Authenticity and Talent
How poofy shorts and "being legit" led to running a women’s apparel company.
Webber Kerr’s President Adam Lloyd meets with Sally Bergesen, CEO + founder of Oiselle, as they discuss branding, recruiting and Valentine’s gifts.
Oiselle is a women's athletic apparel company that designs and produces gear for athletes. Following its first quest to create "non-poofy" shorts in 2007, the company now produces a full range of women's apparel, both for competition and lifestyle.
AL: Sally, how did you take a personal interest & passion [running] and turn it into a successful business so nonchalantly?
SB: I think many entrepreneurs live heart-first. They let their passion or interest for something lead the way. Day to day, they see possibility, and also frequently are missing the fear chip. Someone will say to me, “It took so much bravery to start Oiselle…” and while I never want to miss the opportunity to be called brave, I often think it has more to do with the way I’m wired. It’s not that I don’t have fears. I just don’t have them around starting and leading a business.
AL: I am a fan of the Oiselle brand, it’s genuine and fun. As a former marketing executive, what type of image were you seeking to create for Oiselle in the early days? What was your strategy?
SB: Before starting Oiselle, I was a brand strategist, both within a 50-person design firm where we consulted with many large clients, and later with my own consulting practice. During those 15-years, I learned a lot. One of my biggest takeaways was that authenticity is – above and beyond – the key ingredient to having a great brand. At Oiselle, it’s one of our three core brand tenets and we call it “being legit.” Plus, being authentic runs on the same principles as not lying. When you never lie, you never have to cover your tracks. When you live authentically, you never have to pretend you’re something you’re not. It’s too exhausting and what’s the point?
AL: You have successfully recruited top athletes from Nike, recently Kara Goucher. What type of people do you look for to join Oiselle and how are you attracting them to a smaller, less-familiar brand?
SB: For an athlete to be the right fit at Oiselle, we look for several things. First and foremost, they have to be excited about what we’re doing. Being part of a small, growing company that’s looking to shake things up in a staid and power-corrupted sport is not everyone’s idea of a good time. Second, they need to, on some level, embrace our brand essence of “feminine fierce.” This is a tension between the grace and elegance of the sport alongside a real edge…the grit of competition - and the hard work required to get to the start line. Lastly, it helps if deep in their hearts they’re running nerds just like us.
AL: Having worked with organizations of many sizes, what would you say are the advantages and disadvantages of being a niche product or service provider? What can larger corporations learn from Oiselle when thinking of their branding and talent attraction?
SB: We’re small and we’re new – and we have novelty on our side. We have the ability to create fewer boundaries between the inside and the outside of our company. We’re able to make customers a part of our journey. We tell them every day that what they say and feel and do makes a difference to us. My advice to larger companies would be to spend less time doing market research, and more time just being engaged members of the community.
AL: What’s next for Oiselle in 2015? And, as it is Valentine’s gift buying season, can you recommend a popular Oiselle product for women on the list?
SB: We have a few big surprises up our sleeve for 2015. But I can’t let the cat out of the bag yet! For women who haven’t tried our line, I highly recommend the Roga Shorts (great cross over too, for pilates or cross fit if you’re into that) and/or anything made in our Lux fabric. It’s butter. Thank you for taking the time check in!