If we haven't met either in person or via the internet, I'm Paige! Working on this project, I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with (or typing back and forth with) 12 incredible people. It wasn’t hard for me to ask questions and want to know more because every person we’ve highlighted has such an awesome story—but when I sat to write mine, I was scratching my head like, what the heck do I write? The reason for launching this campaign was to share why we are what we are on a more personal level. I knew that not everyone reading would relate to my story so I wanted to bring other people on board in hopes that you could connect with one of these stories to better understand our brand philosophy and concept.

Our MOSAIC Crop Racerback -- Read more about this shirt concept on Thirteen Underground!

I guess the best place to start is my childhood. I was never an athlete. Sure, I played rec softball for 3 years and HATED it… they always put me in left field because I was too busy picking grass blades and was too anxious if the ball came near me. I played basketball for 1 year when I was in the 5th grade; this is when I thought I was a boy and just wanted to play because it made me feel cool. I was horrible, I never got put on the court and again, if the ball came near me, I was too anxious to perform. When I hit middle school, I joined the winterguard team. For those of you who didn’t have one, it’s sorta like the marching band colorguard except there’s no marching band. It’s a performing art where you toss flags, rifles, and sabers and put on a choreographed show. My favorite was the sabre and I was pretty kick-ass at it. That being said, I was not an athlete.

My whole life, I knew I wanted to do something artistic. I remember being some age under 7 when we lived on Long Island and telling my sister I wanted to be a teacher, a singer and an artist. She told me I should just be a singing art teacher and I visualized myself showing a class how to draw an octopus (I have no idea why, I just have a clear vision of that). And hey, I turned out as a designing indoor cycling instructor so not far off!

I did NOT work out. Almost ever. My sister/best friend Meghan and I joined the American Family Fitness in Vestal, upstate NY for a minute and would work out together. We had no clue what we were doing but we did feel good about it, for sure. Mom would drop us off and pick us up. I went through spurts of walking on the treadmill for an hour after school but it wasn’t anything epic. Actually, I ended up with a fear of treadmills after I flew off the back of one at the gym. I was mortified.

We had an active childhood; being from upstate New York, we had the neighborhood to wander around like hoodlums and we had a huge backyard. We’d play baseball, went swimming in the summer, went sledding in the winter, and spent our teenage years roaming the streets. My diet consisted of LITERALLY chicken tenders, PB&J, a box of cheese-itz here and there, maybe some dinosaur egg quaker oats. I didn’t eat veggies. I didn’t eat fruit. I was the pickiest of eaters and my family hated eating with me because I would NOT eat or try anything. I hated food, I was afraid of every texture, I had (and may or may not still have) and phobia of ketchup.

High school. At this point, I was very involved with the winterguard team (#captain), the marching band, I had a group of friends who I spent almost every day with, I didn’t work out, I didn’t eat, I started experimenting with alcohol, weed, and boys, like most teenagers. I wasn’t fat but I wasn’t skinny. I was curvy but didn’t ever really think about my body in that way. I didn’t know what it meant to be fit. I mostly starved myself and did stupid Slim Fast diets. I didn’t understand the concept of shaping your body or health. I remember dating this boy in the 7th grade and his lunch table would call me “pancake” behind my back because my butt was so flat. They’d ask him, “want some syrup?” At the same time, my mom was always preaching, “do your squats!” but me and my sister thought she was nuts like there was no way we could just squat to get a booty—HAHAHA.

Photo by Rebecca Brookstein Photography@rebeccabrooksteinphotography

I’m really unsure when it really happened; I think it was the 9th grade, where I started experiencing this feeling of fatigue and fogginess (that I didn’t realize was happening until years later because when you live your whole life feeling unwell, you have no idea what it means to actually feel well).

I wasn’t shy but I wasn’t outgoing, at least not in school. I wasn’t “cool” and I wasn’t very confident. My sense of style was… interesting. I loved color, I loved prints, I loved wearing whatever the f* I wanted and I really didn’t care what anyone thought about it. I’d wear leopard print with red or stripes with polka dots. Everything always matched. If I had a yellow shirt, my earrings were yellow and if they weren’t, I’d get anxiety because I put this rule in my head that everything I wore had to have a “partner” in my outfit. I was confident in what I would wear, but I wasn’t confident in my strength, or lack thereof.

Throughout high school, my self-awareness started to become a thing. I was realizing that it probably wasn’t normal to come home every day, sleep for hours or hide in my room crying. Why was I crying? Excellent question. I didn’t know either. It became more of a norm for me. I then got more and more into the drinking and some smoking as a way out. Being surrounded by my friends helped me feel ok but we all had shit we were dealing with. My best friend was one of my only girlfriends, the rest were guys. I’d say 11th grade was the all-time low for high school. So, at that point, I was hanging out with friends who loved to party, I was feeling what I then realized was depressed, and I got into self-mutilation.

I started cutting sometime between 10th and 11th grade. I remember the first time I did it. I had heard about it and I didn’t totally understand it. How could someone do that to themselves? But at that point, I was in a place where I didn’t know what else to do so I wanted to try it; I was sorta desperate I guess. My dad kept a box of razor blades in his workroom in the basement. I went into my bed to try it. I cut my thigh because I didn’t want anyone to see. I remember being almost proud of it and after I felt it, I understood why people did it. It was maybe and probably and definitely a cry for help, but also being able to take this internal pain and find a way to release it from my body. I remember visualizing that. Like, all this tension inside me… I would take a slice and out of that, some of the pain would escape. Interesting because I was listening to a podcast the other day about happy brain chemicals and how we are always chasing them. Cutting would give me endorphins—because, for 15 minutes after pain is inflicted on the body, your body sends endorphins to your brain to protect you from the pain. As you’ll read later, I was able to transition the addiction to fitness which does the same thing.

I don’t know if it was before or after I started cutting, but I asked my dad if we could talk. We went into his room and he asked me what was going on. I started to talk but couldn’t get words out, just cried. Eventually, I told him I didn’t know what was wrong with me but I was always sad—but I didn’t mention the cutting. He said we’d get help; I started therapy but was too young and dumb for therapy. I would get high, eat a roll of cookie dough, then drive to therapy and not tell her anything. They put me on antidepressants.

I told my best friend about the cutting after a few months. My sister found out. Eventually, my parents did and there was an intervention of sorts (I'm blessed to have a family who cares so much). It’s hard to remember the full order of everything. From that point on, I was not allowed to go out to hang out with friends because that was an opportunity for me to party. My friends could come over but none of them wanted to because they couldn’t do whatever they wanted under my parents’ supervision. I lost my friends. They stopped coming over, they met new friends and I was pushed to the side. I wasn’t drinking, I wasn’t smoking, I wasn’t hanging out with anyone and I was still depressed.

My senior year, I was pretty much riding solo but made a really great friend who didn’t drink or smoke. I spent my senior year focused on college—I had to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology. There wasn’t an option. My parents urged me to apply elsewhere just in case… I said, no. I’m going to F.I.T. I got an internship, I spent months on my portfolio. I got into F.I.T.

I was going to study fashion design in New York City. Soon after I started school, I got into a “serious” relationship and decided I was happy and went off the meds. Mind you, at this point, I hadn’t stopped cutting.

Our 13U MAZE Crop Racerback
Photo by Rebecca Brookstein Photography, @rebeccabrooksteinphotography

Something happened to me in my studies that turned me from a mediocre student into an obsessive, organized perfectionist. I think it was in my first draping class, the first week of my first semester. We were working on a basic bodice (a.k.a. a shirt) and my professor came over to look at it and gave me a B. She said, “I don’t think you’re grasping the concept. You should get a tutor.” Cue meltdown. From that day forward, I wouldn’t settle for less than an A and graduated with a 4.0. I did get a C one time… and I had a panic attack (literally). I ran out of the classroom into the stairwell, called my parents and was HYSTERICAL. Oh yea, college is when the panic attacks started.

By my sophomore year, I found out my parents were getting divorced. Like, WHAT? Literally, I had no idea. I felt so stupid because how naïve I had been. My mom hadn’t been living at home for a while but I didn’t connect the dots. My whole life, I had the “perfect” family. Mom, Dad, sister, two brothers, the dog. To be honest, most of it’s a blur. I was in a horrible place—being 19ish years old, I was pretty involved and I think my brain blocks it out as a defense mechanism. It was a very dark time for me and it reflected in my day to day fashion as well as my designs (I didn’t even realize that until later down the road).

In sum: in college,  I was in and out of depression, anxiety became a real problem accompanied by panic attacks, I put an extreme level of pressure on myself, started working 7 days a week so I could go to school, intern and make money. I was in a very unhealthy relationship with a boy who didn’t understand anything about me and pushed me to move in with him, we got a dog (maybe that was all an escape from my broken family), I was gaining weight, and I was still cutting (when he wasn’t looking). I was not strong. I was creative, but not strong.

I went for a run and it really started.

Florida, spring of 2011? I think? My cousin Danielle and I went to visit my grandparents. She told me to bring my sneakers. Sure. Day 1: we go for a 2-mile run; Danielle runs ahead of me and I can’t run 1/8 of a mile. I set in my head that by the end of that week, I’d go 2 miles without stopping. And I did. And it took me almost 30 minutes. Cue obsessive personality takeover. When I came home, I wasn’t going to stop. Now, I’m in it. I started running… 1 mile, 2 miles, 3 miles every day. I started to lose weight and then I decided to get into strength training. I bought workout DVD’s (hey, Jillian Michaels), I strapped weights to my ankles and ran the stairs of my building. My neighbors would literally laugh at me but hey, I was getting stronger. I eventually joined the gym and started lifting heavier weights. I had an epiphany. One day, I was in a nasty mood for whatever reason and was like, I just need to RUN. I got home, changed into my pink Nike Pro shorts and ran down 1st avenue. It was the fastest mile I had run to date. I then realized like, whoa, I can take my negative energy out in a positive way rather than scarring my thighs?! WHAT A THOUGHT!

I plateaued. Things weren’t changing and I was down about it. I was working so hard (or at least way harder than I ever had, why wasn’t I skinny?) Remember how I used to live on chicken tenders? That was still the case at this point so I realized like, holy shit I gotta change my diet. I forced myself to eat healthier… like salad and I tried my first avocado in 2012.

2013 was MY YEAR. 6 months after I graduated, things start “falling into place.” Exercise started to impact my mental game, I met who I thought was the love of my life (he happens to be number 13 on his professional rugby team). I stopped working odd jobs and freelance and landed my dream job as an Assistant Designer then Design Director for a luxury fashion startup collection (shout out Katie Fong!!). I started really losing weight, I started getting strong, I was gaining confidence. I was on top of the mother-f*cking world and I officially stopped cutting.

One day at the gym, I was stretching and something tweaked in my back and I was stuck on the floor. I was crying, couldn’t move. Setback. I went to the doctor who would not allow me to workout… like, nothing EXCEPT he said I could try Spinning™. Hmm, ok. I wasn’t into *that* sorta thing but fine. IT KICKED MY ASS. Then, I joined CrossFit. I was still working full time in fashion. I tried every diet—juice cleansing, whole30, paleo, high protein, vegetarian, vegan, raw vegan, you name it.

A few months into joining CrossFit, I gained a lot of weight. My diet and exercise weren’t balanced; I was gaining muscles that I didn’t know could exist but the fat on top was still chillin'. This sent me into a spiral of depression. I would wake up every day, walk to the mirror, look at myself and cry. There were a few weeks where I had to actively force myself to avoid looking in the mirror to avoid meltdowns. My diet intake was healthy but my diet mentality wasn’t. My relationship with food became obsessive and all-consuming. At the same moment, I had a full blown psoriasis breakout all over my body. It was summer. People would stare at me on the train. I was absolutely horrified and the most uncomfortable I’ve ever felt in my body. Eventually, the psoriasis cleared up (about 6+ months later) and I started to lose the weight. I remember approaching my coach at the time, Chris Clyde, telling him my arms wouldn’t fit in my blouses… he gave me a few diet tips and told me to just stay the course, so that's exactly what I did.

I started to realize fitness was taking priority over everything else. The gym and my diet were all I could think about, my goals were affecting my social life, and even though I was still sort of a newbie to the fitness community, I wanted to dive in. I decided to get Spinning™ certified and immediately started teaching indoor cycling all over the city.

Depression started to creep its way back into the forefront. Come onnnn. I was no longer living my dream. I was teaching cycling before and after my fulltime job. My fulltime job was not fulfilling me, my passion was shifting. It may sound dramatic, but I had a VERY difficult time handling these changes. My heart had always been set on a job in fashion design… and now I had it and didn’t want it anymore. I felt pressure from myself and non-existent, made-up pressure from my family to pursue this career that I felt I locked myself into.  I didn’t know how to cope with the idea of change nor did I want to disappoint anyone but eventually, I had to cave and allow myself to explore what was calling me. I left the fashion industry and went all-in fitness.

Our NEGATIVE Space Tank, actually, our first design!
Photo by @jocelynboldphotography

Fitness and diet became this healthy habit that, by nature, I took to an extreme level. I’m obsessive and I needed to be perfect. Guilt from skipping workouts or guilt from cheating on my diet was only feeding my always underlying feelings of depression and anxiety. I was beating myself up over EVERYTHING I did that wasn’t going to help execute my plan. I would look at myself in the mirror and say, “Paige, this is why you’re still fat.” “Paige, this is why you don’t look the way you want to.” “Paige, you’re disgusting.”

After a few months of being focused on the fitness career path, I couldn’t handle the lack of creativity. This was not who I am by nature. I NEED to create. I started to connect the dots… the reason my fulltime job stopped fulfilling me was because I wasn’t creating MY vision. I wasn’t in control. My friend Gina encouraged me, almost forced me, to start my company.

It’s all a little blurry, there was crossover between different jobs and all but those details really don’t matter. The day after Gina pushed me, I applied for an LLC and just WENT. Mini fast-forward, I left a pretty crappy situation at the studio I had been teaching at and I began teaching at Flywheel which completely changed the game for me. It made me realize what teaching fitness really means—it made me realize a lot of things that have brought me to a much more stable place (alongside a lot of self-help initiatives). I wish I could say I'm perfectly stable but I have a tendency to feel way too much. But that's the whole idea, we are never done growing. I'm not EXACTLY how I want to be but that's the journey!

As I’ve been growing the brand and myself as a fitness professional, I’ve come to really realize that all of this is bringing me towards a more significant purpose: I want to help people. I didn’t really know it when I launched the company but the more I design and expand, the more passion and meaning I build into it all. These aren’t just shirts with cool logos; they’re shirts with purpose.

Our concept is Ultimate Self (credit to my cousin Danielle—the same cousin who made me run—for helping me with this verbiage). Everyone's Ultimate Self is bound to be different. Our past is what makes us who we are now and we are just out here tryna be the best that we can. I’ve learned that our path, journey, story—whatever you want to call it—towards our Ultimate Self is this combo of mental and physical strength, power, and stability and THAT’S why I speaaaaak about these elements all the time. It’s the core of it all. In my personal case, a stronger (and more stable and more powerful) body built a stronger mind... and once my mind got stronger, I was able to push my body more. It’s a cycle that just keeps going and I just keep growing. Own your journey, outfit your journey. THIS IS THIRTEEN FIT APPAREL.

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