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INNOVATE

Interview with Vanessa Lee, Co-Founder and Creative Director of Spiritual Gangster: Good Vibes, Gratitude and Being Part of a Movement

Spiritual Gangster is more than a clothing line. The brand sets out to make a difference in by bringing happiness to the lives of its customers and partnering with Feeding America to send meaals to people in need.

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BY Laurel Mintz - 21 Aug 2018

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Spiritual Gangster was born almost by accident. Vanessa Lee, Co-Founder and Creative Director of the brand sat down with me to discuss how she and her husband came to create the clothing line and what the future holds.

LM: Let's start by giving me a snapshot of you and the company.

VL: I am a mom of four, an ex-ultra-marathon runner and longtime yoga lover and teacher. Spiritual Gangster was started about eight years ago and has grown from our garage to an international company with 22 amazing employees. Most importantly, through our Give Back program we have donated over 10 million meals to Feeding America (For every item we sell, we donate proceeds to provide a meal to a person in need).

LM: Tell us your origin story. Why you? Why did you start this company?

VL: My husband Ian Lopatin and I owned a yoga studio in Phoenix, Arizona where we taught yoga to hip hop music. One day after class our friend came up to him and said, "You're like a gangster ... a spiritual gangster," and we decided to put it on a shirt. Everyone began asking if they could have one too so we started selling them in the studio. It took off from there. We ended up selling the yoga studio so we could put our efforts towards Spiritual Gangster.

LM: What was your favorite part about starting Spiritual Gangster?

VL: I loved the idea of sharing all the amazing things I was learning through the study of yoga with the world through the messaging on the shirts. Wearing Spiritual Gangster makes people feel happy and I love that part of it. I fell in love with what we were doing even more when we partnered with Feeding America for our one-for-one program. I realized that this company could make an impact in multiple ways.

LM: How did you think of the concept and what/who was your inspiration?

VL: The name came to us through that one conversation, but for years before that I had been a retail buyer for yoga studios. We had our own stores within our studios in Arizona and stocked several lifestyle brands. I noticed that some of our students were starting to prefer wearing their nice t shirts and flowy pants to yoga rather than the activewear brands that were available at that time. I embraced this as Spiritual Gangster started to grow and created lifestyle apparel inspired by yoga + music and the vibe that was happening, and the customers began to wear our product both in class and out of the studio. The way people dressed was starting to change and I believe we played a big part in that. Athleisure as we know it today didn't exist yet.

My inspiration came (and continues to come from) from a variety of places: yoga, music, travel, books, and art to name a few ....

LM: Talk to us about this marriage between ancient wisdom and modern attitudes/culture.

VL: There are so many beautiful teachings from yoga that date back thousands of years and I feel that we are in a time where people are recognizing that we are part of something larger, that we are all connected, and the teachings from back then are resonating so strongly again today. It's a really amazing time right now as people are more aware, compassionate, understanding and wanting to feel that they are contributing. The principles such as non-violence, gratitude, truthfulness, mindfulness, karma and more are as relevant today as they were back then, if not more so.

LM: If you had to describe the brand in three words, what would you choose?

VL: Good vibes, grateful, (a) movement.

LM: Talk to us a little bit about why you think Spiritual Gangster has been so successful. What was the turning point for you when you knew, this is it?

VL: I think we've been this successful so far because people love what we represent and the message. Though we've been doing this for a little while now, I feel like we are just getting started. I would say the moment that was most impactful for me was hitting the 10 million meal mark with Feeding America. Equally impactful was being invited to work with Savannah Guthrie of the Today Show to create a tee for charity. Working with her was an awesome experience and as a result of her idea we were able to donate over 2 million meals right before Thanksgiving.

LM: How can emerging brands in the space be successful?

VL: Trust your gut, surround yourself with great people and don't be afraid to ask a lot of questions.

LM: What brands are you currently obsessed with and why?

VL: I love what brands like Glossier and The Reformation are doing in terms of writing their own rules and reinventing their industries. Gucci continues to push the boundaries of creativity and I love that. I also have so much love for streetwear brands like Fear of God, Off White, Supreme and Adidas. There's an energy and a vibe that you get from these brands that is infectious.

LM: What is your take on the future of Spiritual Gangster? What's next?

VL: My husband likes to say that we are a movement disguised as a clothing company. We are on a mission to spread good vibes, to raise the vibration of the world and to give back. Up next for us - there's so much. For the moment, being grateful for where we're at, what we've been able to accomplish and for what we've learned so far. So many good things to come!

Gratitude and good vibes only!

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