Two activewear companies founded by women aim to inspire their customers to get out and get fit.
By Diana Price
In case you haven’t noticed, activewear is everywhere. No longer relegated to the gym or the track, apparel that allows for easy movement, wicks moisture, and is equally at home on the couch or on the run has become a staple in many women’s wardrobes.
Women looking for activewear that fits well, feels good, and allows for easy transitions between active pursuits and all the other roles and responsibilities that fill busy days may want to consider taking a look at apparel and gear curated and designed by women, for women. For the founders of the two such companies we profile here, personal passion has led to professional success in bringing to the design table their experiences as athletes and the joy they’ve found in physically active lives to offer women clothing focused on fit and function.
Title Nine: “A Fit Woman is a Powerful Woman”
Missy Park’s passion for providing women with functional, comfortable activewear is fueled by her own love for movement and adventure—and the confidence those pursuits inspire. The founder and chief executive officer of Title Nine, a multichannel retailer (online, print catalog, and retail stores) of women’s athletic clothing, gear, and sportswear, was a college athlete (she played lacrosse, basketball, and tennis at Yale University) who had spent her life playing sports in clothing and gear designed for boys and men.
Fed up with the lack of apparel for women and fired up to do something about it, in 1989 Missy founded Title Nine, named for the groundbreaking 1972 Title IX legislation requiring gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding. Initially producing a mail-order catalog and stocking an inventory of women’s athletic wear in her garage, Missy’s continued commitment to provide women with what they need to get out and get active has led to a company that today boasts 23 stores across the country, a booming online retail presence, and a print catalog featuring not models but “real women,” photographed in their active element.
From the beginning, Missy says, her experience with the life-changing confidence and joy that an active life brings has inspired her mission at Title Nine: “What got me into this business is the idea that a fit woman is a powerful woman, and the confidence she builds on the trail or on the court will carry over into the rest of her entire day.”
That notion of the merging of active pursuits with daily life is clear in the products offered at Title Nine. Along with an extensive array of sport-specific apparel—everything from running gear and swimsuits to shoes and more than 50 different sports bras—the company offers “adventure-ready” clothing designed to take women through their workday, family life, and travel plans in the same functional comfort that activewear provides. The “one-and-done” dress, for instance, integrates a sports bra into the design, as well as performance fabric and functional pockets, to meet women’s desire for stylish everyday dressing and functionality.
In each piece Title Nine designs or chooses to sell from other brands, Missy says, the goal is to offer pieces that are “built for women from the ground up”—not just altered from a design originally created for men— taking into account women’s various body shapes, fabric preferences, and performance needs. The end result, she says, should be products that fit well and function well: “When I think about our clothes, whether we’re designing them ourselves or getting them from a supplier, we’re focused on what you want to do in those clothes. What we want the product to do is perform well.” It is a very different priority from that of many companies designing women’s activewear today, she adds: “At Title Nine we want to talk about what we do in our clothes, not how we look in our clothes.”
What Missy hopes women will do in Title Nine products is get out and engage in an active life—move their bodies, test their limits, and find joy in physical challenge. To that end Title Nine sponsors running events across the country—the T9K Race Series—to provide a fun, welcoming format for women to come together around sports. Missy says the events provide participants, especially moms, the chance to focus on their own wellbeing: “A lot of times our responsibilities as moms and community members crowd out our commitment to ourselves. We want to provide those opportunities for women to take time out to take care of their bodies and their minds.”
At the end of the day, it seems clear that, for Missy and the team at Title Nine, the goal is to provide products that are tools—functional, stylish implements to inspire women to embrace a full, active life: “If we can convey the value of getting out there and taking on adventures through our products and events, if we can tell women, ‘Yes, you can do it, and we can help,’” she says, “then we’ve succeeded.”
Skirt Sports: “Real Woman Fit and Wear Testing”
Nicole Deboom spent her childhood “playing every sport imaginable” before moving on to a collegiate swimming career and finding success as a professional triathlete after graduating from college.
It was during a triathlon training run in 2003 that Nicole experienced the moment wherein her lifelong passion for athletic pursuit converged with entrepreneurial vision. While glancing at her reflection in a storefront window as she ran down the street in her Colorado hometown, she stopped short at the vision she saw in the glass: “I literally stopped dead in my run and thought, first, I look like a boy; second, I’m uninspired; and, third, I just want to feel pretty. I immediately ran home, scribbled the word pretty on a piece of paper, and started dreaming up ways to start a clothing company.”
As she considered designs for the functional, flattering activewear she wanted to create, Nicole says she was guided by “two mantras that rule my world: (1) When your body is fit and strong, your mind is fitter and stronger too and (2) When you look good, you feel good, and when you feel good, you can do anything.”
Nine months after that fateful glance in the storefront window, Nicole had applied her ideas to create a prototype belted race skirt designed for running, and she wore that skirt as she crossed the finish line to win the Ironman Wisconsin—an event that required swimming 2.4 miles, cycling 112 miles, and running 26.2 miles. Skirt Sports Inc., Nicole’s running-apparel brand, was incorporated three days later, the first women’s activewear brand to sell running skirts.
Today, Skirt Sports offers 60 to 70 different apparel items in its line of performance activewear, sold online and through sportswear retailers across the country. Though the company still focuses on the signature running skirt, it has expanded to offer a variety of other products, including sports bras, tops, shorts, and tights, among other running essentials. In all the items the company designs, Nicole says, the priority is to “be the brand that women trust when it comes to details and quality: pockets are where they should be; design lines flatter; and, most important, thighs don’t chafe!”
Key to all designs in the company’s product line, Nicole says, is the “real-woman fit and wear testing” that is the foundation of each piece. “Most companies fit their prototypes on either a basic dress form that could never replicate the curves in a woman’s body or a size small fit model with a specific build,” Nicole says. “We fit our styles on multiple women in each size, from XS to XL, to ensure that their body types are represented. Our goal is to offer a range of styles that work for all body types. Being in tune with the varied nuances of women’s bodies is a priority for Skirt Sports.”
The result of the marriage of careful design and construction and flattering, fun style that defines Skirt Sports products is a line of apparel that Nicole hopes empowers women to engage in physical challenge and feel good doing it. “I want women to feel liberated,” she says. “I want them to look at their bodies and smile because they love what they see. I want them to have that aha moment when they think, This is what I’ve been waiting for.”
The desire to offer women those transformative moments of personal acceptance and success has also led Skirt Sports to develop running events that take the spirit of the company on the road to provide women the opportunity to come together around running. Providing women the chance to train for a goal and celebrate results, Nicole says, is invaluable: “So many women don’t ever take the first step because they don’t believe they can. As soon as they see other real women doing it, they have an epiphany: If she can do it, I can do it!”
As she continues to expand the Skirt Sports product line and build women’s confidence around running, Nicole says she is continually inspired by the women who embrace Skirt Sports and share their stories with the community that has grown around the brand: “Women are constantly overcoming barriers in the world of Skirt Sports, and we are proud to help them along the way.”
Photo by JOSS, Courtesy Title Nine