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Karah Jones and Lauren Holbrook: “The most beautiful thing a woman can wear is confidence.”

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Dress for success. The power suit. Clothes make the man. Or, to paraphrase Mark Twain, the woman. Dress for the job you want.  

Much can be said about the clout of clothing. There’s even a science to the study of the impact of clothing on our behaviors, attitudes, personal mood and more called enclothed cognition.

Twins Karah Jones and Lauren Holbrook know exceptionally well the power clothing can have on the performance of an individual. For several years, the Overland Park, Kansas, residents competed multiple times in women’s bodybuilding bikini division competitions. Their attire, tiny suits of less than a quarter yard of material, could make or break their performance. The pair needed to be confident that they donned the right attire to highlight their physiques. Yet, Karah and Lauren struggled to find quality suits. Stores and catalogs offered $100 bikinis that were poorly made and did nothing to enhance their self-assurance. They were confident they could create something better. The pair decided to parlay that assurance into a business to help other women in their sport. In 2013, Angel Competition Bikinis, or ACB, got its wings.

Art of the Needle
“From a young age, our mother taught us how to sew any and everything. Growing up, she helped us make a lot of our own clothes, jewelry, hair accessories, purses and even doll clothes. We combined our love of creativity, skill in sewing and crafting and passion for fitness to make this company,” recalled Karah, CEO, Angel Competition Bikinis. “Lauren and I began wearing the suits we made and got a lot of attention from other athletes. We knew that this could be amazing. At first, we were selling on eBay, then moved to Etsy and then to our own website.”

In a tiny apartment in Kansas City, Kansas, where Karah and Lauren lived, the sisters, along with their mother, began to create competition bikinis. The business grew and the pair moved into a bigger house, working there for three years. In 2017, they moved into their current manufacturing facility of 6,500 square feet housing 14 full-time employees.

“Bodybuilding is a huge sport. But creating bikinis is such a niche business; it’s hard to find market research,” commented Karah. “There’s no manual on how to make a competition suit so we moved ahead through trial and error.”

Female bodybuilding first established its legs as a sport in the 1970s, inspired by the success of men’s bodybuilding. But the activity didn’t take off until the 1980s with the introduction of the Ms. Olympia contest and national television coverage. Over the next decades, thousands of women embraced the sport and competed in local, regional, national and international contests. While there are many groupings for women to enter, the four most common divisions are figure, physique, bodybuilding and bikini.

“In 2009, the National Physique Committee bikini division was created and the sport exploded in popularity,” shared Karah. “Bikini emphasizes symmetry of muscles and a curvier shape with well-defined glutes and a tiny waist. It’s more feminine, more like a fitness model.”

A Company with Muscle
The mission of Angel Competition Bikinis is to create competition bikinis and competition figure suits that give women confidence on the stage to display their hard work, dedication, personality and beauty. “This is a 24/7 sport. You can never go off your diet plan, you must get your workouts in and you can’t lose track and splurge on donuts. 

“Once you’re in the spotlight, your stage is all you have. The suit must match the work you’ve put into your body, adding to your stage presence and not taking away from it. It must make you stand out from the other competitors,” noted Karah. “You need the confidence that your suit won’t be a problem, and you feel amazing putting it on. Competition suits should make you feel like a million dollars and give you ‘superpower’ Wearing an ACBikini makes our customers feel like the women they are.”

For over six years, Angel Competition Bikinis has been making athletes feel confident, not only on stage but during all the days leading to their competition. More than 10,000 customers have ordered competition bikinis from this company. Given the many features that go into a suit, nearly 10,000,000 possibilities can be fashioned for customers. All of these factors make ACB bikinis the fastest-growing competition suit company in the world. Karah notes that teamwork and employee culture played a huge role in this success. She also attributes this amazing rise to the company’s rock-solid guarantee of a perfect fit, highest quality and unparalleled customer care. 

Intensive Care
“Our live consultation process is very important and no other company offers this. We’ll work through online video services and personally talk to every customer while answering all questions they may have to ensure the fit is right. Then each customer gets video updates as the suit is created. You’ll be confident that the bikini you receive from us will be perfect for you.”

Given that the suits require intense handwork–more than ten hands from the ACB Team will be involved in the creation of a suit–the cost ranges from $200 to $600, with the average coming in at $500. All materials are sourced from the highest-quality suppliers, and the fabric is a four-way stretch hologram spandex; the hologram coating makes it shiny. Skilled and experienced hands cut the material to the athlete’s exact stage measurements. Fitting competitors is a very complex task that requires ACB’s tried-and-true formula. The company’s proprietary elastic placement flatters the glutes, a very important muscle group to be graded in competition, and accentuates the right parts. Karah claims that the quality of Angel Competition Bikinis is the best on the market.

“We custom cut it, line it, sew it, add crystals and more. There are so many steps that each suit must go through for completion. Our turnaround is about four weeks,” described Karah. “We have around five big competitors in the U.S. and another five big competitors globally. I say ‘big’ because there are a lot of small companies that make around 50 suits a year.”

To finish a suit for competition, approximately 2,500 to 3,000 crystals are added to strategically emphasize key features for the customer. Angel Competition Bikinis has five employees working full time at only crystallizing, which uses a combination of glues that stretch with the material. Hot fix stones are affixed through a heat press process with a result that dazzles not only the athlete but the competition judges as well. As long as the sport is popular, the customer base will maintain its current demand, much to the delight of Angel Competition Bikinis.

“Most athletes only wear a suit once to a show,” commented Karah. “You’ve worked so hard during competition prep; most athletes want a new suit for every show.”

Strengthening Community through Charity
In 2019, the ACB Team decided to branch out and developed the Angel Fashion Show to showcase its suits and fundraise for a local nonprofit. It was a huge success. However, due to COVID-19, the show for July of this year was postponed until July 17, 2021. According to Karah, the Angel Fashion Show differs from a bodybuilding competition because the show stands for empowering women and making them feel over-the-top confident on and off the stage. She says it’s an unforgettable experience for both spectators and participants. A portion of the ticket sales will benefit the Girls on the Run Program.

As they continue to guide this rapidly growing company, Karah and Lauren have had opportunities to reflect on the success of their team and business. Their advice for other budding entrepreneurs is to follow your heart.

“Pick something you’re passionate about, yet realize that you will never stop making mistakes. Look at them as learning opportunities,” she advised. “People will doubt you and tell you can’t do it, but have faith in yourself. Set dreams and goals and stay focused. Starting a business is one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. Make sure you know yourself and with that, you can make it through.”

In the future, ACB is looking to expand into the beachwear market for women who are focused on fitness and health. Even with that in the works, Karah and Lauren and their team won’t stray from their primary objective, helping to make dreams come true for women in bodybuilding. They recognize and enjoy that their suits offer a key segment of the equation for success: confidence for women who have worked very hard to win.

“The most beautiful thing about being a female and the best outfit a woman can wear is confidence,” asserted Karah. “In this sport, passion, hard work and discipline can get you so far, but being confident in the suit you wear can make all the difference in the world.”