Friday, July 10, 2015

Oiselle's First Nest

Kara Goucher, CEO Sally Bergesen, and Lauren Fleshman at Oiselle opening in Seattle
Oiselle, the pioneering women’s running apparel brand, opened its first brick and mortar store in Seattle's University Village on Thursday.

The lengthy opening day lines bode well for the company's future. Already a tremendous online success, this is Oiselle's first walk-in venture.

"We are passionate for running and passionate for the brand," said Oiselle running team member, Emily Brain. "We love Oiselle." 

Lindsey Pokorzynski is drawn to the brand by the sense of community and support she finds among Oiselle team runners. "The 'you go girl - I believe in you - how can I support you?' type of atmosphere is really great to be a part of. We’re proud to wear Oiselle because it represents the community we have.”

While it was a star-studded opening with Lauren Fleshman, Phoebe Wright, Danny Mackey, Kara Goucher, Adam Goucher, Andrew Wheating, and Nick Symmonds adding luster to the event, Oiselle founder and CEO Sally Bergesen focused on the many non-elite runners who are the heart of their community. 

“It’s how I feel about running and runners,” said the University of Oregon graduate. “I’ve had a really great group of running buddies for a long time. The company is really about embodying that and extending it further… it’s about the camaraderie and connection that runners have with each other.”

Sarah Hartnett likes the practical aspect of Oiselle’s clothing. "They are designing clothing that is really functional for real-life and running," she said. “You can buy something and wear it for running and wear it for work, too.”

Jess Graham is drawn by Oiselle’s sense of community as well as its unique approach to developing athletes. “Emily (Brain) and I both ran in college and then we met doing the Sunday long runs with Oiselle. We trained for Boston together.”

Bergesen’s goal is to “support emerging elite athletes as well as already elite athletes.” She wants to “help elite athletes who are breaking onto the scene,” and there’s no better example than Oiselle-sponsored Kerri Gallagher, who finished a surprising 3rd in the USATF 1500m.

Gallagher then demolished her PR with a five second leap to 4:03.56 in winning a 1500m in Lignano, Italy, on Tuesday. That gained her the World Championships qualifying standard and a trip to Beijing.

In supporting emerging elite athletes, Bergesen is to be commended for filling a gaping hole in the US post-graduate athlete support system. In Europe, a well-established club system takes university runners with potential and nurtures them into elite athletes. In the US, collegiate stars get big contracts, while promising second-tier athletes are left to fend for themselves.

Even Gallagher had to be convinced to continue her running career after college. “Stories like that can’t happen without support,” said Bergesen. To make a successful transition from college to international elite status is “quite a chasm to cross.”

Bergesen’s plan is to continue to expand Oiselle by opening additional stores across the country. But she’ll proceed at a steady pace by learning from the first before opening a second.

“Today is a little bit like a wedding or graduation,” she said. “It’s like being an empty-nester and seeing your baby go into the world.”

“And letting her fly?” I asked.

“And letting her fly.”

“The running community is diverse and wonderful and takes all types of people,” she said. “I love being in it and it’s really, truly, a spirit thing.”

Bergesen admires the many people who dedicate their lives to helping people love running.

“I think that’s one thing that a lot of people don’t see,” she said. “Even the most elite athletes all had a number of people – whether it’s high school coaches or trainers or friends along the way – that have supported them.

“That’s truly a beautiful thing.”

Full disclosure: I taught and coached Bergesen’s husband, Alec Duxbury, in junior high and high school; we remain teaching colleagues and friends to this day. 


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