Local Entrepreneur Creates A Fitness Wear Line

Manifesta targets curvy women.

Women should love their bodies. And they should get eight hours of sleep every night, never shout at their kids or husbands, and have a perfect, Martha Stewart-esque home.

Yeah, right.

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“We constantly set ourselves up to fail,” says Rachel Blumenfeld. “So much so that sometimes it doesn’t even seem worth trying.”

A classic overachiever, Blumenfeld is the founder and CEO of Manifesta, a line of activewear for curvy women. Near the top of her class at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, she has an undergraduate degree from Sarah Lawrence College, a law degree from Villanova University, and an MFA from Bennington College.

Chances are, when Blumenfeld talks about failure, she’s talking about her body—specifically her weight. Her body-image issues began in middle school, a common experience for girls. At 5-foot-9, she’s tall for a woman and was practically Amazonian compared to the other Jewish girls at Barrack. 

She was also heavier. “I’d always been overweight and out of shape, even as a child,” says Blumenfeld. “I got made fun of for everything.”

That teasing morphed into a self-destructive soundtrack that played in her head for decades. At various times throughout her teens and 20s, Blumenfeld was small, then big, then bigger. 

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In all likelihood, Blumenfeld’s perceptions were her own. It was certainly not the reality of her boyfriend, a former military man and a fitness fiend. Blumenfeld calls his body “crazy awesome.”

And he was crazy about her, so much so that he asked her to move to Colorado with him. She did, but Blumenfeld turned this classic romance into a Woody Allen movie.

“My boyfriend’s fitness actually inflamed my low self-esteem,” she recalls. “He was in such good shape that I felt horrible around him. I’d think, ‘Why is he with me? Is he really attracted to me?’ I got angry about what I imagined he was thinking, whether he was or not. At the root of it all was my insecurity.”

But being around an exercise nut made Blumenfeld realize something: For all of the complaints she had about her body, she’d never exercised. “I was so uncomfortable with my body that I was afraid to go to a gym because I’d look stupid and everyone would stare at me,” she says.

That’s what Blumenfeld means about expectations. If she couldn’t look perfect like the skinny girls at the gym, she didn’t want to go at all. 

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With her mate’s encouragement, she decided to try and exercise. But an overachiever like her doesn’t go for power walking or Zumba. Though she’d never exercised a day in her life, she started with CrossFit, one of the most physically challenging regimens. Soon enough, she’d abolished thoughts of “big” and “small,” and began to think of her body as healthy and strong.

WORKING IT OUT IN STYLE: The Manifesta line fits women of all shapes and sizes. //photo by PAT robinson

THE RIGHT FIT: Manifesta’s Rachel Blumenfeld thinks she knows what curvy women want.//photo by tessa marie images

It turns out that CrossFit was the perfect fit for Blumenfeld. Within two years, she was a certified instructor. The relationship with her boyfriend, however, turned out to be not so perfect. By 2011, Blumenfeld was back home and working at a Glen Mills gym. She visited other CrossFit facilities and began to notice the same thing everywhere she went. “People seemed so uncomfortable because of what they were wearing,” she says. “They’d hide in the back of the room in clothes that didn’t fit. I knew that feeling. I’d been that girl. My thinking was along the lines of, ‘Nobody puts Baby in a corner.’ I wanted to give those women good-fitting, good-looking workout gear.”

That raises the Lululemon Athletica issue. Its activewear is de rigueur for upscale women. Lululemon founder Chip Wilson recently got into big trouble when he insinuated that wear on his yoga pants occurred because they were designed for thinner thighs. “Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work [for our pants],” Wilson told Bloomberg Television’s Trish Regan. “It’s about the rubbing through the thighs and how much pressure is there.”

While hardly thrilled about Wilson’s statement, Blumenfeld maintains that it didn’t directly impact her decision to start a line of activewear to work for thighs of all shapes and sizes. That’s because Wilson was saying what larger-size women already know: Most activewear is not designed for their proportions.

Blumenfeld set out to change that. In her Wilmington, Del., apartment, she came up with ideas for Empire-style tops, with narrow waists and roomy middles, and bottoms that are stretchy but supportive in the butt and thighs. She found special seams that are strong but won’t chafe, and fabric that’s thick but breathable. She also wanted everything to be as eco-friendly as possible.

Easy, right? 

“I tried to hire designers, but they thought my goals were unreachable,” she says. “I tried to work with manufacturers, but I literally couldn’t pay them enough to accomplish what I asked for. They said that it couldn’t be done. People thought I was crazy.”

But Blumenfeld thrives on challenges. She found a financial investor, a freelance designer in Baltimore, and manufacturer Greco Apparel in Ambler. Every part of Blumenfeld’s company fits with her ethos—even its name. 

“I was at a restaurant telling my friend, who is a brand developer, about the idea. He was the first person I confided in,” she admits. “He said, ‘You need a manifesto.’ I said, ‘Actually, it’s a Manifesta.’ He went home and bought the domain name, in case I started the company.”

Three years later, in August 2014, Manifesta made its debut. The first line included seven items—four bottoms, three tops—and Blumenfeld had 5,000 pieces manufactured. She sold them via Manifesta’s website, which she heavily promoted through social media. Sales were good, and they increased steadily through the holiday season.

Blumenfeld did take a break during the holidays. She had to. She gave birth to her first child in December. As further proof that her life is on the right path, Blumenfeld met a nice man, and they’re the parents of a baby girl named Dawson Michaela. Now, she’s nurturing two things: her family and her company.

In January, Blumenfeld added color capris and hoodies to Manifesta’s line. In response to customer requests, she’s extending the largest available size to 28 (they start at 0). She plans to sell the clothes in yoga studios in Delaware and on the Main Line, and she’s doing promotions with the Jewish community centers in Wilmington and Wynnewood.

Of course, the goal is to sell clothes—but Blumenfeld is also selling a message. From Wilmington to Colorado and back again, from CrossFit to pregnancy, she wants people to know about her journey of self-discovery. 

“Learning what amazing things my body can do has reframed my self-image,” she says. “To finally stop hating my body is to be liberated from years of negative thoughts. Listen, it’s not easy. I’ve had a hard time getting to this place of feeling strong and healthy. But if I can do it, so can other women.”

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