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Female Disruptors: Aubri Steele of Civile On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Candice Georgiadis

Never stop networking. I hesitated to use this because it sounds superficial, so I prefer, “never stop making friends.” My team, an incredible group of women, are wonderful at this. They all recognize the value of kindness, of showing up, supporting others and being a friend to all. This is one of our core values and I believe it serves us well as a company.

As a part of our series about women who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Aubri Steele.

Aubri Steele is the Founder, CEO and “il Capo” at Civile. As CEO and Founder, Steele wears many hats, managing day-to-day operations, brand strategy and sales as well as overseeing product design, development and retailing.

During the COVID-19 pandemic when the world was experiencing unparcelled loss, division and isolation, Steele was revitalized by the way that Pickleball brought her community together. Recognizing an opportunity in the marketplace for similar active women who loved the sport, Steele set out to create a brand that was equally as stylish and versatile as it was inclusive. Inspired by her late father’s entrepreneurial spirit and benevolence, Steele saw an opportunity to create a meaningful legacy brand through which she could “build a boat” that would carry families and friends alike through a shared purpose, just as her father had once done.

A mother of five and a multifaceted businesses woman, before founding Civile, Steele taught at both Mira Costa High School and California State University Monterey Bay. Additionally, she held a variety of roles in the commercial real estate industry, including creative marketing director and brokerage service specialist.

Steele earned a bachelor’s degree from California State University San Marcos and a master’s degree in education from Alliant University, specializing in linguistics and ESL. Her background in such a diverse range of sectors brings a unique understanding and perspective to her position as CEO.

When Steele is not juggling the responsibilities of running a business, she can be found surrounded by friends, family and animals both at home and on the Pickleball court.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

After years of working across a variety of vocations from teaching to commercial real estate, I, like many others, departed the corporate world amidst the pandemic. Shortly after, I lost my father and mentor, which ultimately sparked my entrepreneurial journey. I launched the brand in early 2021, born out of the isolation and loss of the pandemic I saw how the sport of Pickleball united my family and our community in a time of division across the world. The smaller court and dink-style play allowed for varying levels of exertion and therefore was accessible for people of all ages. We quickly became well-versed in the game and began inviting neighbors and friends to play, all while maintaining social distance and excessive sanitizing of equipment. This was the sport we could play with our parents AND our children. Simply put, Pickleball brought us together. Upon diving further into the fashion behind the sport, I noticed that there was no urban-facing apparel brand that married my active lifestyle with who I am as a woman, and definitely nothing out there that felt as multifaceted as I do. And so, Civile was born to address that void and to remind us all, no matter which side of the line you play on, “be civil, play nicely.”

What is it about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

At Civile, we are defining the emerging culture of Pickleball as the first female-founded, female-funded, American-made modern Pickleball apparel brand. Before Civile, there was no urban-facing apparel for the modern pickler, so Civile is defining the fashion aesthetic of the sport, and in doing so we are creating a new niche category that is more fashion-forward and versatile than athleisure.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson did you learn from that?

We misjudged a fabric early on for the Generous Harem pant and at the first fitting, we all burst into laughter when our model walked out because it looked like she was wearing a wetsuit (a soiled one to be exact) around her bottom half. It was sagging in all the wrong places. This was a great lesson to ALWAYS test the fabric on the garment. Fabrics can have the qualities you’re after, like an incredibly soft hand to them, but if you don’t test it on the garment you’re intending to create, you cannot make those decisions accurately.

Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

My late father, Paul, is ultimately who inspired my entrepreneurial journey. 43 years ago, as a college dropout, he took a chance to start his own business when he opened the doors to a manufacturing company in Burbank, CA. Some of my earliest memories were of time spent in the office where my mom did the books. His plan was a simple and humble one. If the business was a success, he would use his profits to feed his young family and, when we were no longer in need, he would sell off the equipment and close the doors. Twenty-eight years later, my father sold that business to an Austrian company and retired comfortably. Over those twenty-eight years, I watched as he employed everyone in our family, most of our extended family, all his brothers and many of their wives and children. He built success stories from high school graduates and sent many of his employees’ children to college. He donated millions to charity and truly enriched the lives of everyone he touched. I watched, in awe and admiration, as he built his metaphorical boat, loaded us all inside and led us to a brighter future. So, as you can imagine, when my father succumbed to his battle with cancer on August 28 of 2020, that vessel came crashing onto a desolate and unfriendly shore. It was then that I realized I could build my own boat and keep his legacy alive. Enter: Civile.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good?

I think the term is inherently negative, or historically so. As a former educator, I can say that disruption isn’t always a positive thing. Today, in the business world, I believe it has shifted to a more positive connotation as a way to describe people who are testing the business landscape and pushing the limits towards progress.

When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’?

We only do things as they are, until we know better. Something that has “withstood the test of time” likely just hasn’t evolved, yet.

Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’?

Positive disruption can be the introduction of innovations, ideas and practices that may be unconventional. Pushing the limits of conventional thinking is often the catalyst for the tremendous opportunity and the evolution of an industry. Disruption can take on a negative light when convenience leads to the elimination of jobs, human interaction, or the entire market on which people rely upon.

Can you share some examples of what you mean?

There is an age-old mentality of, “why fix something that isn’t broken?” It can be difficult to break into an industry and get buy-in when something has been done the same way for years and works fine. Disrupting a tried-and-true process can take a lot of convincing and proving that while the latter may work, this will take it to the next level. This has been exemplified in so many industries and without these disruptions, we would not have the technology or capabilities that we have today. A disruption that was once perceived negatively can change over the course of time. From the perspective of a female founder, it took years of disruption (that was not always well received) to afford myself and many other women the opportunity to start our own companies today.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Don’t stop until you’re proud. With my driving force being to create a legacy brand, these words of advice are a formidable force behind me.

Not everyone thinks like you do. I know this seems simple, but it’s a constant reminder that we are all products of our environment and our experiences. It’s a great way to consider the alternate perspective of someone else — a good tool for so many reasons.

Never stop networking. I hesitated to use this because it sounds superficial, so I prefer, “never stop making friends.” My team, an incredible group of women, are wonderful at this. They all recognize the value of kindness, of showing up, supporting others and being a friend to all. This is one of our core values and I believe it serves us well as a company.

How are you going to shake things up next?

We plan to continue pushing the limits in the Pickleball industry with timeless designs and sleek functional and fashion-forward pieces that not only challenge the current fashion aesthetic of the sport but show how multidimensional Pickleball apparel can be. Civile is creating a new niche marketplace with pieces that can be sweat-in on the court but can also be styled in ways that are fashion-forward and put together off the court. Stay tuned in 2022 for a new Italian-inspired line.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by ‘women disruptors’ that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

It comes as no surprise that some industries are male-dominated, making the entry point for women that much harder, even when it’s as simple as getting a seat at the table. With that said, when women do break through, they do not receive the same support as their male counterparts. Cited below, women-led startups received only 2.3% of venture funding, according to Harvard research.

Do you have a book/podcast/talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us?

Brene Brown — “Daring Greatly.” She argues that the more we hide from risk, the more we grow disconnected and vulnerable. This reminds me of the concept of an epidemic of absence… by removing things, we do not avoid them safely. Rather, we lose the ability to face them when necessary. Finding the confidence to do something daring, no matter how small, is a lesson for everyone.

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Fund and support female-owned businesses. According to Harvard research in 2020, women-led startups received a measly 2.3% of venture funding. Additionally, data suggests a massive drop in funding for women-owned startups amidst the pandemic. This is despite the fact that women-owned businesses respond louder to our dire needs during these trying times because they generally drive more meaningful corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, according to a burgeoning body of research. Harvard research also purports that companies with gender-diverse leaders are not only more socially responsible, but they’re also more profitable, among a gamut of other benefits (according to Forbes).

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? How is/was it relevant to you in your life?

As mentioned in a previous question, my father lived and breathed by the quote, “a rising tide lifts all ships.” Of all my goals with Civile Apparel, the biggest of these is to “build the boat.” A boat which will carry people to a better place. A boat that will rise with the tide. A boat that will house families, teach them to sail, and bring us all to a better and brighter destination. So, with dad as my honorary captain, Civile Apparel has become my boat.

How can our readers follow you online?

LinkedIn — @AubriSteele

Instagram — @civileapparel

Facebook — @civileapparel

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

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Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.

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