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Getting off the Block in Fashionable Activewear Design

Shawn Boyer never planned on a career as an activewear clothing designer, but as a bodybuilder who had a hard time finding clothes that fit properly; it became a necessity, and eventually a business.
After making activewear for himself during college, Boyer, who with his wife Kate founded designer-activewear company Anatomie in 2005, credits perseverance, working for his customers, and bringing a sports mentality to the business as the ways to achieve success as an activewear designer.

“At the time I was living with the football team, so of course they thought I was out of my mind sewing,” says Shawn Boyer about sticking with his designs during college.

“I was always doing something physical, and this was part of my personality,” he adds. “Clothing was the only thing that made sense at that time.”

Although it was tough in the beginning, Shawn Boyer believes that the only way to fight through and make it as a new designer is to just do it.

“The best starting point is not to think too much,” he says. “To learn by doing.”

Illinois Institute of Art — Chicago graduate Xochil Herrera is a freelance pattern maker and design consultant, who works with many new designers to help them through the struggles of their first or second collections.

“Often with newer designers I will guide them through the next steps of the production process, selecting a sewing contractor, making sure they have proper labels that meet federal apparel labeling requirements, and sometimes even helping them to review garments for quality control,” says Herrera, who graduated in 2006 with a degree in Fashion Design.

She helps them gain the confidence, knowledge, and experience they need to become more independent in their design process.

“As a pattern maker I ensure that they have high-quality patterns that sew together well, fit perfectly on their fit-model who represents their target market, and ensure that certain sewing techniques are used to make the garment both perform well and be of the best quality for the price point that they will be selling in,” says Herrera.

Getting an activewear business off and running is a challenge for all new designers. Once initial success is found, the challenges move to finding the best way to reach customers, maintaining customer appeal, and staying with the newest trends.

The Boyers started out selling Anatomie products at country clubs, fitness centers, golf clubs, resorts, and spas. They now work with major retailers like Bloomingdales, but continue to use less-traditional methods to promote their brand like trunk sales, parties, and hosting their own events.

“We go after the customer. We ask where we can go next,” says Kate Boyer.
Another important part of being a successful activewear designer is listening to buyer feedback.
“We are very close to our customers. Most of our bestselling styles are inspired by our ladies telling us what they want and what they don't want,” says Shawn Boyer.

Jessica McMahon, a designer for Fit Couture agrees that it is important to always remember your customers and their needs when designing clothing.
McMahon says that she gets ideas for her designs by, talking to athletes and yoga and fitness advocates of all ages. She tries to accommodate their needs in a stylish manner, so they look good anywhere.

This may seem obvious, but Shawn Boyer believes that sometimes obvious is good in activewear design.

“95% of good design is common sense,” says Shawn Boyer.

One way for designers to demonstrate this is to realize that one style will not work for everyone.
McMahon says that there should be an assortment of styles offered to ensure that all customers find clothing that makes them feel good about themselves.

“Comfort can be very attractive,” adds McMahon. “Make sure your clothing fits your body type properly. This will help your comfort level as well as how great you look in your workout clothing.”

McMahon says she enjoys the positive impact that her clothes have on the women who wear them. “I love helping women feel great about themselves,” says McMahon.
Dee Burton, founder of Deezfit, says that wearing fashionable workout clothing helps you to see yourself in a better light.

“Looking good and feeling good go hand in hand,” says Burton. “Fitness means something different to every one; as does fashion.”

Herrera believes that a major part of making athletes feel good in their clothes is choosing the right fabrics for the design.

“I think that fabrics are also a really important aspect that is continuing to evolve,” says Herrera. “Fabrics that have special properties, such as wicking away sweat, really can make a fashion-fitness garment more functional.”

Burton recommends Supplex as a material that is both comfortable and form flattering.
“It holds its shape, is fast drying, fully breathable, and holds color when washed,” says Burton. “It has great wickability.”

Functionality of design is also important for keeping customers coming back.

“Many of the trends I see are in the construction of fitness apparel,” says Herrera. “I think that performance is especially important in these garments.”

“Designers that I am working with are including things like pockets for iPods or keys,” adds Herrera.

Design implements like iPod pockets make the activewear both gym and street acceptable, which Burton believes is the newest evolution of activewear.

“Trends in fitness fashion transcend from the streets,” says Burton.

For Herrera street trends mean adding a feminine touch.

“It is now perfectly acceptable to wear your "gym clothes" on the street, so I think female customers are looking for fitness apparel that has some feminine details like ruffles, piping, or fun color blocking, or the use of prints,” says Herrera.

This balance between street style and functionality is what helps keep new designers on the scene once they break into the market.

“You can’t just focus on how great the product is, or how beautiful the clothes are,” says Kate Boyer. “You have to differentiate the product to survive.”

Following the trends and creating a balanced product are important for longevity in the activewear market, but the Boyers advise new designers to focus on one great product to get their start.

“Most big breaks in fashion are not from a great collection,” says Shawn Boyer. “They are from one item that everyone wants at the same time.”

“If you try and your feelings get hurt and you give up, then you’re not going to make it in this business,” he adds. “For fashion from scratch it's not the creative geniuses who make it, it's the people who can handle the ups and downs and keep swinging no matter what.”

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