TITLE NINE FOUNDER MISSY PARK TALKS FEMALE SPORTSWEAR & CELEBRATING TITLE IX’S 40TH ANNIVERSARY
Today’s athletic females have many sportswear options available to them. This selection was not always there as traditional sportswear companies often did not succeed in meeting women’s needs. This year marks the 40th Anniversary of Title IX, a legislation that prohibits gender discrimination in schools, whether it be athletics or otherwise. The ruling impacted women across a variety of interests. Among them was Missy Park, a former collegiate athlete who went on to create a women’s-only athletic clothing company. Park is the Founder and CEO of Title Nine, a pioneer in women’s fitness apparel that helped shape the female athletic apparel and equipment market. A Glam Slam spoke with Missy about the Title IX legislation, Title Nine clothing and how the company has found success.
Park was 10 years old when Title IX passed, making her part of the first generation of the legislation, known as the “trailblazers.” Though women were offered the opportunity to participate in athletics, there were areas that still needed to progress. Park struggled with having to wear men’s sports gear that didn’t fit properly. “I played tennis, basketball and lacrosse in college but there was a lack of equipment available for women. It wasn’t an issue of being mean, it was just that girls didn’t play sports. Since there was no market for us, they’d have us take the men’s shoes. Even the first sports bra was a jock strap.”
Park had a personal need for athletic apparel that catered to women and she sought to prove that there was a larger need as well. “A group of friends of mine and I used to say when we get out of college, we are going to do the women’s Nike.” Following stints at The North Face and Fisher Mountain Bikes, Park worked to fulfill this goal, leading to the development of Title Nine in 1989, taking its name from the 1972 amendment.
“We certainly were the first to focus on women’s athletic apparel at all. No one was doing it. I started it out of my house and we put out our first catalog. I was catering to myself, a 26 year-old former collegiate athlete. So there were probably 36 of us in the whole country but that’s the market that I was going after. I sent out the first catalog, about 30,000. We got about 13 orders.”
Despite the slow response, Park learned an important lesson. “We put three or four sports bras on the order form, sort of as an afterthought, and every one of the orders had a sports bra on it. So that for me was, wow, there are women participating in sports.” Sports bras were a great initial discovery and continue to be about 25% of Title Nine’s business. The company has 47 different offerings. In addition to the sports bras, the company continues to have great success by focusing on sustainable growth and a corporate culture that centers around fitness and sports and aligns with the brand’s original philosophy. The use of real-life models and ability to maintain a high-level of quality in products also contributes to success.
In celebration of the Title IX anniversary, Title Nine has teamed up with Oiselle, a running company also started by a woman who was inspired by the legislation. Designers from around the country were tapped to create limited-edition running tees that speak to the anniversary and what the legislation means to them. 9% of the sale of each tee will go to Title Nine’s nonprofit, The Starting Block, to help expose as many girls as possible to the spirit of Title IX and get them off the streets and onto the fields.
“What I wanted to do with these t-shirts is spark and start this catalyst coversation with the trailblazers and the value that we got fighting for a place on the field and learning the hard lessons that sports has to offer. Now there’s this third generation that doesnt really know Title IX, which is okay. For me, the tees are a really tangible way of having people share the lessons they learned from the hardships and successes of sports. We need to make sure our daughters get the same lessons the trailblazers got.”