Olympic Entrepreneurs: Kristi Yamaguchi, Ice Skater and Philanthropist

Kristi Yamaguchi first learned of figure skating when she was 6 years old; her family took her to a show at a mall near her home in Fremont, Calif. The performers, music and movement inspired her to ask for lessons on the spot.

A little more than a decade later, Yamaguchi would compete in the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France and win gold in the ladies singles—catapulting her to athletic darling-status stateside. She performed with Stars on Ice until 2003 when she and husband Bret Hedican, former defenseman for the Carolina Hurricanes NHL team, decided to start a family.

Today, Yamaguchi has two daughters and is busy running her Always Dream Foundation, a nonprofit she founded in 1996 that supports organizations dedicated to the betterment of children. In addition, she's been busy writing children's books and winning Dancing with the Stars (in 2008).

In September, she will add 'entrepreneur' to her resume with the launch of Tsu.ya, an active-wear clothing line for women. (The name is a combination of her middle name and grandmother's name.) We caught up with Yamaguchi to hear more about her business.

OPEN Forum: What inspired you to start a fashion line?
Kristi Yamaguchi: Once I stopped skating, I had more time to focus on my family and look for other ways to keep busy. I've always been interested in fashion and was looking for a way to help sustain my foundation. I was inspired by Newman's Own; a lifestyle brand that donates proceeds to charity. I'm looking to do the same thing with Tsu.ya to support Always Dream.


OF: Could you tell me about Tsu.ya, and where your clothes will be available?
KY: Tsu.ya clothing will be functional and stylish. Women will be able to wear them all day and still look good. There is a lot of great active wear out there, but sometimes design details are overlooked. That is where we will come in.

Our clothes will first launch in Lord & Taylor stores on the East Coast and in Chicago. We are hoping to expand to more stores in the future.

OF: What challenges have you faced setting up your company?
KY: Preparation has been a challenge. From naming the company to figuring out what it stands for to trademarking and registering it. I'm lucky because my husband is a licensing agent and has been working hard on the website. But the process has been eye-opening in terms of all the components it takes to run a business. Right now we are a two-man show, my husband and me, out of my house, and I'm realizing that there is a big learning curve.


OF: Did you bring any lessons from the Olympics to the small business setting?
KY: Definitely. I think the lesson of having a goal and staying focused has helped me. I am also good at learning from failure, another lesson from my athletic days. Perseverance is huge, too. Starting your own business is definitely a lot harder than you think and it takes time. All of those lessons can be drawn from my time in the Olympics.


OF: What does the future hold for Tsu.ya?
KY: We want to grow the brand to encompass other products. Right now we are looking into high-end stationary. We will soon look into bags, luggage, accessories for women and children's wear. We want to be a lifestyle brand.


OF: What advice can you give to small-business owners?
KY: I think the biggest thing is to surround yourself with good people, people you trust, even if they are just advising you. And don't be afraid to ask for advice from friends in the same industry.


OF: Do you miss figure skating?
KY: Yes, I miss the performances. I don't miss the everyday training regimen, though.


OF: Do your children like to skate?
KY: Actually, my 6-year-old daughter is starting to skate. She is just beginning and having fun with it.


OF: Will you go to London to watch the Olympics?
KY: No. I'd love to go, but I'm staying home this time because I have too much going on. I'm most excited to watch gymnastics and swimming. I think the Michael Phelps/Ryan Lochte match-up will be thrilling.

Kristi had trouble deciding on a name for her new business. How did you choose your business's name?

Source: Open Forum

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