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Stylerunner's Julie Stevanja On Being A Game-Changer In Business

The Australian woman leading the retail pack.
Stylerunner: the go-to destination for activewear.
Stylerunner: the go-to destination for activewear.

It's Australian Fashion Week and Julie Stevanja is dressed in a black pencil skirt and a khaki t-shirt with "Stylerunner" printed across the chest.

The design, set to drop next week, will mark a surreal moment in Stylerunner's young life: it's own athleisure line of t-shirts. Indeed, the result of fashion finally starting to favour comfort while being unintimidating, but precisely cool.

As is the case with the company's founder, Julie Stevanja.

"When I see a woman wearing beautiful workout gear, I can't help but compliment her and ask where it's from. If she hasn't bought it from Stylerunner, well, it gives me the opportunity to tell her about it -- and if she has, it's just the best feeling in the world," Julie Stevanja told The Huffington Post Australia.

Since launching in 2012, the online shopping destination has set a new standard for workout style globally. It has seen sales grow at a rate of 1000 percent and has positively enabled the 'sport luxe' trend to infiltrate the wardrobes of Australian women (whether they're going to the gym or not).

We wanted to represent those bigger labels but also the emerging ones, too -- that's part of what women love about fashion.

With customers in over 100 countries, a tight-knit social media community of half a million and a unique offering of both top tier and emerging brands, the Australian start-up was born out Stevanja's own frustration of finding aesthetically pleasing yet functional yoga gear.

The light bulb moment was textbook: "I was living in London and going to Bikram every morning and getting quite good at it. I decided to treat myself to new yoga clothes but was left disappointed at the lack of choice," Stevanja said.

A few days later while in Shavasana pose, Stevanja's vision of a luxurious, online aggregator for activewear was complete.

Within weeks, she'd resigned from her job, enlisted her twin sister, Sali, as her business partner and was on a plane home to get her idea off the ground.

Stevanja sought out big players like Adidas and Reebok but wanted to make room at the table for the smaller, more niche brands, giving women permission to be, well, exactly who they wanted.

"A variety was crucial -- we wanted to represent those bigger labels but also the emerging ones, too -- that's part of what women love about fashion," Stevanja said.

That, and its premium user experience has allowed Stylerunner to firmly carve its throne in a landscape that increasingly leaves fashion-conscious women disappointed by poor in-store experiences.

Just casually... with my #WorldRetailAward!🏆 #WRA16 #Stylerunner #alexperry @desordreboutique @aleyshacstylist

A photo posted by Julie Stevanja (@juliestevanja) on

This year alone, Stevanja was recognised as Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the World Retail Awards after she was listed on the Deloitte Tech Fast 50 Rising Star and BRW Fast Starters List.

As a boss, Stevanja relies heavily on instinct and places company culture at the forefront of the business.

"I've recently realised how important it is to be in the office as much as possible," Stevanja said.

"There's a real difference when the leader of the team walks in the door. I really think a great culture can become a competitive advantage. It can give you the productivity of having a team twice as large. To get that edge over a competitor, you need to make sure every single person that comes on board is completely engaged."

Stevanja, who admits she is naturally quite shy, became quickly aware of the need to adapt her own management style as the business grew from three to more than 20 employees.

Great way to wrap 2015 - a live interview on @CNBC Squawkbox! Thanks for having me. #Stylerunner #startuplife

A photo posted by Julie Stevanja (@juliestevanja) on

"There will come a point in anyone's business or professional career when you need more than just yourself to continue to grow."

As a natural "doer" Stevanja preferred to work alone but discovered the level of collaboration and feedback her team needed didn't reflect her own.

"You generally think that people are like you. Because I liked to work quite independently without much feedback, I expected that's what everyone else would have wanted," Stevanja said.

Her honesty and openness to learn is testament to Stylerunner's core value of "being a game-changer" which ensures the company continues to push boundaries at every level.

"We're constantly thinking about how we can stand out from the pack. Online, every element represents your brand from the models you choose to the hairstyles and lighting," Stevanja said.

"Whether improving user experience, engaging with customers or allowing buyers to collaborate with brands to co-produce items that don't yet even exist, it's about "keeping things continually fresh."

Looking forward, Stevanja hopes to grow the company's international sales (they currently make up 20 percent) to match its Australian sales which will see the company raise capital at the end of the year.

For now though Stevanja is relishing her position at the forefront of a multi-billion dollar industry while of course waiting for that pinch-me moment.

"When I see a girl wearing one of our Stylerunner t-shirts, I'm not sure what I'll do. It's the simplest thing, but it'll be incredibly surreal," Stevanja said.

Representing 👊🏼👊🏼👊🏼 #teecomingsoon @stylerunner #stylerunner #stylesquad

A photo posted by Julie Stevanja (@juliestevanja) on

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