The picture that most people have in their head of athletes is someone who is incredibly fit, thin, and rippling with muscles. And it’s no wonder—Instagram is filled with “flabby-to-fit” transformations, and images of stereotypical pro athletes are central figures in advertisements across the globe. However, more and more people are becoming active, and they don’t always fit the stereotype of what an athlete looks like. Deanna Price, for example, is 5’8”, weighs 220 pounds, and is on the US Olympic track and field team. Price is considered an Athena athlete, which is a female athlete who weighs 165 pounds or more. Athena athletes compete in triathlons, run marathons, and participate in every other sport under the sun.
As a professional athlete, Deanna has access to all of the apparel she needs to compete. Everyday Athenas don’t have it so easy. “There’s this notion among most people in the outdoor apparel industry that large men and women don’t exercise,” explains CJ Riggins, the founder of Rsport, a company that makes performance apparel for Athena athletes at all levels. She started Rsport because that common notion is reflected in the available sizes for outdoor and exercise apparel. “Most performance apparel stops maybe at size 16, but more often it’s 14,” Riggins says, despite the average size today being around a 16 or 18 according to the CDC.
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“I went to school for design and merchandising. They teach you from the beginning to buy to the peak,” Riggins says, which means purchasing the most of the average size and tapering down on both sides from there. “The average size when I was in school was a 12 or 14. But when I graduated and was working in the industry, we were buying with a peak at size 6 or 8,” which eclipses the majority of the market Riggins explains. “Why would every company choose to miss out on this market? It’s like pouring business down the drain,” she concludes. After seeing huge segments of the market and athletic population neglected for years, Riggins set out to fill the gap.
In 2015, she began the testing phase of what would become Rsport. “We tested for about a year, made modifications, tested again, and launched on March 31st, 2017,” Riggins says. While the market is important, her work is really about something more: building beautiful, functional clothes so that women of all sizes can have the apparel they need to live the life they want.
“I don’t care why they are the size that they are. Rsport is building products so these women can be healthy if they choose to be. My place as a designer and product builder is to build a highly functional product for a person and they apply it how they want,” Riggins says. As she designs her apparel, Riggins has a clear goal in mind: “I want them to forget about their clothes and feel strong and empowered,” she says. And she’s not cutting any corners to get there.
To create high-tech performance apparel that’s specifically designed, built, and tested for Athena athletes in the L-6XL size range, Rsport has teamed up with 37.5 Technology, a textile company that uses natural sources to create innovative fibers, fabrics, laminates, insulation, and films specifically for the performance apparel, glove, and footwear markets.
37.5 technology, which got its name courtesy of the ideal body temperature during exercise, was started by Dr. Gregory Haggquist while he was working as a chemist. Thanks to a healthy curiosity and rigorous testing, he found that fabric made from activated carbon—a substance most commonly used by water treatment companies to filter drinking water—dried quickly and kept athletes cool and comfy in the process. 37.5 gets its activated carbon from coconut shells and has grown to include a mineral from volcanic sand in their textiles as well to ensure the natural sourcing of everything they make.
In commenting on her partnership with 37.5, Riggins has this to say: “It’s a great concept because of everything they’ve shown about ideal body temperatures in studies—that you can actually go longer in more ideal conditions. If, by using 37.5 textiles, my garments can make women feel drier and more comfortable for longer, than they have the ability to endure for longer and maybe they can get to whatever their end goal is faster.”
Chafing is also something that Rsport’s Athena apparel solves through 37.5 technology. “The reality is that larger women chafe more, so that’s what we have to design for. We have chafing in mind when we build the product and choose the fabrics and 37.5 helps with that by keeping athletes dryer for longer,” Riggins explains.
Riggins acknowledges that there are other Athena brands out there, but believes that her products in partnership with 37.5 are superior because Rsport is focused on delivering true technical performance in their apparel. She adds that “Rsport is anchored in the philosophy that if we build it right, they will come. Some of our products are more expensive than other brands, but we believe in spending money where it makes sense. This level of quality and performance is what Athenas deserve and have deserved for a long time. That’s why we’re building it.”