Shifting into Wellness

by guest blogger Karen Stewart Brown, cofounder and designer of Stewart+Brown

Living in a coastal town in California, our mornings usually start off chilly. However, by late afternoon, the coastal fog burns off and the days are warm. For me, my dressing philosophy is dictated, not only by my years of working in the fashion industry as a clothing designer, but also by a requirement that my wardrobe move with me throughout my active and multi-faceted, ethically and environmentally conscious lifestyle.

In 2002, my husband, Howard Brown, and I launched our own line of ethically made clothing, Stewart+Brown (available at Rodale’s). The collection consists of non-fussy, comfortable, flattering, and versatile styles that will bring you through your entire day. My typical day’s outfit consists of our hemp jersey leggings, and a lengthened tank top with a short-sleeved graphic T-shirt over it. This outfit gets me through dropping the kids off at school, a morning run at the beach, and to work or Pilates class. After exercising, I keep on the hemp jersey leggings and layer over a simple jersey dress or a tunic. I tie the look together with a belt and a change of shoes, and I’m ready for work, travel, meetings, shopping…ANYTHING the day may bring.

But it wasn’t always so easy. Howard and I were an outdoorsy couple before the birth of our children…and our company. We were always biking, hiking, backpacking, or snowboarding. Every chance we got we’d take off for the mountains. That all changed when the overarching level of the busyness of owning a business set in. Sleep became the only “free” time in our day. Daytime entailed a baby on one hip and the phone clamped under my ear and shoulder. All of our energy went into researching and developing clothing in the purest, most sustainable way so that our customers could enjoy a healthy and ethically considered wardrobe­—and yet we weren’t living the healthy lifestyle we were promoting!

No sleep, eating quick meals, not exercising (except for walking the dog and pushing the baby stroller around the neighborhood). Trying to juggle the busy lifestyle of running a business, being a mom and a wife, I found that exercise and taking care of myself were always coming last. I was 20 pounds overweight after having my children and, overall, I just felt unwell. I knew that I had to make changes in my life, but I didn’t know where to start. This is when I realized that I would need to find a way to make exercise fit into my day in a way that it would stick. For me, incorporating a morning Pilates class into my workday at my workplace was the answer.

The stars aligned when our dear friend Kirby offered to barter Pilates classes for Stewart+Brown clothing. Our design studio is nestled in midtown beachy, breezy Ventura, California. So since then, every Wednesday and Friday, in our industrial-warehouse-turned-design-studio, we’ve placed our mats on large pieces of leftover sweatshirt fabric and an oversized wool mat (made from the “fluff” that comes off the machine when fabric is being knitted and is normally discarded). We move through a series of core work and yoga poses and end the class with meditation. Our dog Hannah usually joins in, too. We laugh when we feel the burn, and Kirby always pretends she forgot to count so she can squeeze in a few extra abdominal crunches.

This shift in wellness has not only transformed me, but it’s transformed the office, too. The weekly classes offer team building and a time to relax and strengthen our body and our minds so we can simply be with each other, leaving our day’s issues at our desks.

We’ve loved our experience so much we’ve opened our classes to our community for a nominal fee that goes directly to the instructor.

Pilates has been a catalyst for positive change in my life. I feel new and improved. Scheduling the time for health and wellness in my work setting has led me to have more grace under pressure, to communicate more effectively, and to eat more healthfully—not to mention how stretching and building muscle have brought me back to my love for running and swimming. I’m playing with the kids more, enjoying life more, and liking myself more—and in turn, most likely, other people like me more, too.


Karen Stewart cofounded Stewart+Brown with her husband Howard Brown in 2002, and oversees all design and production activities. Prior to Stewart+Brown, Karen was senior designer at Patagonia and J.Crew. She began her design career at Urban Outfitters, Free People, and Anthropologie, designing their most popular collections. Karen has cemented her place as a leader in both fashion and lifestyles of health and sustainability (LOHAS) circles. She actively serves as an advisor to Teens Turning Green and as a mentor to Otis School of Art and Design, and is a speaker at many conferences, including Women in Green and Women of the Green Generation. Karen holds a BFA in painting from Maryland Institute College of Art.


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