Spinning Threads of Success with SPIbelt
by Jessica T. Brown
photography by Leslie Hodge
SPIbelt. Small personal item belt. You may have heard of them. You have most definitely seen them if you are a competition runner. But, you probably haven’t heard the story of how they started right here in the heart of Texas. Kim Overton, founder of SPIbelt, has found her life intertwining and intermingling with Austin since she was born. A second-generation Austinite, Overton’s life began on the University of Texas’ campus.
“My parents met in Germany, and I was born in England. My mom's British, my dad is a native ‘Austinite.’ My parents brought me back here when I was about one, and we lived in my grandparents' house on the East side. We were there until I started school, then we moved to West Austin into married student housing.”
Growing up in married student housing gave her the ability to connect with children whose parents also attended UT. “I grew up in this really neat environment with kids are from all over the world. That was great for me because my dad is black, my mom is white. I fit right in, and everything felt very adventurous and safe. I grew up in the 70's so that's a time where you could run around in the neighborhood, my mom would call me in when it got dark.”
While growing up in Austin, Overton knew that she wanted to be a dancer. Though Austin is internationally recognized for its music, the dance community wasn’t exactly as well known yet.
“I grew up here loving the live music scene, so I have that blues-rock vibe. I also loved house music, but Austin in the 80's had no house music. My drive was to get to the big city. The first step was move to England, live with my family, get out in the world, and from there I moved to New York. When I got to New York, within two weeks, I landed a spot on The Grind on MTV.”’
Yes, you read that right. Kim Overton was one of the main dancers on MTV’s The Grind. Back in the 80’s, MTV was king, and everyone was watching. A new way to engage in music was revolutionizing, and Overton was at the center.
“I was one of their main dancers for about a year and a half, and it was so much fun because I would do shout-outs to Austin, Texas. I was this country girl with a twang, in my little MTV outfit. Whenever I came to town to visit my family for the holidays, people I hardly knew would flock to me, ‘Oh my gosh you're the girl on MTV!’ My very first drive was to be a famous singer and dancer.”
Not to say that Overton wasn’t hustling on the side to make ends meet. As everyone knows, New York City isn’t cheap. It’s a city of magic and wonder. Craziness and calling, but it’s also incredibly challenging to survive as an artist.
“When I worked, I did music videos, and I supported myself by bartending. It was hard, and I learned rather quickly that making money from singing and dancing was very tough. I even went to NYU for a while to study the foundations of music and get into its serious side, but it just wasn't my calling.”
Through the process of finding her inner calling, Overton began to work in new media. She knew it wasn’t her passion and was determined to see exactly what was. On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Overton was in New York contemplating this direction in her life. Tragedy struck our nation and echoed throughout the world. In the midst of confusion and grief, Overton had a moment to look inward and ask, “Why am I doing this?” Struck with the fragility of life, in that moment, Overton decided to go back to working with people in health and fitness.
When Overton returned to Austin, fitness was at the forefront of her mind. “I started working on this fitness video. I put it together and created Love Your Legs (the Love Your Legs DVD is still available on Amazon). I was selling just enough to pay the bills. I was on a run one day trying to figure out marketing ideas for the DVD. I had my keys while I was running. It was 2006 during ACL, the Sunday of ACL in fact. I was jogging in place, and my keys were annoying me. Morcheeba was onstage, that was one of my favorite bands at the time, and the idea for SPIbelt hit me.
From there, I went to the fabric store and bought the supplies to make the first SPIbelt. I was living with my grandmother at the time, so I went home and handmade the first one. I wore it to the gym, I was a trainer, and all my clients wanted one.”
Do entrepreneurs have something in their blood that pulls them to create their own business. You have to wonder—Is it luck? Fortune? Being at the right place at the right time? Overton’s career path may be versatile and eccentric, but running a business has always made sense to her.e. “From early on, I've always loved the idea of running my own business. I was born an entrepreneur with that drive. At seven I would pick mistletoe and sell it to the neighbors. Even then, I loved the idea of creating a product, finding a customer base, selling it to customers, and having that independence of making your own money. I built that passion early on.
SPIbelt was actually my second patent. I had filed a patent on another idea while I was in New York, a product that didn't take off. When I thought of the SPIbelt, I thought, ‘Well here's another idea that could work, let's try it.’ I didn't get in the way of myself thinking, ‘Well, what if...maybe it won't work, it'll be too expensive.’ My mindset was always I’ll never know 'till I try.
I had to give it a shot, and I was able to grow organically because I made one at a time. It wasn't a big leap going to China, or overseas and placing an order for 50,000, borrowing money, etc. I just used whatever money I had in the bank. I made them by hand. As I sold them, I'd make more, and the interest grew from there. After a while, I thought, ‘This could potentially be a business. If it takes off, awesome. If it doesn't, it's okay. Next. Not a big deal.’ I was a trainer; I could just get more clients. I didn't second guess it, and I didn't think too much into the future, I just wanted to give the idea and myself the opportunity to try. It was always about, ‘just give it a shot.’”
SPIbelt’s golden thread of success kept spinning and spinning as Overton gained requests for belts. In 2007, Paul Carrozza of RUNTexas asked Overton if she could have 500 belts for the Austin Marathon. It was time for Overton to enlist some friends.
“I would distribute elastic with scissors and buckles, like, ‘Okay can you cut 100 over here, and you cut a 100 here?’ My friends only response was, ‘Can you at least give me a six-pack of beer?’
From that point forward, Overton decided to take SPIbelt as far as she possibly could. Like many entrepreneurs, Kim maintained a very hands-on relationship with her business.
“I worked myself, doing as many events as I could, making them, selling them, and dropping them off. When it became nuts, and I saw that I had consistent, very rapid growth, I asked my brother to help me. I asked him to quit his job, which made him very skeptical at first. Then, after he was working a few events, he saw that this thing was taking off. We both jumped into it and worked until I had to hire the third person, the fourth person, so on and so forth.”
As Overton’s clientele grew, her business continued to morph into the household name it is today. SPIbelt catapulted into a nationally known name when Overton found herself speaking about SPIbelt on TV.
“For me, it was an apparent mark of success when I was on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch on CNBC. It was a year after launch. Sales just took off, they were crazy online. The press came flowing in. Next was CNN, then The Rachael Ray show.”
In the present day, you could say Overton’s life has changed quite a bit since she was a dancer on MTV.
“We launched in 2007 and in 2010 I had my first son, so I became a mom in the middle of this. At that point, it was the first time I hired a manager, so I was able to be a little more hands-off. That was fantastic because I was getting to spend some time with my son. Even then, I was still so involved in the company. Two weeks after he was born, I was back at a computer with him there in the office. The great thing about owning your business is you can take your kid to work.
In 2016, I got married and had my second son. I now have three boys, because my husband had a son as well. My husband understands what entrepreneurs face and is very supportive. He currently works for a company and runs a business at the same time, so he's got both sides of the story. We started having children later in life, which I think really helped me too. For me, having kids older helped me stay young and allowed me to fill my adventure and entrepreneur buckets before the launch of my belt. I think it has made us better parents and has allowed us to be more present with our kids even though I'm running this business. I have 15 employees, and it's intense, I come home and just know the importance of being with family. I’m so grateful for the opportunity and flexibility that owning a company gives me. It's so nice to come home, turn off, turn into family mode, and just play with the kids. Go to the park. They help me stay balanced and grounded.”
Overton has found this perfect balance between being a fantastic mom and an inspiring entrepreneur. Through this juggling act, she has given herself the ability to step back and look at the future of SPIbelt.
“We're in growth mode, we've acquired a company, we're launching new products, and we're up against the change in the retail space. We had to reposition ourselves as a manufacturer and distributor, and partner to our retail stores. We're not going anywhere, only growing with the changing space in retail.
Next year we're going to have a much bigger list of products. We've acquired an LED company in October last year that makes products that are very compatible with our products. Within this year, I’d say by Fall, we're going to have an expanded line. By five years, our portfolio is going to be much bigger, as well. Hopefully, we can become a one-stop place for runners and their accessories. We're really good at making accessories and giving runners, or active individuals, products that are convenient and keep their phones, keys, and other personal items secure. We've become that companion for people with active lifestyles.”
With the success of SPIbelt, Overton is reminded of how important it was to know her products and her customer base. For any entrepreneur, Overton would say that knowing your customer base is the first step in new business.
"Before investing so much time and money in a business, make sure you have a customer base. With SPIbelt, I was able to count my customers. I invested in enough to sell to that same group. I grew very carefully, and I didn't take out a loan. I find some entrepreneurs will get themselves caught up buying inventory ahead of when they realize their product is going to make it. You want to have proof of concept. You want to make sure that you have a customer base.
At least get the product out there and get real feedback, let people test it, go to where the audience is. I learned through process of elimination where buyers aren't for SPIbelt. Most of my buyers are at a running event, so I go to them at running events. Find that audience, test your product, get feedback, incorporate it and grow gradually like that. Unless you have deep pockets and investors who're like, ‘Go do whatever you want to do!’ That's not my experience, so I usually just tell people who are trying to run their own business to find your customers and get their feedback, let them test your product.”
Know your product, know your customers, and know yourself. Dig into why your product is important and why it makes you feel so passionate. Passion, when used correctly, is one of the most powerful tools that you can hold. If your calling is to create your own business, then follow Overton and “just go for it.” Yet, maintain your wits about you and be honest with yourself.
As SPIbelt continues to blossom, Overton will maintain a hands-on approach to connecting with her customer base. “The product has developed from customer feedback. We love to hear individuals say, ‘You know what, have you ever thought of one for this?’ or, ‘I love your product, but I could use an extra pocket.’ We modify the product based on customer feedback. We encourage it!”
To learn more and find a full list of SPIbelt retail stores, visit SPIbelt.com. You can also follow them on social platforms with the handle @SPIbelt. What are you waiting for? Go for it.