When Stephanie Bofinger launched her female body armour business, manufacturers told her that what she wanted was impossible. As a former professional athlete, she refused to take no for an answer. Here, she shares her lessons from doing it differently, including why female entrepreneurs need stamina.
What inspired you to launch your own business?
I took up motorcycle riding at age 46 in 2016. It was something I had always wanted to do but wasn’t a priority – especially when my children were young, and I didn’t want to risk the impact on them if something happened to me.
In 2019, I took part in a dirt bike ride through the Simpson Desert with a bunch of girls to raise money and awareness for Dolly’s Dream, an anti-bullying charity. I had only recently learned to ride on dirt a few months earlier, let alone sand, and I was outside my comfort zone.
When I made it to the finish line, I was so proud. Not only had I finished the ride – but I was also finished with domestic violence personally. I had reached the point of saying ‘no more’.
On that ride, I also had my lightbulb moment for Fempro Armour, watching women of different shapes and sizes experiencing the same issues, fidgeting and pulling at ill-fitting protective wear. It was designed for the male shape or poorly designed as unisex, with the hard, flat plastic chest piece not mouldable to the female form. There was clearly a need for chest and body armour designed for women, so Fempro Armour was born.
Starting a business takes courage. What obstacles did you have to overcome?
Too many to list, to be honest. The biggest obstacle was the rejection by potential manufacturers who didn’t know how to produce the moulded shapes for women. They couldn’t think outside the box and said what I wanted couldn’t be done.
The other challenge was a lack of funding. So I worked full-time to generate an income to pay the bills and then used the rest to establish my new business idea. There were so many hours of work with little sleep, which was both mentally and physically draining.
However, I was a professional athlete earlier in life, swimming internationally for Germany. My experience taught me never to give up, to keep pushing through no matter what and that while there will always be challenges, your coaches can help overcome them.
That made me the person I am now. When something goes wrong, it is just another obstacle to find a way around. When one person told me I couldn’t do Fempro Armour how I wanted, I replied: “Yes I can.” If someone says it’s impossible, it just means they don’t know how.
What challenges have you faced running your business, and how did you resolve them?
The main challenge was the disappointment of people like manufacturers letting me down. Rather than take it personally, I move on and find better people. I believe you should learn from your mistakes along the way, and not be scared to ask for help.
What achievement/s are you most proud of and why?
Being able to create a product that women not only love but also helps them to be safer out there.
Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? How did you address it?
No, not really. I have never felt unqualified or incompetent; it was more that I didn’t know where to go to find the answers. Instead, I asked people for help, asked them who they knew who could help and did lots of research.
Who has been your biggest champion on your journey, and how did they help you?
Strangers that became friends and mentors. It’s a beautiful thing how complete strangers love to help because they can see your passion and belief. I met people through networking, attending events, and exposing my ideas through various online platforms. I connected with strangers and started having conversations, which usually led to magical things.
What skills do you believe women must have to succeed as a leader?
They must believe in themselves and have stamina because too many quit before success comes.
Work/life balance can be difficult. What are your ‘tricks of the trade’?
To have as much fun outside of work as possible as it keeps you focused.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
No, nothing really, as everything I did (good or bad) had to come to be where we are now. Without all those experiences, we wouldn’t be here right now.
Stephanie Bofinger’s Top 3 Leadership Lessons Learned:
1. To have a vision
2. Believe in yourself
3. Have a go, and don’t quit.
© Laini Bennett, MBA