Marta Gold, The Edmonton Journal, November 21, 2009
Cori and Bobbi Windsor didn't want to look like members of the yoga-mom army when they went to the gym.
The two sisters had vowed to get in shape while on leaves from their busy jobs, and met each morning to work out. But they found the widely available, mass-produced athletic tanks too short, the yoga pants a touch too low-riding and the overall look of the clothes far too uniform.
"I think manufacturers are making a mistake," says Cori. "I think they try too hard to copy the large company --Lululemon--and that's missing the target market. People are looking for an alternative to them. They want something that looks different."
Like many of us, the sisters chatted about how they would do things differently. And then they did. Their company, TerraFrog Clothing, tries to innovate, rather than imitate. "The line is based on our pet peeves," says Cori.
The sisters insisted their clothes be manufactured in Canada, not designed here and made in China, like so many of their competitors' products.
They vowed to be easy on the environment, eschewing air shipping, buying wind power, and donating to local and national environmental causes.
They incorporated sustainable materials like bamboo into the fabrics, and are working on products made from recycled fleece and T-shirts enriched with coconut fibres.
They made their tops two inches longer than the standard sizes, so they wouldn't ride up. They inserted a 360-degree shelf bra that fits a half-size snugger than the tank itself, so the bra supports, but the top isn't too tight in the tummy. Their pants sit slightly higher on the waist, so "you can comfortably do a squat and not worry about half your butt showing," says Cori.
But most importantly, they wanted to produce athletic clothes that looked different from what was already out there.
Sure, they make dark-coloured yoga pants and capris. They also make long sports shorts that come just above the knee, and board shorts that come right to the knee. They make tanks in solid colours, but also in two-tone, with the straps and racer-back in a different-coloured fabric. And their Frogaliscious tanks, which also have straps and racer-backs of contrasting, printed fabric, are limited editions, meaning no more than 1,000 of each design is made, or in some cases, 500.
Cori says people have requested the company make a particular tank for them again in a fabric they love, but the sisters won't do it because they want to keep their promise of exclusivity. "We have to say, 'No, we made a commitment to our retailers. We can't sneak you one,' " she says with a laugh. Each season, they create Frogaliscious tanks with new patterns and colours. Even the tanks that aren't billed as limited editions are produced each season in a slightly different style or different colours, and never in quantities of more than 2,000.
In the future, as the company grows, the sisters have no plans to mass-produce their clothes, even if the demand is there. "Our goal would be to just create more styles, so there's more selection, but not necessarily more pieces." Instead of creating four different Frogaliscious tanks per season, for example, they'd create 10 different ones.
Cori acknowledges it would be much cheaper to make a million tanks instead of 1,000, and still cheaper if they made them in China. "But it would be wrong for us to get our brand awareness and our name out by making them in exclusive quantities, only to turn around, once people know our name and start making them in mass quantities."
Both women have supportive husbands who encouraged them to pursue their dreams. They gave up their careers--Cori as a nurse who had been pursuing a master's degree while on leave, and Bobbi as a teacher--in part because both have children who recently developed medical conditions.
"TerraFrog was an outlet for us, and working out in the morning was an outlet; it was just our way to get away from it all," explains Cori.
So far, the response from consumers has been even better than they had hoped. Their initial business plan saw the entrepreneurial pair operating an online business for a couple of years before venturing into the retail market. But within weeks of launching last November, they had calls from local stores that wanted to carry their stock. Among them was Oui 3, the St. Albert store run by three friends who produce their own line of made-in-Canada yoga wear. That store has now become an exclusive franchise of its One Tooth brand, so it can no longer carry other lines. But five local stores continue to carry TerraFrog, plus another eight across the country.
"It's been overwhelming, to be honest. We didn't expect to grow this fast," says Cori. "It's been fabulous, but it's been a lot of work."
© Edmonton Journal 2009
All prices are in CAD.