In Conversation with Caroline Zelder of AF1Z

Caroline Zelder_Blog Header

Describe your business in a few words?

AF1Z (Air Force One Z) is a Stylish Travel, Workout and Everyday lightweight, antimicrobial jumpsuit.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

Covid-19, because my mom is a heart transplant recipient and I wanted to come up with a product that could better protect her during these times.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

I am a writer/director and I was in the midsts of directing my second movie when Covid hit and my job came to a halt, so this was the perfect time to put my energy to good use and come up with an idea that could help better protect people when they went to the store, doctor’s office, or if they had to travel by plane or take the bus or subway to work.  My mom’s situation inspired me to create something special – fashionable, functional and eco-friendly – our jumpsuits are made 100% from recycled plastic bottles.

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Yes, since I was a kid.

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

I came up with the idea for the Air Force One Z (AF1Z) this past summer 2020 while on a run and within 5 months we had the product designed, eco-friendly material made and the jumpsuit manufactured, our website built (www.af1z.com) and now we just launched on Amazon yesterday.  It’s all going so quickly and so much fun.  I had no real marketing strategy, I’m going by the seat of my pants, learning as we go, this is a first for me, I’m a filmmaker by trade, so I’m telling a story and getting it out there with wonderful people like you.  Everyone who has received our AF1Z jumper so far has loved it, I am so happy about that, you never know if anyone will like what you create, but it’s coming from an inspired place and created with love, and my mom, fiancé, niece and her partner are all a part of the team.  We are having a great time creating something new.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

Give me a few months to answer that one; so far everything has been going quite smoothly, except getting up on Amazon, who knew that would be our biggest challenge to date 🙂

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

The jumper itself, we worked so hard to make sure that it would be made from 100% recycled plastic bottles, even our mailers and labels are eco-friendly (they are both compostable) and the design and color – as a family we went through so many color choices and different elements to the design and we are all so happy with the way it turned out. It’s super cute, stylish, so comfortable and functional, we have never done anything like this before, my fiancé, mom and I are all in the film business and my niece and her partner run an animal rescue – so this was not in our wheelhouse.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

Hire your family 🙂 The team is our family, AF1Z is completely run and financed by us, with Covid-19 we not only can not hire people, but our budget is so tiny that we all work for free as a family.

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Well Covid-19 was the reason we came up with the idea for the Air Force One Z in the first place.  Our jobs came to a halt and I wanted to come up with a way to help better protect my mom when she had to go out to a doctor’s visit or grocery shopping. Hence the AF1Z was born.

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

Good question, well after Covid is over, we still plan on keeping the antimicrobial element to our jumpers for travel, but we would love to branch out and create different styles of jumpers for leisure wear. There’s nothing more comfortable than a cozy onesie, so we are talking about different styles and materials for expanding our AF1Z brand.  They are also great jumpers to wear jogging, my mom wears hers everyday walking and I wear mine when I go running, it works up a good sweat, helping me take off my Covid 10 🙂

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

To always keep my head up and hold a positive attitude.  It’s been an extremely difficult year for us as a family and so tragic for so many people, so the only thing we can do when tough times hit and tragedy happens is look forward and figure out how we can make things better.  I’d love to change the past, but that is a futile wish, so we just look to the now and how we can make things better today.

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

My family and doing this endeavor together.

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

Absolutely. My best tip, one that I remind myself constantly, is to find the joy in the moment, whatever I am doing there is always something good to be found. Life and work for me have always gone hand in hand, I can’t do something that for the most part doesn’t bring me joy, it doesn’t mean that there are not extremely difficult parts to my work, but we spend so much of our life involved in our jobs that it is a huge part of our life and as such we must find the joy in it everyday or eventually find another job.

If you are not happy in your work life, it’s often hard to be happy in your home life or everyday life, I know it is easier said than done, because we have responsibilities to provide for ourselves and families, but keep an eye open for a job or opportunity that will bring you more happiness, we have the ability to change at anytime in our life. It’s scary, but it’s always worth it in the long run…. or short run too as we are hoping with our new venture 🙂

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

Hmmmm that I love to nap. The power nap changes everything in my day, when I’m feeling unproductive, unmotivated, a bit down… a good nap really changes everything for me, it shifts my perspective, somehow I wake up and see things differently.

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

For me it’s absolutely these 3 things: Eat healthy (I’m vegan), but eating more fruit and vegetables actually does change your mental and physical capacity for productivity. Exercise is a must, walk, run, stretch, do something physical. And number 3 relax, meditate, quiet time just for you, no phones, no kids, no noise.

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

It means being creative, figuring out new ways to present an idea, it means collaboration, it means having a good time.

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