Paula Welch started Xtremeform Activewear when looking for bras for her girls, and now active customers in Southport and on the internet are loving her products too.
Paula Welch, who would rather jump from an airplane than keep a regular office job, is strolling through her Southport shop, barefoot, explaining what makes her world beautiful.
Welch owns Xtremeform Activewear, a no-frills store of less than 800 square feet in a neat row of businesses tucked off Long Beach Road. The inside isn’t fancy — just rows and rows of plastic bins on shelves, their fronts labeled for contents, and a desk by the window. But that’s fine. Customers are only there for one thing — well, one of nine versions of one thing — so fancy decor isn’t needed.
“I’ve always been pretty active in health and fitness,” Welch says. “I do a lot of activities, but my biggest concern is that people live a healthy lifestyle. Not go out and run a marathon, or go skydiving, but have freedom of movement and take charge of their life.”
Welch sells bras. Not frilly, flowery, up-lift-y bras. And not sports bras. Just stuff to keep stuff where stuff goes, so it sits still, comfortably. No hooks, wires or gadgetry. Motherhood made her do it.
For her children, she says, she was looking for a bra that was like a compression sports bra, or something along the line of a minimizer, but something attractive for people of all sizes.
“And let’s face it,” she says, “a minimizer looks like something your grandma would wear. I started selling these online, and someone said, ‘Why don’t you sell them locally?’ Here, we don’t want to be in a beach community and have to get dressed in lacy underwire all the time. We just want to be comfortable.”
That’s part of Welch’s message: Get dressed. Be comfortable. Live your life. Without squirming to adjust your undergarments.
“People put too much pressure on, like, the Victoria’s Secret and model image,” Welch says. “But there is a life out there; there is so much to do, so much to be a part of.”
So three years ago she set up her store.
Welch is in her 50s and really does jump from airplanes. She also likes long walks and worry-free bike rides, which is where her products fit in. If someone feels like going for a jog, her bras ensure a problem-free experience.
“Take time to recognize that we have life around us,” she says. “Those things that allow us to be more of a free spirit. We’re spread in so many places, not because we’re so busy but because we have so much available to us in technology instead of engaging in one another or in ourselves.”
Welch’s products — $8.99 for Xtreme Comfort unpadded, $11.99 for a removable-pad item, $19.99 for three-pack, removal pad bandeau set, etc. — are private label, but her trademark is in the final steps. Someday, she says, she may add leggings and t-shirts to her line, but for now, she’s focused on two things: bras and giving back.
Xtremeform Activewear has a no-questions-asked, full-refund, no-need-to-return policy. Welch asks that instead of returning a purchase, customers pass it to a friend or donate it — to a thrift shop, charity or someone in need. If items are returned, she donates them to places such as CIS Thrift Stores and local churches. After Hurricane Florence, she says, she donated bras to women who had been displaced. Much of her business is e-commerce. She trusts people. “Nine times out of 10, people are honest about it,” she says.
She also offers discounts: 20 percent to military; specials and BOGO offers to teachers and healthcare workers. And she emphasizes that the fit and performance helps women of all sizes and needs. “I have people who have called me and written me letters,” she says. “They might have had a mastectomy. Or have fibromyalgia. If I can make someone comfortable, that makes my day.”
Another thing that makes her day is jumping from that airplane. She’s done it more than 50 times.
From August 1 to 4, her business partners with skydiving apparel company Kua Sky, for an event and product photo shoot at the Cape Fear Regional Jetport, because there’s more to focus on at 15,000 feet than fidgeting with uncomfortable underwear.
“One thing I have on my side is time,” Welch says. “You spend a lot of time doing things to make sure everybody has what they need, and it’s easy to forget yourself along the way. I’m not super religious, but I believe we were put on this Earth and somebody’s looking out for us. You only have so much life available, and one day it’s gone.”