Women in Business Q&A: Emily Vitale and Lori Florio, Founders of PRISMSPORT

01/08/2015 12:34 pm ET Updated Mar 10, 2015

Emily Vitale has been active in fashion and sports throughout her life. As an athlete, Emily was formerly a competitive freestyle skier. Currently she is an avid tennis player and trains in martial arts.

After an early career in fashion and sports marketing, Emily left work to raise her children. She soon began crafting accessories and tennis clothes that reflected her love of color, print and texture.

Finding only monochromatic fitness clothes on the market, she co-founded PRISMSPORT with Lori Florio to share the vision that performance fitness clothing should also be fashionable. She is thrilled to see the success of this concept.

Lori Florio is a lifelong athlete and fashionista. She spends a lot of time in fitness clothing and has always tried to add some fashion flair to her outfits whether in yoga class, running on the trails, or on the tennis court. Over the years she has been a competitive gymnast, a dancer, a competitive runner, an avid tennis player and most recently completed her 200-hour yoga teacher training.

Lori led a 17 year career in magazine publishing where she held a variety of advertising sales and management positions at several major consumer magazines. She reached the level of publisher and retired to raise her 3 children in New York City. Lori has a BA from Dartmouth College and an MBA from New York University.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
EV: Honestly, I'm not sure I really consider myself a leader -I'm more of a do-er. I grew up without a father, so my mother and sisters learned to do everything a man traditionally handled--we changed the light bulbs, took out the garbage, painted the living room, and learned to use all the tools in the basement, from the hammer to the band saw. In my family success was defined as getting things done. I've carried this mantra with me throughout my career and into the launch of PRISMSPORT. It's helped me accomplish many things and overcome plenty of obstacles.

LF: I have always been a leader; in school, in my past career, with volunteer activities and even organizing social activities with friends. I was raised to be extremely independent and make things happen for myself, so I have always assumed I could handle things. It has given me the courage to try new things and expect a positive outcome.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at PRISMSPORT?
EV: My early work experience stemmed from a need to support my various hobbies and vices. I taught skiing to pay for a season's pass, and sold many of my sewing projects to support my habit of buying beautiful fabric.

Out of college, I worked in retailing because I loved fashion--it was a great start and gave me my first taste of the fashion industry. After that, I was lucky enough to land at Ellesse in Advertising and PR. I was familiar with Ellesse from my days skiing and it became my dream company. When I joined it was a small company in NY. I gained insight on many fundamental operations of running a fashion brand that I carried over to PRISMSPORT--dealing with retailers of all sizes, manufacturing, and especially marketing. I stopped working when I had my girls, but continued to sew and sell my wares to close friends and family. Once my girls got older, I started organizing my hobby into a business with my friend and co-founder Lori Florio, and PRISMSPORT was born!

LF: I spent the first chapter of my life in magazine publishing, where I rose through the ranks in advertising sales at New York Magazine and Seventeen, and eventually publisher of New Woman magazine. I learned to paint a verbal picture of a magazine reader, which is quite similar to creating a verbal portrait of a fitness clothing customer. My experience with sales staff and marketing teams helped prepare me for selling and marketing PRISMSPORT to consumers and retailers. I also received my MBA during this time, which allowed me to see the larger business picture and gain skills outside of my chosen field.

My "Chapter 2" was devoted to raising a family. During that time I organized and led many events at my children's schools and became president of our block association. These volunteer positions were particularly helpful in developing my collaborative skills within a group. PRISMSPORT is my "Chapter 3." For me, it is a culmination of a lifelong love of fitness and fashion. I play all my sports hard and always will. PRISMSPORT felt like a natural progression from what I learned from all my previous experiences and roles.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at PRISMSPORT?
EV: Our highlights include: seeing our first products produced and arriving in packaged bags with hang tags--just like a "real" company; a picture of Nancy Shevell in People magazine wearing a PRISMSPORT top; a text from my daughter, who worked at ShopBop, alerting me we had an 80% sell through our first five days; and a request through our website's "Be a Retailer" from Bloomingdale's and not believing it could it really be the same one!

LF: We had no idea how hard this would all be. It is a good thing we didn't know because I don't think we would have ever done it! Now the challenge is to understand and navigate the changing retail and e-commerce environment as we build our business. The other challenge is on the creative side- how to build upon our concept, blending high performance fitness apparel with current, sophisticated fashion trends and broaden the line in terms of silhouettes, prints, colors and treatments.

How is PRISMSPORT shaking up the active apparel industry?
EV: We are one of the first active wear companies to create a fashionable product that is truly an all-sport performance product. Most brands boast that they are "studio to street"- but they either step too far away on either side of that line, offering fashionable but sub-par quality, or high performing fabrics with little style sense. With PRISMSPORT you can live in the brand and truly can enjoy it in and outside of a gym.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking to start their own business?
LF: I would encourage women who are starting their own businesses to talk to everyone they can find who is related to that industry. Ask lots of questions and listen. Learn about every area of the business, even if you are not directly involved in all aspects, because you will have a better picture and roadmap of where you want to go.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
EV: I don't like to use the word balance because it means taking away from one to add to another in order to keep things even. It's more important how the two work together in a fluid sense. Right now I can devote more time to the business because my kids are grown, but it did take a while, however, for my family to feel empowered and self-reliant. They grew to understand that they could be responsible for dinner, calling a plumber, etc. Now they are active participants in managing our life at home, which has freed me up to spend even more time on PRISMSPORT.

LF: Maintaining balance is very tough. I have found it much harder to be an entrepreneur than a corporate executive. As an entrepreneur you make all the big decisions, but you also often have to deal with the most menial of tasks. And I never stop thinking about the business: what we could do, should do, and shouldn't do... it's hard to turn off my brain. Also, with modern communication, it is hard not to look at emails at home. I am trying to resist working on my "free" time. And my yoga practice helps me with centering and balance.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
EV: I'm frustrated with the standing stigma of women not being taken seriously in business sector. I often feel forced to bring a man into conversations with other men (and even women) to get them to listen to my suggestions, thoughts or advice. And often times they don't say anything different!

LF: The biggest issue for women in the workplace is that for most of us, regardless of how hard we work, are still the ones who run our families and homes. Kids, schools, activities, household needs, dinner on the table, bills, travel, social lives, and on and on.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
EV: Through a network of personal and business contacts, we have made many PRISMSPORT "friends". Our FOP (Friends of PRISM) community has offered a wealth of advice, expertise and introductions. We could never have gotten this far without this support system.

LF: I haven't had any specific female mentors, but I do have amazing, smart, sensitive, thoughtful, and insightful friends and acquaintances who inspire me everyday.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
EV: I admire any woman who is attempting to integrate work and family. I have learned how truly difficult it is on both fronts and learned by observing and absorbing the different and creative ways that women accomplish this feat in their everyday lives.

What do you want PRISMPORT to accomplish in the next year?
LF: My goals for PRISMSPORT in the next year including building the brand as a recognizable name, broadening the product line, increasing our wholesale distribution among major retailers, specialty stores and fitness venues and generating more business on our website.