Image of a woman sitting on the ground with her knees up. She is wearing leggings with a notable pad on the knees. Next to her is the text MAAT.

Founder Friday: Comfort, Flexibility & Style with MAÄT

Team: Beth Godfrey (Stern ’05), Fiona Devaney, Kerri Devaney

About the Venture: There are 100K – 200K ACL injuries in the US each year + 1M meniscus surgeries. Women are affected 2x-8x as often as men. We’ve created a performance legging with built-in knee padding so that activities like yoga can be seamless and pain-free.

Q: What problem does MAÄT aim to solve?

A: MAÄT is a female-founded, New York-based activewear brand that creates fashion forward apparel designed to remove the obstacles to reaching your highest potential. In other words, we think about what keeps people – specifically women – from exercising, and then create clothing and accessories that will alleviate this block.

Our debut product is the MAÄT 1.0 Legging, a patented performance legging with built-in padding that cushions and protects the knee without restricting movement or sacrificing style.

Co-founder Fiona is the driving force behind the 1.0 Legging. She has been a yoga teacher for over 20 years. She had clients with sensitive knees (and she herself sustained a knee injury) who were always having to double up their mats or grab blankets, which disrupted their flow. When she searched for a solution, she found few options other than bulky knee pads that restricted movement and were just plain ugly. So, she drew on her design experience (she has a degree from FIT) and her background as a fashion model to create a legging that would protect the knees and that fashion conscious people would want to wear.

Q: How did the team come together?

A: Fiona had the idea for the 1.0 Legging years ago and started her quest to create a knee pad that was going to protect and move with the wearer. Along the way, she would share her journey with her sister Kerri, who was a PR/Communications and Sales exec for lifestyle brands like Eileen Fisher, and friend Beth, a marketing executive who has worked with luxury brands like Harry Winston, Four Seasons and CIRCA Jewels. Then came Covid and suddenly all 3 of us had more time on our hands. Kerri came on board in the Fall of 2020, and Beth joined in Jan 2021, initially to help out with the Kickstarter campaign. So far, it’s been a great mix of personalities and talents. 

L to R: Fiona Devaney, Kerri Devaney, Beth Godfrey (Stern ’05),

Q: What makes MAÄT stand out in the market?

A: Our competition for the 1.0 Legging falls into 3 categories:

  1. Things that offer knee padding – think classic knee pads, yoga cushions, towels, blankets; Classic knee pads are bulky and restrict movement, and using non-wearable options like towels or doubled up yoga mats means disrupting your workout.
  2. Wearable/Built-in Support – compression leggings like Stoko, which are really having a moment right now, offer built-in support, but don’t offer any padding and are designed primarily for function vs fashion.
  3. Traditional Leggings – competitors like Alo and Lululemon have fashion-forward leggings, but they don’t offer any protection or support.

The MAÄT 1.0 Legging does all of these things – it’s wearable support that cushions and protects the knee while being fashion-forward..

Q: What motivated you to apply to the Entrepreneurs Challenge?

A: We launched our ecommerce website a little over 18 months ago and have gained some traction, including shoutouts on Instagram from influencers like Gwyneth Paltrow. In that time, we’ve been able to tighten up our production and show proof of concept. We’re at the point now where we need to raise funds in order to grow the brand. We heard about the NYU Challenge and thought it would be a great opportunity to showcase MAÄT, make connections, and access resources that would be helpful to us in fundraising. And it’s been great so far. I don’t think we realized how helpful the program would be.

Q: What has been the biggest turning point for you in your startup journey?

A: Being part of this NYU Challenge. The access that we’ve had to industry mentors and the other resources that the Berkley Center has provided have been instrumental to us in preparing for our fundraising round. Having already launched the product, we’re in a position to really take advantage of everything the program has to offer.  It feels like we’re getting the help we need to make this work.   

Q: What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced in building MAÄT, and how have you overcome them?

A: We launched our Kickstarter campaign during Covid and had to deal with the supply chain delays, including the back-log at the factory in LA that was going to produce the leggings. We had to fulfill the Kickstarter orders before we could sell the leggings on any other platform, so we were scrambling to find a factory that could do that for us. Through a combination of hustle and connections, we were able to secure a factory in NYC, which ended up being even better for us, since the design team is in NYC and can better oversee the production process. 

All entrepreneurs would probably tell you that it’s really difficult in the bootstrapping phase when you have to work another job to earn money while trying to grow your startup. Each one of us is a primary earner for our households, so we can’t quit our day jobs yet. We’re not sure we’ve “overcome” this, we just kind of power through it like every other founder. 

Q: What are some recent milestones you have achieved or are working towards? How has it been reaching them?

A: We are a very young company, so everything is recent…. Shortly after we launched, Gwyneth Paltrow posted an image of herself wearing the leggings to her Instagram Story, and not only did it help to sell a lot of leggings, it also felt amazing. Anytime you get validation from someone with her influence, especially in the wellness space, it’s a huge win.

More recently, we’ve been taking the MAÄT 1.0 Legging directly to our core customers by doing pop-ups at boutique fitness studios like Club Pilates. It’s been great to be face to face with customers, getting feedback and building community.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs, especially those just starting out?

A: Seek advice, but trust your instincts and hold true to your vision. 

It’s great, and necessary, to get advice and help from other people. But, you’ll find that if you send out your pitch deck to 20 people, you’ll get 20 different – and often conflicting –  opinions. Believe in yourself and your instincts. The best feedback is something that makes you consider the problem in a way you hadn’t thought of before, not what someone thinks of your company’s name. That is what will help move you forward.

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