This article is part of a series celebrating the 10th anniversary of Horn Entrepreneurship by highlighting alumni, their stories and accomplishments.
The origin story of Alchemize Fightwear involves a rebellion against hot pink and purple, a statement against male thinking and a push to empower women. The company, founded by Maya Nazareth when she was a 19-year-old University of Delaware student, has been profitable since Day 1.
“I started to make something I wanted to wear,” she said in an interview. “We want to create products that didn’t just improve our performance in the gym, but that we wanted to live in,” Alchemize’s corporate mission statement continues. “Quality, durable, comfortable fightwear that makes you feel powerful, strong, and radiant.”
Alchemize is also a global phenomenon. Nazareth was born in New Jersey. She was 16 when she moved to Malaysia and started training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. She’s now working out of Philadelphia. The gear is designed across America, made in Pakistan and sold in 15 countries.
And it all would not have happened without the guidance that she received at Horn Entrepreneurship for her startup. “The resources at Horn have been just incredible,” she said. “They’ve changed the trajectory of my life. I don’t think I could have done this without the resources at Horn and mentorship that I’ve received from Vince DiFelice, Ted Foltyn, Raoul Davis, Carolyn Groobey, and Charlie Horn. The resources have transformed the lives of many, many students.”
Nazareth grew up in New Jersey and has been an athlete her entire life.
In her senior year of high school, she moved to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with her family. “I was thrust into a sea of cultures that were not my own,” she wrote on her LinkedIn bio. “I learned to love and relate to people from many, many different places, walks of life, and religions. I gained confidence.”
And she sought an alternative to the soccer that she liked. “I needed to stay active and tried a bunch of different things,” such as dance classes, martial arts and self-defense. Wrestling would follow.
“Brazilian jiu-jitsu stuck in my head. It’s similar to wrestling. You’re grappling with people, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. And I was absolutely horrified that I had to like wrap my legs around a grown man during my first training session. It’s such a close intimate, martial art, and it made me super-uncomfortable, but there were a lot of smaller women in the class, and they were almost breaking the arms of men who were like 200-plus pounds.”
Nazareth – all 135 pounds of her, on her 5-foot-3 frame – was fascinated by how these women were succeeding. “How do I become strong like that? How do I learn how to defend myself that way?”
The answer turned out to be a lot of practice – she’s a blue belt, the second step of the color-coded scale – and the right gear – gear that fit well, looked good and did what it was supposed to. That sounds obvious, but such gear wasn’t easy to find.
Effective and flattering gear
Brazilian jiu-jitsu is 80% men, and hence the gear is made for men. And even the gear made for women – oh, those garish colors – doesn’t fit as it should. “Women want gear that’s a little bit longer, so it doesn’t roll up and expose the stomach,” she said. “It should flatter their bodies without being constricting. It needs to accommodate wider hips.”
All told, she said the gear out there “just didn’t really resonate or honor the spirit of what it means to be a female fighter. It just was not what I wanted to wear. I wanted to wear stuff that was cool.”
Consider Alchemize’s grappling shorts. “All the other grappling shorts have this weird, funky Velcro in the front that gets caught in the wash. It’s very bulky. It’s not comfortable. They’re too tight around the butt and the hips, and when I’m training, I feel like I can’t move.
“So we created this grappling short that has no Velcro. It’s high-waisted, which keeps you covered and is more flattering on the figure. And it stays on you with a drawstring. There’s a simple open leg that allows you to be really mobile. There’s a lot of flexibility with our gear.”
Every piece of gear is being designed with customer feedback. Nazareth has had conversations with hundreds of women about what they want from their jiu-jitsu gear. Development is an iterative process, “I just had a conversation about our sports bra,” she said. “Basically they want another option that’s a little bit more compressive.”
Alchemize Fightwear makes Brazilian jiu-jitsu rashguards, spats, compression, gis and accessories. Most are polyester spandex. Some are 100% cotton. Some mix the fibers.
The gear is sold in all five Brazilian jiu-jitsu colors – white, blue, purple, brown and black – plus red and a selection of patterns.
More than 20,000 women who have bought the gear or listened to her podcast have become a community for a line of more than 50 SKUs sold in more than 15 countries. About 20 items that come in six sizes. Business grew 300% from 2020 to 2021 and is on target to grow 500% from 2021 to 2022.
Empowerment is baked in
Alchemize donates a portion of every sale to women’s self-defense and trauma recovery initiatives, changing the nonprofit each quarter, and Nazareth wants to extend that mission to in-person help.
In the next couple of years, she plans to host a free self-defense program for the many impoverished women of Philadelphia.
“Other classes teach you five or 10 techniques and send you into the world and say you now know how to protect yourself. But the reality is that you don’t do those things every day and drill it thousands of times, so there’s no way that you’re going to be able to do it in a situation where you have all this adrenaline and your life is actually being threatened.
“Most sexual assaults happen from people who are close to us. They don’t happen in a dark alley. They happen from the guy who kind of always crosses the boundary, and then you get alone with them, and he does something horrible to you.
“So I think there’s a lot of work that can be done on teaching. Women have to set boundaries. They don’t have to be polite in every single situation. They can put their safety first.”
The Horn connection
Nazareth grew up with her father running a business as a side gig, and entrepreneurship rubbed off. “I just knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but I had no idea that it would be making clothing.” So she read entrepreneurship books, listened to podcasts and thought about sectors she knew well.
“I started my business when I was 20 years old with $2,000 from my summer job, and it was the most money that I had ever saved in my life, and I essentially gambled it on my first order of rashguards. My father thought I was literally crazy when these rashguards arrived at my house, but you know I had the dream of what my life could be. I had no idea how to build a company, how to build a social media presence, how to make a product. I had no fashion training. I think what taught me was it’s just skill of always being able to learn new things.”
She founded the firm when she was a junior at UD and turned to Horn for connections and guidance. She took three Horn classes – Entrepreneurial Marketing, Entrepreneurial Selling and Startup Experiences II – and intensified her learning with Horn’s Summer Founders pre-accelerator program
“The classes were great, but the Summer Founders pre-accelerator transformed my life in a dramatic way,” she said. “Learning about the customer discovery process, how you create a solution with the people who have that problem and who are looking for solutions, vs. trying to sell something that you think people want. How empathy and social socially driven motives can also have a place in entrepreneurship. How entrepreneurship can create social change.
“I learned that the entrepreneur’s job is to build a business – not just the product – in the beginning. I was so focused on how do I make a rashguard that I couldn’t think about the business model, and they taught me how to think about both.
“It’s just incredible the resources and mentors that you have access to. I’m still involved with many of the mentors that I’ve known from Horn. I still give them a call if I have a business question or to talk through some ideas.”
Paying it forward
While at UD, she taught English online; interned for a SAAS company in New Jersey and a lifestyle brand in Malaysia; and studied for months in Costa Rica and Italy.
Her first post-college job was as a brand manager for the Ascendant Group in Newark. She moved full-time to Alchemize in November 2021. Nazareth owns the company outright, which has three others on staff. In the 2020 Hen Hatch, she was awarded $12,033 in funding and $2,500 in accounting work for winning Horn Entrepreneurship’s premier startup funding competition. Alchemize also won the Audience Choice Award for Most Commercial Viability.
“I want to be the No. 1 women’s [mixed martial arts] gear line,” she told Delaware Business Times after her Hen Hatch honors. “I think MMA is where yoga was 20 years ago, when it was this really tiny niche thing. Now every woman in America wears yoga pants to go to the grocery store.”
She earned her bachelor of arts in economics and her bachelor of science in international business in 2020. And she has since paid it all forward. She has mentored at Summer Founders, spoken at Horn’s Free Lunch Fridays and attended a WE Hatch women’s entrepreneurship event. “I’m still pretty involved.”
In 2021, she was one of 19 entrepreneurs on Philadelphia Business Journal’s first Inno Under 25 list.
“I’m 22 years old. I’m not particularly great at anything, but if there’s one thing I’m actually good at, I think it’s learning something new,” she said. “Right now I’m learning supply chain and inventory buying, and how to do that at scale. You can actually learn anything you set your mind to and that you desire to learn. That has changed how I approached everything in my life.”
About Horn Entrepreneurship
Horn Entrepreneurship serves as the creative engine for entrepreneurship education and advancement at the University of Delaware. Currently ranked among the best entrepreneurship programs in the US, Horn Entrepreneurship was built and is actively supported by successful entrepreneurs, empowering aspiring innovators as they pursue new ideas for a better world.