Women We’re Watching: Martha Kaplan, Athleta Community Marketing Manager
Martha Kaplan grew up in Toronto and was always an athlete—a runner, dressage rider, figure skater and skier. She loved being active, though it was a side hobby as she left Canada to attend Boston University and eventually move to NYC to pursue a career as an art director in advertising.
Then, in the late 80s when ad agencies began merging, she decided to leave what she calls the “crazy world of advertising” to pursue her passion of athletics and fitness. She became a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor, and then tried her hand at all areas of fitness and wellness—program management, sales, marketing, operations and leadership.
She says she’s been lucky to have worked with many pioneers in the industry, and she was one of the people actually talking about wellness in the 80s, well before it was the hot topic and priority that it is today. Then, when she was working in NYC for Reebok Sports, but living in Westchester and searching for more work/life balance, she saw an ad that Athleta, the Certified B Corp women’s athleisure line was opening a store near her home in Scarsdale.
“I was familiar with the Athleta catalogue because back in the early 90s when I was running competitively, there were no brands for women’s performance fabrics, so I had ordered from the catalogue,” she says. “I still have my first bathing suit from Athleta.
That ad presented her an exciting opportunity to be part of a growing brand. There was one leadership position open and although she had never really worked in retail, she decided to take a chance and applied. “I felt an immediate connection to the brand and the women who interviewed me,” Martha says. “I ended up getting the job and the rest is history.”
Martha’s impressive career in wellness and fitness, plus her genuine love for building community and supporting women, make her one of the Women We’re Watching.
Your work at Athleta helps connect women to each other and the brand. What drew you to the position and what do you hope to achieve with your work?
What drew me initially to the position in the store was the mission, the product, the potential growth of the brand and of course the comradery of women. I also saw opportunity in the women’s athleisure space to create a community experience in the store—connecting like-minded women and girls to each other, through in-store events, workshops, meet-ups, shopping parties and more. No other brand was bringing women together in this way.
Meeting and connecting with other fitness and wellness professionals, entrepreneurs, PTA presidents, women business owners and leaders of women’s organizations and teams is what drew me to my current position. When I initially started at Athleta, we began hosting these events in a few stores. The company supported this idea and we grew our community programming to extend across our entire fleet. I was fortunate enough to create my own job description and became part of the community marketing team.
We began to see the positive impact community had on the customer experience and how it ties directly to our mission. We now host events in all of our stores across the country and support our local communities of women and girls. Through my role, I hope to empower other women and girls to connect to each other, lead healthy and active lives and reach their limitless potential the way others have empowered me. Athleta is creating the space for us to do that.
We love that Athleta is a Certified B Corp, and that it’s a forward-thinking brand when it comes to empowering women. How does that mindset permeate your job and the Athleta culture?
I wake up feeling good every day knowing that I work for a business that is a force for good. Athleta empowers me with a growth mindset and gives me confidence knowing I’ll be making a positive impact on women’s lives and the world. Athleta’s mission—“To ignite a community of active, healthy, confident women and girls to empower each other to realize their limitless potential”—permeates every decision I make in my role as community manager.
Anything is possible and when you think about growth and building a brand, you have to try new things, you have to be open to feedback. Feeling empowered to me means feeling a connection to something bigger and something yet to come. Being a part of a forward-thinking brand means working in a culture where I can help create something bigger.
You’re also a part-time SoulCycle instructor on the side. How do you balance that with a full-time job?
My role at Athleta and my role at SoulCycle are intertwined and support each other. I’m building community in both roles. The energy, motivation and connections I get from both balance each other out; I can’t do one without the other and they feed into each other. Teaching fitness has always been a part of my lifestyle and DNA. It’s who I am. So for me, it’s not about finding the balance—both roles ARE the balance. I teach only on the weekends so I can keep my commitments and schedule open for my full-time position with Athleta.
How do you define wellness? What’s most important to your daily routine?
Wellness to me means a good quality of life and finding a balanced way to embrace it in the present moment. I find as I get older, it’s about taking care of myself, reducing stress and having a sense of well-being in all areas of my life. It’s not a regimen but a way of enjoying life.
I’ve always been in the health and fitness business so it means grounding myself in a daily dose of exercise, whether it’s SoulCycle, running or yoga. Making healthy choices when it comes to nutrition and getting a good night’s sleep are crucial. Wellness is about relationships and having loving friends and family around me. It’s also about having a fulfilling job and doing what I’m passionate about every day. All of this gives me sustained energy so that I can be a productive leader at work and a good partner and mother. I think when all of these things are integrated together, I’m my happiest and in a state of wellness.
What brings you joy?
At 62, I can say there are really three things that bring me joy.
- Feeling good—my health, that’s most important! Waking up feeling healthy, strong and energetic.
- Seeing my children—Emily, 29 and Joseph 24, happy, independent and thriving in their lives.
- Connecting with people and being able to channel my good energy and positivity and share it with others. We all have the potential to lift each other up!
What would you say to a woman looking to change the world or disrupt the status quo with her ideas?
Find something special that no one else is doing that will bring value to someone’s life, that will bring contribution to a company, that will make an impact in the world and be a differentiator. Be passionate about it. Find others who believe in your ideas and vision, and can help support you as you bring your ideas to life—bring them along on your journey, gather feedback from them, be open. Be excited about your ideas and work at your ideas every day.
When you’re disrupting the status quo, you may not always know where you are going and if your idea is going to be successful. There will be bumps along the way, but that’s how good ideas become great ideas and eventually come to life. Stay committed to your vision and your passion.
My role at Athleta started with an idea, an opportunity to do something different. Hopefully I’ve opened other doors for women. We’re well on our way to impacting the lives of women and girls every day in a positive way. We have built a community, a #powerofshe movement and we’re excited about paving the way for women to change the world.
Do you have a favorite Athleta piece for spring that we should check out?
My favorite new spring piece is the Enlighten Wrap Sweater. It’s so versatile. I wear it over my leggings to the gym or paired with my jeans and most recently I wore it over my bathing suit to the pool. It’s soft, cozy and has a hood and thumbholes—features I love!
Love reading about how successful women who are disrupting the status quo? Check out this woman who’s changing the healthcare system as we know it.