Exeleon Magazine

In Conversation with COO of Active Faith Sports – Kirbi Smith

Kirbi Smith_Exeleon Magazine_Active Faith Sports

Faith is a gift to be both lived and shared. It is best expressed in practice and how we live our daily lives. To be active in our faith is to train our thoughts, words, and deeds to be in accordance with the characteristics of the divine presence. So that when difficulties arise, our thoughts, words, and deeds are in alignment with our faith.

Kirbi Smith is a true believer in God’s goodness and the ultimate plan for one’s lives. In accordance with that belief she has built the Active Faith Sports Apparel platform that promotes and inspires people to not only be active physically, but also to be active in their faith.

In an Exclusive Interview, Exeleon talks with the COO of Active Faith Sports – Kirbi Smith to know more about her journey and beliefs.

What according to you makes for an influential leader?

An influential leader to me is one that inspires others through their actions. I try to integrate that by being willing and doing what I would ask of others.

Talk to us about your growing up years and your vision in life.

Growing up, I loved all things sports. My dad and both my uncles played in the NFL so not loving it probably wasn’t even an option. Being the only granddaughter on my mom’s side, I was definitely a tomboy. I ran track almost the year-round, played basketball, volleyball, flag football. I was and still am very competitive. It could be taboo or racing upstairs, I wanted to win. In school, I was the same way. I was also always in a leadership role. I was President of every club and organization or captain of whichever team I was playing at the time. I’ve always loved helping, volunteering, and having a good time. I was super social and didn’t meet a stranger. I had a huge heart and wanted everyone to feel valuable and important (still do).

I would throw huge birthday parties every year to kick off the summer because I love to have a good time. I value family and friends and spending time with them is something I always loved to do. My faith has always been something that was important to me. I would lead the prayers on my team before our games, host bible studies with my teenage girlfriends and was involved in youth groups at the church I grew up in Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church in Houston. I was very inquisitive or “nosey,” LOL I thought I would be either a psychologist or detective. I guess it’s still never too late. I had an entrepreneurial spirit early on from selling things at school like candy to t-shirts to lyrics to songs (before the internet).

What makes Active Faith Sports a premier apparel brand?

Active Faith is a Christian premium sports apparel brand. Active Faith’s vision is to use the platform that sports provide to share the Gospel and inspire people to not only be active physically, but active in their faith. Our premium sports apparel is manufactured with the highest quality to meet the standard of both professional athletes and everyday people while also displaying inspiring Christian messages. Whether the brand is worn to represent your faith and minister to others who may not know Jesus or if it’s worn for the intrinsic value it provides for its owner, Active Faith is more than just another sports apparel brand.

Being the COO, what role do you play in the day-to-day proceedings of the company? 

My role consists of overseeing the operations of the company from product development, marketing, creative content, talent management to customer service.

How have you helped elevate the Active Faith Sports brand over the years?

As the Chief of Operations and the lead of the Women’s Division of Active Faith Sports I’ve been an integral part of the company’s growth from infancy to being a global brand with sales in 45 countries. I’ve had to help develop programs to find and reach our target market as well as secure placement in retail stores across the country. I’ve had to also do market research to enhance the product development and create the new trends.

What has the journey been like for Kirbi Thomas over the years? Would you have done different when starting out?

It’s been a bumpy road at times with smooth sailing the other times. But the journey has been an exciting one. Mainstream sporting-goods stores said they couldn’t carry us because it was faith-based. Big Christian retailers wouldn’t because they couldn’t grasp what our brand was, couldn’t see the vision and didn’t think their customers would buy it. That became a blessing because we were then forced to have to go to e-commerce and social media, where the world would quickly go. The next year, the Christian retailer that had turned us down came back. In three and a half months, we did $2.4 million with that retailer–then it went out of business.

Sometimes, you don’t understand the storms you’re going through until you come out on the other side. We’ve had athletes in almost every major sports league organically wearing the brand but because of their endorsement deals with other sports apparel brands, we aren’t able to promote that. That has been a challenge because we know if we were able to leverage the visibility of all those athletes in our apparel, I believe that would take our brand to an even higher level. There’s a reason those companies are paying millions of dollars to have them endorsing their brands.

I’m not sure there would be anything specifically I would have done differently because everything has been an opportunity to learn and grow.

What would be your advice for aspiring and emerging business leaders in the apparel industry?

Be patient. Spend the time upfront sourcing the material so you put out a quality product. With the amount of apparel companies launching, you have to set your company apart. Great quality with keep you with loyal customers.

What was the impact of COVID personally and professionally?

During COVID, we listened to our customers and produced masks at the very beginning. They took on a life of their own and it ended up being one of the top selling items that year. With a lot of the world being shut down, a lot of production shut down as well and we weren’t able to get our inventory for months. However, more importantly, the loss of so many lives and jobs has been overwhelming to watch, hear about and experience. I lost my father unexpectedly due to COVID last year and it has been a devastating journey.

What has been the biggest roadblock during your journey? What has been your biggest learning?

Like I mentioned previously, it was probably not being able to get our items in some of the mainstream stores because of the Christian based message. It’s frustrating because I know the reach and the large amount of people that would love and be introduced to Christ and the brand in some of those places. It seems that Christianity, based on love, as a whole corporations are afraid to experiment with for the fear of offending others but some of the toxic items that the same stores carry aren’t worried about offending or negatively influencing customers with those products. However, the rejections challenge us to create, pivot, and develop in other areas.

What is the future like for Active Faith Sports? On a personal front, where do you see yourself standing in the coming years?

Active Faith Sports still hasn’t scratched the surface of its potential. The plans for the brand expand beyond the apparel. However, the future in the apparel space we plan on being able to finally be the apparel provider for the many schools and colleges that write in asking if we will produce their uniforms. We plan to continue to expand the product offering specially to fit the needs of the specific sport. Increase the number of activations and events we host for our customers. Although we haven’t yet, we do see ourselves in mainstream stores. We would also like to grow the Non-profit portion of Active Faith so we can continue to minister and be a blessing to those in need around the world.

One thing that I have learned is that my steps are ordered by the Lord, and I am open to where He takes me. I can have a plan, but His plan will ultimately prevail. As long as I am still standing and making a positive impact then I am satisfied.

Visit Active Faith Sports Website.

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