Words by Linley Sanders and Sarah Fulton
For Waira Mungai, the road to entrepreneurship began by drinking Kool-Aid.
Literally, though: His first business endeavor was a simple Kool-Aid stand in the front yard of his childhood home in McPherson, Kansas. The goal was to save enough for a new bike. Other kids on the block: Their parents just gave them bikes. But Mungai’s mother: she couldn’t afford one.
Mungai sat in his front yard every day from noon until 4 p.m., peddling the powdered drink. By the end of the summer, he had enough cash from the Kool-Aid stand for wheels of his own.
That moment of success became greater than a bike, though. Entrepreneurship became a way for him to succeed on his own terms and find the freedom to shape his life.
“That was the first experience I had that made me want to be an entrepreneur,” Mungai says. “I realized that I was in control of my own destiny. If I worked hard enough, I could get the things in life that I wanted.”
And he might just do it. Now, at 23 and a student at the University of Kansas, Mungai has created Lume Lifestyle, a company best known for Lume Smart Leggings, a product that seeks to eventually rival the likes of Lululemon and Nike. Mungai’s Kickstarter-funded project received shout-outs from The Today Show, MTV and Cosmopolitan before Mungai even began shipping the product.
As Lume Lifestyle began mailing out its signature phone-pocket leggings a few weeks ago, Urban Plains talked with Mungai, the founder and CEO, to discuss healthy living, his vision for Lume Leggings and where he’s going next.
Urban Plains: What inspired you to start a fitness business?
Waira Mungai: I was 270 pounds by time I was 16. At that point in my life, I was very discouraged. Growing up, I was fairly confident in my skill set. As I became more and more overweight, I became more insecure and lost some of my self-confidence. … I was obese before I was old enough to really take responsibility for my own diet. Maybe it was not my responsibility for how big I had gotten, but it was going to be my responsibility for getting out of the situation and being successful in my life. In five-and-a-half months, I lost 125 pounds.
From that point on, I knew I wanted to dedicate my life in the realm of fitness and the realm of entrepreneurship.
UP: Where did the idea for leggings with a pocket come from?
WM: One day, I was at the gym. A girl put her phone in her waistband and when she started exercising her phone fell out. That kind of got me to think, “Where do girls put their phone when they wear leggings?” I started paying attention and girls were wearing leggings all around campus and in class. I realized at that point there was some sort of business opportunity with leggings. The need that had not been met yet was a place to store your phone. So I started sketching out ideas for what that solution would look like. I thought, “Why couldn’t it be leggings that had a touch screen? Why couldn’t you interact with your phone while it was in the pocket?” It went from there.
UP: What were the initial reactions?
WM: It’s kind of funny. When I first started showing the sketches around, people thought that I was kind of crazy. The girls thought it was a little ridiculous. Then they would put it on and they would put their phone in and then they loved it.
UP: Was there any fear with starting a business in the Midwest?
WM: I think that the Midwest is actually a perfect place because people are so nice here and accommodating and willing to help. It is also nice because it is kind of a big pond and there are not that many fish. If you go out to San Francisco, everyone has a start-up. If you raise $1 million you are just like everyone else. Out here, if you want to get attention there are a lot of resources you can reach for. The cost of living is less expensive, and this is where I grew up. I personally just feel comfortable here.
UP: Are you planning to stay in the Midwest?
WM: I have always wanted to branch out and travel. One thing that I really like about this company is that it does not have to be run from one specific location. The majority of what I do day-to-day can be done online. Personally, I am not a fan of the cold, so I would not be surprised if I am on the West Coast in a few years.
UP: How do you want people to feel when they put on the leggings?
WM: I think the main thing is, when people put them on, I want them to feel comfortable and confident. One piece of feedback we get from the leggings is that they are extremely comfortable, but we also want people to feel like they look really good in them regardless of their size. If you are a small or a 2X, we want you to feel you look good. If you feel good you are more likely to be ambitious. Confident, comfortable, inspired — that is how I want people to feel.
UP: What are your long- and short-term goals?
WM: Long-term, I really want to create a brand that people can recognize and identify with. The reason why we named the company Lume is that Lume comes from luminous. Although we have a really cool product and we plan to keep making really cool, innovative products in a variety of categories, my primary focus is to create a brand that can help inspire people to become the best versions of themselves.
Short-term we are working on a couple new products that I am really excited about. We want to have capri-length leggings, and we working on having running shorts. It is also cool because we are at the point where we are not just doing straight, black leggings.
UP: Would you be less motivated if you had not lost weight?
WM: I would be someone completely different if I had not lost weight. If I had not lost weight, I do not know if I would have ever had the confidence to even go to college. It was something in my life that was a driving force that was extremely negative. Having that experience opened me up in so many different ways. It made me realize what is important.
When I wanted to lose weight, it is because I wanted to look differently, but I realized it was not about the way that you looked, it is about the way you feel about yourself. The way you feel about yourself is kind of up to you. You have the ability to grant yourself the ability to appreciate the things you have in your life. I hope that my experience can come into Lume and be shared.