The founder of activewear brand Terez on creating immersive customer experiences, the importance of community and implementing retail technology in a purposeful way

In an industry that has been portrayed as preoccupied with the superficial (see: The Devil Wears Prada), it is no wonder that fashion consumers are looking to new brands that inspire confidence and overall self-love. As a demand for a more body-positive culture rises in the fashion market, so do innovations in wellness retail. A good case in point: the wellness market alone is valued at 34 trillion globally. Leading innovators have leveraged both trends, intersecting style with a consumer-oriented, wellness-based message.

Enter Terez, the female-founded NYC fashion startup, well known for its cheerfully patterned leggings. PSFK spoke with Founder and CEO Zara Terez Tisch to learn more about how the brand has merged style and wellness to build a strong community, and how that will translate into a virtual store for its new partnership with augmented-reality platform Obsess.

PSFK: How does Terez fit into the wellness retail market?

Terez: That's a really great question because I don't see us as just in wellness, or in active, or as just an activewear brand. We're really in the intersection of what wellness is and what fashion is. To us, our most important mission and message is happiness.

Our community, the Terez community, are women who want to feel good about themselves and want to feel confident in whatever situation they're in. They don't necessarily have to be considered active women. They just want to be inspired and feel energized.

That's why people come to us, especially in the wellness market. It's because we are empowering them and encouraging them to feel good about themselves through joy and self-expression.

Did you notice something that was specifically missing from this space, or an unmet consumer need you wanted to fill?

No. I grew up around fashion. My father was a manufacturer for women's clothing for years and years. My mother was very creative and she was a hairdresser, so I grew up in the industry.

I actually never thought I was going to be a part of it. I had a bunch of traumatic events happen in my life at a young age and that is what pulled my mind and my head into the area of positivity, and strength, and happiness. That's what drove me to want to create something for myself that really brought me joy. What I knew best is what I grew up around, which was fashion. That's the area that just lended itself most easily to me because I knew it. It became the vehicle for spreading my purpose.

You mentioned you are a woman-to-woman brand. How important do you think it is for brands to have a strong message?

We are a brand that talks to and serves women, but also includes men. More than anything, we want people. We want to be talking to the person, no matter who they are. Woman to woman, man to woman, man to man, whatever it is. We talk a lot about women's equality; it needs to be people's equality.

I do have trouble calling a brand that doesn't stand for anything a true brand. I think that there needs to be purpose in what it's doing. There needs to be an emotional attachment.

There can be companies that exist, that have a product, or a service, or are filling a purpose, but in my personal opinion, I don't think that would put them under the category of a brand. I think a brand today needs to stand for something.

We need to be genuine and authentic. You need to have a mission to connect with people on an emotional level. You can't just talk the talk, you have to walk the walk, to make some historical big statements.

Tell me about your recent physical popup store in New York.

We called it “Terez. Explore. Shop. Create.” It was the first time we ever did a physical brand experience. We wanted to have the opportunity to tell our story and narrate it ourselves for the first time. It was an opportunity to embrace our community in a very tangible way and connect with them.

Our brand and our clothing is super communicative. People make you feel good. You want to be around people. We wanted to give them an environment where they can come together and really embrace one another.

Our concept for the store was that whatever you put into the universe comes back to you. I truly believe that. We had different examples throughout the way. One major purpose was for every product that people would purchase, we would donate to the Women in Need foundation (WIN).

In the center of our Terez universe, we had a Positivity Tree. The Positivity Tree also represented the notion that whatever you put into the universe came back to you. We encouraged the people who came into the store to write down on a leaf a positive daily reminder to the Terez community.

People would come and write different things. They would hoist it up into the tree. As they would hoist it up, a different positive affirmation would come out of the tree from somebody in the Terez community that was for them to take home.

Again, it was about how what you put into the universe in a positive way will come back to you. It was immersive. We wanted people to really grind their teeth on what we were doing.

We also created something called the Kindness Coin that we gave out to 200 customers when we first launched. What we asked them to do over the holidays is look around and do a random act of kindness, whether it's helping a friend or a stranger, helping somebody across the street. They give them this coin, which on the coin it actually said that, “Every little act of kindness makes the universe a better place.”

They were all numbered and they can either keep it for themselves or pay it forward. Or, they could bring it in to the pop‑up and they could pick out any single one item that they wanted for free. Then, we would take the coin and put it back in the universe.

Did it grow?

Yeah! It grew, and you heard stories. As I said before, you want to take action. We don't want to just sit here and say, “We're encouraging women to feel happiness and self‑expression.” We want to embrace and empower positivity. We want people to actually do it and feel it.

When people came into the store, their reaction and their response was something that I never could even have imagined. These people were so taken back by what we have done because we really care. That's not something that is common.

We wanted to innovate. We wanted to do things that people have never seen before. We love being bold. We love innovation. We love making people feel good and confident. If we can do that in a multitude of ways, that's what we're going to do. We wanted that to really come to life and shine in the popup experience.

You are launching a virtual version of your physical popup store. Could you explain why you chose to do so?

We wanted to create this immersive experience. The response that we got was tremendous. It evoked these feelings of love, and care, and self‑expression, and we wanted to extend that. We were able to partner with Obsess, which gave us the opportunity to use technology.

It's not technology for the sake of technology. That's not what we were trying to do. We wanted it to help us realize what our mission is in a broader scale. Obsess is also a female‑founded New York City startup, so it was a really synergistic partnership.

We wanted to create this virtual store that holds all of the beauty, all of the love of the physical store but in a different way. All the major things that we talked about from the physical stores do live on the virtual popup, which is really amazing.

People can navigate through the space a bit differently. I talked about the Positivity Tree before, about people giving and receiving positive affirmations, the experience of which we enable online. If you click on the virtual tree's leaves, you will receive a positive daily reminder from the Terez community. Hopefully, we can continue to translate what our purpose was in the popup to this virtual store.

The other thing that we added is that users can actually discover Kindness Coins. We hid Kindness Coins all throughout the virtual store. Each time a Kindness Coin is discovered, we'll donate one item on behalf of our community member to WIN.

The shopping experience is also really smooth. You can click on a product and you'll be able to see the details and purchase it. The mission and message are consistent between physical and digital experiences.

It also gives us the opportunity to reach people who weren't able to come, who maybe don't live in the New York City metropolitan area but who are part of the community. Or even, send it out to people who are just learning about the brand.

To create a virtual environment that is similar to what we did in the physical space is really important for that, so we can reach more people, spreading the positivity and kindness message. Through our partnership Obsess, we want to bring and translate that warmth and joy in a virtual way.

How has the community reaction been thus far?

From the reactions that we had with our physical popup space, we had hundreds of members of the community who came through and shared their experience.

I had people come in and shed real tears about joy, and I was like, “Is this really happening?” They felt the Terez love. They experienced the joy that we were trying to give them. That's why we're excited to be able to spread that feeling to as many people as possible. This is no longer an experience bound by time and space.


Terez is paving the way for a new kind of retail, fostering community that bridges physical and digital space. For more from similar inspiring retailers, see PSFK’s reports and newsletters