We had the good fortune of connecting with Gina Cornell and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Gina, how do you think about risk?
When I lived in Cancun, Mexico back in the 90’s my editor at the Miami Herald International assigned me a story that highlighted a local sky diving company. During my interview, the owner asked if I would like to, right then and there, go with them and skydive. The answer was a quick, “No thank-you.” I’ve never considered myself a risk-taker for the thrill of an experience and adrenaline rush. I have, though, taken risks that I was in somewhat control of the situation. Moving to Mexico without speaking more than two words of Spanish or knowing anything about the country or culture, was probably the first big leap I took that would change the trajectory of my life and where I am now with developing my own triathlon clothing brand. I was 23 years old at the time, so I saw that as more of a fun adventure than a calculated plan for my life, but it still played a huge role in who I am today and what I am willing to try and do. During my time in Mexico, I learned to try new jobs that I typically wouldn’t have thought I would be good at (Mexican red cross EMT) and experience things that opened my eyes to the diverse world in which we live. When I moved back to Wisconsin after over five years of living in Mexico, I was bolder in my choices and took on the motto of “what’s the worst that could happen?” when making decisions and trying new things. Typically, in most things in life (sky diving aside) most of the answers to that question are, “I may not be good at it” or “I may fail.” And, to that, I say, “And? So what?” And, that brings me to how I started my own triathlon apparel brand. I decided to do a triathlon. I took the risk (petrified) knowing that I was slow and overweight and probably going to be the last person across the finish line (I crossed it with the pace car shadowing me the entire 5-kilometer run). From that one small event, it springboarded me to continue to do more triathlons and eventually sign up for an Ironman. While training and racing, I had noticed that the clothing industry at the time didn’t have many cute kits (fancy words for triathlon and cycling outfits) that ranged in the larger sizes for women. After one event in which I wore a men’s plain black triathlon top, I saw a photo of myself, and my husband immediately inherited that top. I couldn’t find anything that looked or felt good on me. When I wore women’s kits, my belly would be exposed or the tops would be too revealing. I decided during a run one day that if others were able to start and design their own brands and businesses, why not me? So, I began the process of learning how to design and manufacture kits. The financial risk for that at the time was way too high, but through connections and creative thinking, I met with a larger brand in the US and pitched my idea of a kit for women that would have a larger size range AND have a system that would attach the top to the shorts to prevent the top from riding up. To say I was scared for that pitch was an understatement. But, again, I said to myself, “What is the worst thing that could happen?” I knew that could be they would say thank you, but no, and I would have just lost a day’s worth of travel and gas and be a little embarrassed. But, what IF they said, “yes”? The potential reward was greater than the risk. I met with the owner and within the first hour, we were already designing the line and signing contracts. Had I been too afraid to take the risk to even go and talk to him, I may not have had an amazing opportunity to learn more about the athletic apparel industry in such an up-close and personal way. After a few years, we amicably let that line go and I was left wanting to continue working on designing my own brand. But, this time, I wanted to make it all my own. I am taking a risk now, financially, with my time, by putting myself out for the world to see. Again, what’s the worst that could happen? I’ve calculated what I am willing to invest and risk and am learning as I go. I’ve never owned my own business, done any importation, developed a website, or kept my own finances or books. But, the rewards of what could possibly go right outweigh the risks. I know if I don’t try and make this work, I will always wonder “What if?” I don’t want to live that way. If you want something bad enough, there is always a way to do it, and yes, it does involve risks of many varieties. And, funny thing, in all these years, I am sort of regretting not taking that sky diving offer back in Cancun.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I think I am a grab bag of employment experiences. None of which have anything to do with where I am today. I have always been a writer. I think with a good editor, I can craft a pretty decent story. I’ve dabbled in tourism, being an EMT, an English teacher, a reporter, a makeup consultant, a gate agent for a major airline, and now a triathlon clothing brand owner. I’ve always had a list of a few jobs that I’ve wanted to try, even if it was a field I knew nothing about. I think there are always ways to learn and grow and develop skills needed for any job or any hobby. If you want something bad enough, there’s always a way to do it. My brand was born out of needing to solve a problem first and foremost. But, it’s also what makes me happy. I could sit and talk about triathlon clothing all day long (ask my friends and family. I do that daily.) I want my customers to be my main focus and the stars of the show. I want them to feel joyful in my kits and to feel like my brand and I support them and cheer for them. I want them to feel beautiful, and so that is why I named it, “Ciao Bella”.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Seeing as most of my friends love to bike and run and swim, their visit would include, yes, swimming in some of the gorgeous lakes we have in Wisconsin, biking some scenic roads, and running through our county forest units. Wisconsin in all seasons is spectacular. Once we get snow, it’s time to head out to snowshoe, cross country ski, or fat tire bike. Food around central Wisconsin is your typical fish fry or pizza offerings, which we do VERY well here.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
There are a lot of people that have gotten me to where I am today. Obviously, my family, who bend over backward to support my ideas. From there, my friend, Brian Kowalksi who gave me the name of Romey Wagner (director of our county’s Entrepreneurial Resource Center) who got me hooked up with business mentor Bob Jaquardt (President of Stormy Kromer) who got me in touch with Chris Jackson of Borah Teamwear (we developed the first line, Venganza, together). Now that I am on my own, I have to credit Melissa Meschke of the Small Business Development Center (brilliant resource for small businesses) and another local organization, MCDEVCO for letting me bounce ideas and find me grants and funding sources to bolster my business coffers. There are a lot of people and agencies willing to help grow and develop small businesses and mentor people just like me who want to get started but don’t know where or how to begin.
All photos have been given to me for use on my website, etc. Of the photos, three were taken by customers with permission, Nicole Cartier, Lisa Moran and Shilonqua Lee.