kara Baker @ Move Athleisure

Editor’s note: It’s an incongruent priority for the business but speaks to the heart of the owner. Each morning, two metal bowls – one for water, the other for food – are placed outside the West Seventh Street door of Move Athleisure, one of Fort Worth’s hottest boutique clothing retailers.

It’s the first order of business for the store’s owner, Kara Baker. “There are stray dogs and cats who need food and water, especially in the summer months,” she says. “I can’t get in the right frame of mind to work until I know they will be OK.”

Owning your own business, especially a small business, requires heart, especially when it will also ask you to put your entire soul into it.

Kara Baker

Baker was 50 and recently divorced as she watched the rise of what is known as the athleisure wear business and decided to open her own shop. After getting advice and help from a cousin who had dabbled in the business in their hometown of Longview, Baker opened the store in 2018.

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We all know the rest of the story – or almost the rest, because this one is not finished. Baker says she made every mistake imaginable getting started, and then COVID hit.

Athleisure wear combines comfort and style, marries form with function, resulting in clothing that can be worn for a workout or to work. COVID and the work-from-home pattern that emerged was actually a perfect fit for the versatile yet stylish clothing trend. One fashion news source describes it as “the contraction of ‘athletic’ and ‘leisure.’ ”

The athleisure clothing market was valued at $155.2 billion in 2018 and is expected to reach $257.1 billion in 2026, according to one fashion source. It is an almost $50 billion business in the U.S. alone and is expected to be one of the major fashion trends of the 21st century. Even with the pandemic, sales in the U.S. grew by more than 150 percent a year ago in July and August.

For Baker, the pandemic meant running the store by herself and putting in 60-80 hour work weeks. Actually, that was not much of a change from one of her initial lessons: “When you own your own business you will learn sooner or later you can only depend on yourself. You have to be present. You have to be there.”

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She’s a spitfire of energy and spunk doing her best to do all the buying and store management while splitting parenting duties with her former husband raising 14-year old Bryce. She also has two older sons, Jack, 22, and Drew, 21, both of whom attend TCU.

Baker is a TCU graduate and Horned Frog fanatic whose father Billy Taylor played basketball at TCU when the Frogs were winning Southwest Conference championships in the 1950s. She likes to say she’s “all purple.”

Photographer and writer Amber Shumake spent a morning with the hyperkinetic and enthusiastic Baker, asking questions and shooting pictures while Kara talked about the challenges of starting her own business at 50, being a mother of a teenage son, and learning about clothing retail. In between she waited on customers … and filled the food and water bowls outside.

Tell us a little bit about this business and opening Athleisure.

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We’re big Horned Frogs. My sign lights up purple on Fridays and we do the 20% giving back if you wear purple. My boys are at TCU and I met my ex-husband at TCU.

Once I got divorced, I was, like, “What’s next?” I’m from Longview. My mom isn’t well and I go back and forth. My cousin has a yoga studio there. She had a small retail footprint in her studio. She was fashion merchandising at TCU.

We’re close and we just got to talking about it. I was looking for something to do, and she’s like “I think something like this would go over great in Fort Worth.” All we had was Lululemon and Athleta. I would drive over to Dallas for Bandier, but you know they’re snotty over there. You know, Carbon38 a little bit. So that’s basically how it began: seeing her store and just taking off from that.

It was called Move Athletic in Longview. But I love the word “Athleisure” – the word had just started to become popular – blending athletic wear with leisurewear. It’s the new fashion-forward.

Tell about the timeline from when you first went out to visit your cousin’s store. How long did it take you to bring this to fruition?

That was in 2017. I opened in March of 2018. I looked at Clearfork, but couldn’t afford it. I looked over by Waterside, I looked over by the Zoo. (The store is at 3244 W. 7th St.) Zyn22 was there, Bodybar was there. I felt like this was an up-and-coming area and so it was just one of those things where I was like this is where I need to be.

I even moved to the apartments upstairs so I could be close. I did the entire design, this entire place, from the lighting to the slat wall to the amethyst pulls to the mother of pearl desk. I needed a purpose in my life and that was mine.

In this post-COVID world, do you think athleisure is the new “super business casual?”

I do! Because I can spin in this outfit (this is 925Fit, this is Alo) but it’s moisture wicked, it’s got the four-way stretch, I can put this on with a cute wedge and wear this to lunch or I can get my sweat on next door and I’m going to leave and these are going to be dry. Obviously, that’s my huge new account – Aviator Nation. I’ve got the largest in-store in Texas.

How many hours a week do you spend here?

A lot. During COVID I didn’t have any help. All through April, I was working 50-60 hours a week. I mean, it was me. I did everything during COVID. Buying, opening, closing. If my son was sick and I had to go pick him up, I had to close the store up.

So the whole essence of this is positive and hospitable?

Positive energy and just personal service and bringing that back. I wanted to be able to have a shopping experience that is lost with the big chains and online services.

So how do you decide what to buy? Is it overwhelming?

It is overwhelming, but I’ve learned what my customers like, and I’ve learned the reps and the people I feel are good people. I carried Ultracor for a long time. It’s very high-end. Leggings start at $188, they have Swarovski crystals on some of them, and I thought, “Oh these are just going to blow out, everyone in Fort Worth is going to want these,” but I can’t give them away. I think maybe it’s the price point. I do better with them online. I know my good customers and when I go to market, I think about what they’ll like.

What tips or advice would you give someone wanting to start their own business?

I didn’t start until I was almost 50. It’s been tough, it’s been hard. It’s been a struggle. I’ve been up here until 2 o’clock in the morning, I’ve made some really big mistakes.

If I’m going to tell anyone anything it’s don’t depend on anyone but yourself. That’s a lot of the mistakes I made. I am a very trusting person and if you’re going to own your own business, you’ve got to be there and you’ve got to be in every aspect of your business from the buying to the selling to the inventory you have in your store.

You have to be hands-on, you have to be there, you have to be present. No one is going to look after your business as well as yourself.

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