S03E07: Chalita Hongsakul, Managing Director of Wakingbee Corporation, Thailand

I don’t really associate myself as someone who’s very strong and masculine and sporty. But when I shopped around, I realized that those are the types of fit that were available at the time. Cause when I look around in the stores or online women’s sportswear feels like men’s sport wear with smaller sizes. The colour palette was very masculine and basically didn’t have a lot of variety.

Chalita Hongsakul

In this episode, I spoke to Chalita Hongsakul who doesn’t call herself a fitness freak but came to start a fitness and activewear clothing brand after quitting as a management consultant. This was in March 2015. 

Chalita is the Managing Director of Wakingbee Corporation based in Bangkok, Thailand. 

chalita hongsakul waking bee thailand fitness wear
Chalita’s hashtag for Wakingbee sums up what she believes exercise and fitness should be: #sensiblesweat

Chalita calls herself risk-averse but she felt so strongly about the gap in the market for feminine fitness wear that together with her best friend, Ornwassa Siamseranee started Wakingbee.

Now they are four founders strong and they’ve been gaining ground year on year. Besides being available in Thailand where the brand originates, you can find Wakingbee activewear in Hong Kong and Vietnam. 

With an MBA from Stanford, Chalita said she knew she would eventually end up in business except that back then, she didn’t know what type of business! 

It was a desire to get healthy that put her on the entrepreneurial track. While trying to get to the gym, she realised all the available brands she looked at didn’t quite fit her need for something fun, feminine and active. 

From the start, we didn’t think that capital was the most critical factor because for us, it’s like getting the product right. And testing whether what we envisioned to be the right product for ourselves is actually the right product for the market as well. Because, you know, when you think about it, something that is not available for a very long time, maybe it’s not available for a reason.

And she didn’t consider herself super athletic either. She didn’t see herself muscled or rippling with sweat or doing the impossible.

She just wanted to wear something that felt good and looked good. That was the genesis of Wakingbee, a brand that she started to fill a gap for women just like her. 

The team initially thought they would offer 2 collections a year but it was through listening to their customers’ feedback that changed everything. Now they work on 6 collections a year where 3 main collections offer 20 designs each and 3 supplement collections with 10 designs each which meant adjusting production cycles.

As going to the gym is no longer merely for exercise and many customers do continue with other activities after their gym sessions, Wakingbee’s signature fabric dries quickly, offers UV protection and anti-odour benefits. This means women can head out of the gym to other activities without missing a fashionable or functional beat!

In this episode, Chalita talks about:

  • How she came to start her business, Wakingbee, with her best friends
  • What she was more concerned about and it wasn’t failure
  • What surprised her the most about approaching manufacturers for her line of activewear 
  • Why she chose to go with a hashtag like #sensiblesweat and what it means to her 
  • How she went from consultant to entrepreneur all because she couldn’t find the right activewear for herself 
  • How she used digital strategies to launch and market her business 
  • What she does to keep her brand fresh and exciting even after 6 years in the Thai market 
  • What she found most intriguing when she started her business and it had nothing to do with numbers or KPIs 
  • How she convinced manufacturers to work with them despite having no track record in the clothing industry

Connect with her: https://www.wakingbee.com

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