Women We’re Watching: Kelly Brabants of Booty by Brabants
Massachusetts native Kelly Brabants has been daydreaming about owning her own business since she was eight years old. So when she left LA to go back to her New England roots, she did just that by creating her very own signature group fitness class, Booty by Brabants. Even though she says her first class was a flop and she started with just over 100 instagram followers, Kelly persevered… and it didn’t take long for her class to catch on with the Boston community.
Fast-forward a couple years, and she now has her own line of colorful, bootylicious workout apparel—from her signature #BBBLeggings to cropped tops and biker shorts—all stamped with the cheeky logo Kelly designed herself (complete with an upside-down heart for the Os in “booty”). This summer, she’ll be making waves with her new BBB Swim Collection launch.
Kelly’s knack for building a community around her brand (both on and offline), her passion for making an impact on the Boston fitness movement and her contagious positive personality make her a woman we’re watching.
You started off as an aspiring dancer, moving to LA to pursue your passion. At what point did you decide that maybe there was something else in the cards for you, giving you that nudge to change directions?
I had been dancing my entire life, but I felt defeated in a way. I was living in LA, working as a hostess and taking dance classes, but dance wasn’t supporting me financially or professionally. At the time, it felt like I hit rock bottom, but my experience there was actually what changed everything for me! I was healthy and happy but career-wise, I didn’t want to keep living paycheck to paycheck.
Feeling isolated, I moved home to be closer to my family. I started personal training at Equinox and absolutely loved it, even before I had my own clients and was making $8 an hour passing out towels.
After three years of personal training, I started thinking about ways I could scale it; my mindset was “How can I work smarter not harder, and make a living doing something I’m passionate about?” So, I came up with a fitness class concept and after an exhausting day of work, I told my friend I really wanted to create my own business and have my name on it. “Does Booty by Brabants sound really corny to you?” I asked. It just rolled off my tongue. She loved it.
People would joke, asking me all the time, “How do you get your booty?” I’d be like, “Well, a little bit is genetics but I love doing squats,” so it just made sense! I started off teaching free classes to practice and get the concept down. Soon after, my class took off. After six months, I was teaching all around Boston—from The Club by George Foreman III to the Seaport Hotel—and after about a year, my following on Instagram exploded.
Your career actually began in fitness, and you’ve been named by ClassPass as Boston’s “Most Motivating Fitness Instructor.” How did you take Booty by Brabants from your signature fitness classes to launching an entire line of apparel?
After about a year, I was teaching 23 classes a week and again asked myself, “How can I scale this?” That’s when I launched my legging line. I was wearing leggings all the time and I’m such a consumer of good, quality athleisure. I got the idea when my mom brought me back a pair of textured emerald green leggings from Brazil. I’d always gravitate to that one pair, even when I had 50 other pairs in my drawer.
I was in Starbucks one day, and someone was like, “Where can I get your pants?” I realized you couldn’t get them here, so I thought, “Why can’t I do this?” I started with a few hundred pairs with the investment from my dad.
After one of my classes, all of them were sold out. I gave 100 percent back to my dad and said, “Let’s do this.” Without my parents, I would have nothing. They’ve been so supportive of me since day one… and now they both work with me!
Did you always have that entrepreneurial mindset growing up?
I grew up in a dance team environment, and I’m one of seven siblings! I don’t like to do anything I’ve seen before, and I’ve always been the type to go against the grain and take risks. I dropped out of college after one year but I believed in myself so much.
I always had this intuition that I was going to have my own business one day, ever since I was eight years old. I would tell all my friends, and I’d often say to my mom, “One day, I will buy you a house in Brazil and you’ll never have to work again.”
My mom moved from Brazil to Boston when she was 27 to marry my dad; it was hard for her to leave family to be here. We’d go there once a year, but I’d tell her that one day she wouldn’t ever have to be away from her family. This year, she’s gone back seven times, and I actually flew her down there for Mother’s Day for her to be with her Mom.
Kelly modeling the new BBB Swim Collection that launched summer 2019.
Your “every woman” clothing is unique in that it’s one-size-fits-most, merging comfort with confidence. Why was that important to you and how did you go about designing a product that filled that need?
I was really passionate about that concept, even when everyone doubted me. I’ve always had a little insecurity about trying on something and not having it fit well. You know, you go to a store, find these jeans that don’t fit and then it completely ruins your mood.
When I came out with the leggings, I loved that no matter what my size or how bloated I was, they always stretched to fit my body type and always made me feel sexy and confident. I wanted women to be able to buy the leggings online, then get them at their doorstep and not have to worry about if they’ll fit.
I don’t just mass produce them; I have women I meet and talk to in person. I’ve changed the hemming and silhouette dozens of time and I’ve added different thread to make them better for my customers. This year, I came out with the Curvy Crocos which still have that one-size-fits-all feel, ranging from size 14 to 30, and we’ll also be launching Curvy Bras soon.
My number one goal is that people are happy in my leggings. It’s all I care about. I don’t want it to be a niche; I want them to be for every woman. Its like the sisterhood of traveling pants; your friends can all wear the same pair!
What were some of the challenges you faced early on when launching your product. Any crazy stories that stand out?
There have been a few nightmares with the material! In fact, the new Pocket Leggings weren’t really supposed to be pocket leggings; they were supposed to be Not Your Average BBBasic Black Leggings. We hired someone new, and when I went to the table where they were cutting the material, I knew right away those pants were cut wrong. They had already done thousands, and I was like, “We can’t sell these!”
I was screaming in Portuguese and left the factory crying. Later my designer texted me suggesting we do the pockets, add a side panel and make them bigger. That night, we went to the factory to make sample. I put them on and I was like, “Holy, sh*t, these are the best pants!” I literally wore them every single day for a month and got so many compliments. So I decided to go for it and make them all pockets! They’re now almost sold out.
I truly believe you need to fail to succeed. I have days where I compare myself to other brands, but then I catch myself. I’m always thinking, “What can I do next?”
What’s your number one piece of advice when it comes to a new product launch… what do you think was key to your success?
You have to personally be obsessed with it. A lot of people just want to sell stuff and be business owners, but at the end of the day only one in 10 businesses succeed. I never started out wanting to sell; I was just obsessed with the leggings and wearing them every single day. I live and breathe my pants.
Social media is a big part of your brand. In fact, you even began selling your leggings on Instagram. How have you used the platform to leverage your brand and connect with the community?
It’s just being my authentic self. Leggings aside, me as a person is never going anywhere. I love my followers and I know they would buy whatever I do now because they know and trust me as a person. I share my life on Instagram and that’s what people like. Also, I don’t schedule my posts and do them all myself. No one knows my password… not even my sister!
You give a lot of your energy to others. What are three things in your personal wellness toolbox you can’t live without?
There’s a lot of pressure in the health and wellness industry because you have to leave your issues aside and deal with them when you leave class. It can be hard to focus on self care.
Three things I can’t live without: my probiotics (which have really helped my stomach), my Sundays with my family where I can be 100 percent myself, and my pampering. I was dealing with really bad acne recently and found a new esthetician who saved my life.
Spreading positivity and making an impact on others is a big part of what you do. How do you channel that positive mindset, especially on off days or through tough times?
On my Instagram, I try to stay positive and carefree, but the reality is, I’m a stressed-out crazy person sometimes. It’s one of those things that I’ve learned how to deal with. I never let my mood affect my classes and I always give 100 percent of myself. I’m not fake positive; I’m just doing what I love to do. The older I get, the more grateful I am for life and health.
I have days when I’m exhausted and don’t want to get out of bed, but when I walk into that room, it’s my job to make these people have a great workout and push positive energy on them. They pay to show up, and I truly believe negative energy can harm someone.
My biggest piece of advice is whatever you do, don’t do it because it’s what you see on Instagram. Do it because there’s nowhere else you’d rather be. You can’t half-ass something and you can’t fake it.
Want more inspiration from women changing their industries? Check out this interview with Parsley Health founder Robin Berzin, and this chat with Olympic gold medalist Nastia Liukin.