Photo: Lukafit

Any woman who has ever done anything athletic can probably attest to the fact that sometimes the pants fitness wear brands make are better suited to mannequins than they are for living women who actually move around and do things. How many times have you gone to squat, lunge, do downward-facing dog, writhe around in a dance class—or, in my case, climb up on an aerial hoop (because I like dangerous workouts)—only for your leggings to sag and straight up expose your butt crack?

Ninety five percent of you probably raised your hands. But there is hope. I’m a skeptic when it comes to pretty much everything, but I’m a new believer in Lukafit. I spotted the brand on my Instagram Explore, took a leap and purchased a pair, and I wasn’t disappointed.

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Shipping was fast, the packaging was cute (there was even confetti inside!) and I got tons of compliments on them from almost every single woman I encountered when I was on my way to aerial hoop to test those bad girls out. For me, hoop was the ultimate test, because I am constantly a victim of booty cleavage spilling out in that class (and other classes too, actually), but it didn’t happen!

The leggings really are squat proof as the brand’s marketing says. They’re flattering, durable, have a hidden drawstring to adjust them at the waist, and there’s also a hidden pocket that could hold a small phone, ID or money. For reference, I am a size 12 in pants (most of the time). In Lukafit, I purchased an extra large, but could have actually sized down to a large (but the XL’s weren’t so loose that I felt like they’d slide down, plus the drawstring helped).

The best part? They made me look cute as I was dangling for dear life and trying to make it look fly. See for yourself:

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As far as the actual business that is Lukafit, it was born out of a movement. Basically, it’s for fitness enthusiasts by a fitness enthusiast. It’s literally as if the girlfriend you go to yoga with launched a line of leggings.

Lukafit is owned by Mbali Ndlovu, who tapped into her father’s South African roots for her business’ name. “Luka” is a derivative of “juluka,” the Zulu word for sweat. Her passion for fitness began when Ndlovu and her friends became each other’s accountability partners for working out. They organized a community of women who would take classes with each other a few times a week and even shared a Google calendar where they could invite each other to classes.

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Their collective grew to over 900 women; women who also shared concerns about things they were experiencing in the fitness world—from ill-fitting clothing to microaggressions in classes and feeling invisible. Ndolvu initially began Lukafit as a subscription box but shifted to leggings in 2017. Things took off, and here we are. Intrigued by her story, The Glow Up caught up with the enterprising fitness fiend to chat about how she went from media to fashion in the name of conscious and inclusive wellness.

The Glow Up: Lukafit isn’t just about the leggings. Can you elaborate on the bigger concept?

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Mbali Ndlovu: Everyone was basically coming to the group for that sense of accountability, and community, and sisterhood. Since that was just over 900 Black women in New York and New Jersey, I figured, there is definitely something here; everyone is saying the same things. A lot of them weren’t feeling comfortable in other wellness spaces. Like, “I’ll go to this class and I’ll feel ignored” or “I’ll go to this class and I don’t feel welcome.” So basically, just everyone was coming together looking for this community where they felt comfortable, where they felt celebrated, where they felt this was a real sense of encouragement and support. So I knew it had to get bigger than this group in New York and decided to start something that women of color all over the country and all over the world, eventually, can tap into, so we can feel centered and celebrated.

The leggings are an important aspect about it because we’re spending all this money [on fitness]. I mean I was spending a lot of money. Taking four classes a week, you can’t wear the same thing everyday, so spending hundreds of dollars. And I was finding that a lot of the leggings didn’t fit me properly. I was pulling them up. I didn’t feel comfortable. My butt crack was showing [and] if we’re not being catered to in general in the marketing, that shows up in the design of the leggings, as well. It just shows up in all aspects. I really wanted to create a solution to all of those issues and that’s how Lukafit was born.

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Photo: Lukafit

TGU: And the leggings just took off!

MN: The response was so amazing. People were saying what you said. Yeah the hidden drawstring, the high waist, the fact that they hugged my curves without being too tight, the fact that they fit and just show off. Everybody feels comfortable in them no matter where they are in their journey, and that’s really what I wanted. I don’t want it to be like, losing weight or having a specific body. Embracing your body no matter where you are in your journey. We have to be happy with our bodies today, no matter where we’re trying to go.

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TGU: Did you have a background in fashion before Lukafit?

MN: I have a background in media-based organizations. I worked at Black Girls Rock! [where] the mission is about celebrating women of color and making sure that young girls of color feel celebrated and feel confident, and most recently, I worked at a documentary production company/non profit, which on one hand produces documentaries centering Black history [and] culture, but also runs this fellowship program for emerging documentary filmmakers of color. The mission was creating content by us, for us, basically. So centering ourselves in the world so we can see ourselves, and so that other people can see us too.

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TGU: What steps did you take to jump into the world of apparel?

MN: Its so funny, ‘cause everyone says it takes like three times longer than you think it will, and it’s so true. Because I was new to fashion and the manufacturing world, everything took so much longer than I anticipated. But everything has been working out. I had been looking for a designer for a while ... she’s a Brooklyn based illustrator and graphic designer named Ebony Bolt. ... I would tell her what I was thinking, she would send me mock-ups. We just went through just making edits. But then the whole fabric/factory process was a other separate process.

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I wanted to start locally because I wanted it to be a quick turnaround for my samples. ... but learned through that sample making process that unfortunately making stuff in the US is so expensive. ... as a new entrant into the marketplace who is bootstrapping, I have to go with the simplest option for now [which is manufacturing in China]. As I grow, I would love to bring at least one aspect of it back to the States because I feel so strongly about economic development as well. So I’m just trying to figure out how to do that in a way that makes sense for myself and also for my customers. But for now that’s the solution that I’m working with.

Photo: Lukafit

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TGU: What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a small business owner?

MN: Everything is more expensive than you think it’ll be. Marketing is the hardest thing. ... People say to build the market before anything and it’s so true, because it’s 2019, people have a million options. People are so busy. So just getting people’s attention for 30 seconds is tougher now than it has ever been.

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TGU: Something is working, because you’ve added t-shirts to the mix.

MN: People just kept asking for cute tops to wear with their leggings, so I figured, right now I’d offer one t-shirt, just in case people aren’t ready to make that crop top statement yet. But since the leggings are high waisted, I thought a crop top would be so cute.

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TGU: What’s the next progression for Lukafit? I know there’s more heat coming.

MN: We need shorts. So yeah, we will be doing shorts for the summer and we’re also re-launching our wellness series—our Crunch and Brunch, hashtag #crunchxbrunch wellness series—in the late spring, early summer. ... So getting back to the event focus, which is how [Lukafit] was born in the first place.