Michigan Sportswear CEO Reflects on her Journey
Written by Jacalyn Gross
I believe that, oftentimes, companies forget that they are making products for people and instead keep focusing their attention and energy on maximizing the bottom line. When I was pondering the possibility of starting a sportswear company, I also saw a huge gap in the offerings geared toward fulfilling the needs of female athletes. During my stint as a college athlete here in Michigan, I was issued shorts that were too short, shirts made for football players and numerous other pieces of ill-fitting attire. As a result, I suffered from a bit of body dysmorphia. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to create a company that was about real women and their needs.
In order to find out what those needs were, I surveyed Great Lakes Region D1 and D2 schools. The first part was about body types, the second was about how women would like the garment to fit, and the final survey was about aesthetics. What I found was that there were some important women’s sportswear needs that weren’t being met and that I could help these athletes feel more comfortable by giving them the gear they needed to excel.
After college, I traveled to Los Angeles to gather information on how a start-up fashion design business was run. After making some connections and buying a ton of books, I decided to head back to Michigan and get a job coaching college runners. I knew I would need much more money than what I could earn from that job, however, if I was going to start a sportswear company. One of the coaches I worked with happened to mention to me that he and his wife went up to Alaska each year to fish during salmon season as a way of earning a lot of extra money in a short period of time. I decided that working in Alaska could provide me with the startup capital I needed. It was long hours and some pretty intense working conditions, but it was worth it.
I flew back to Michigan and started developing designs for athletic shorts. Based on my own experience and my survey data, I understood that the “ride up” factor was a big issue with spandex shorts. I used this problem as a starting point and began making samples. I tested different styles, fits, and materials myself and solicited the opinion of other female athletes. These shorts were truly a “by women, for women” product, start to finish. I opened UR Sportswear for business in 2012 with my very first line of shorts.
I admire women who live regular lives but choose to do extraordinary things every day. It’s not the only thing they do. It’s what they do on little sleep, in between their numerous other obligations. They are motivated not by the promise of fame and fortune, but by the joy of strength, the will to compete, and maybe a little coffee. Despite all the challenges and obstacles they face every day to do it, they manage to stay fit and keep the mindset of pushing themselves beyond the comfortable and the easy. They are strong women, and they do it for themselves – for their mental and physical health.
-Jacalyn Gross, CEO and Founder of UR Sportswear, LLC
Check out her Women Empower Active YouTube channel with Buffalo, New York-based sports reporter, Amy Moritz.
Editor’s Note: I had the extreme pleasure of being Jackie Gross’ roommate for our freshman year at Northern Michigan University. I will never forget the day I came back to our room after class to find Jackie sitting on the floor, cutting up a pink sweater. She chopped off the bottom, cut strategic holes along the new, unfinished edge and threaded a hot pink ribbon in and out of the knit fabric. I stared in horror as she ‘destroyed’ her sweater and then was equally shocked when she answered, “what are you doing?!?” with “I’m making an outfit so I can go out.” Needless to say (from a straight-laced, business casual dresser), Jackie and I made quite interesting dorm partners. Had I known then what an amazing career and business she would found, I may not have looked at her quite so strangely that Friday afternoon so many years ago. – EWC