Traditionally, fitness enthusiasts have relied on getting their apparel from mega-companies like Nike, Adidas and Reebok. However, armed with creativity and an ability to connect with consumers on a personal level thanks to social media, smaller fitness apparel companies are cropping up daily, offering consumers a unique brand promise and the opportunity to support one of America's small businesses.
Melissa Moo Harkins, founder of MooMotion, started her brand as a way to serve a growing, yet underserved, niche.
"Triathlon and cycling are relatively small but rapidly growing sports," said Harkins. "Understanding the needs of the endurance athlete and reflecting that passion in my designs is what sets the brand apart."
Other brands are leveraging the consumer desire to help others in need. Janji, a Boston-based socially conscious running clothing company, helps to fight the global food and water crisis every time someone purchases a piece of their apparel.
"We try to provide an alternative solution for the person who wants a brand that reflects their lifestyle," said Dave Spandorfer, co-founder of Janji. "In creating Janji, we wanted to find a brand that helps the average runner look good, feel good and help do good."
To spur interest, these smaller brands have an opportunity to access their consumers in a way that wasn't possible 10 or 20 years ago. Through social media, they are able to engage with consumers and help them understand the brand.
"Social media allows brands to be approachable," said Lacie Whyte, founder of women's apparel company Swirlgear. "We interact daily with our fans and customers. Their questions are answered the same day and we even take to Facebook and Twitter to have our fans help us choose colors they would like to see in upcoming collections, or to schedule meet-up events at races across the country."
Swirlgear takes its engagement a step further by creating an influencer network to spearhead awareness efforts for the company. As a new brand with limited resources, it does not advertise and instead, relies on these ambassadors to generate interest in the organization.
For small business owners like Harkins, Spandorfer and Whyte, their passion is woven into the threads of the garments that they create, making quality the top priority. At the same time, they ensure that the price remains affordable for their customers.
"We pride ourselves in taking those extra steps and creating features and benefits in our running apparel that women look for," said Whyte. "We try to remain competitive with the other big brands out there so women will give us a try and not rule us out just because our prices are too high."
As for what the future will bring, time will only tell if this desire to support the small fitness apparel company will continue.
"For any brand that is going to compete against the giants, they need to have something that makes it special," said Spandorfer. "While some brands will pop up and go away as fast as they came, there will be some that will use creativity to generate excitement among their customers – creating an everlasting imprint on the face of the industry."
Lora Mays is an avid runner who has been running for more than 15 years. In this time, she has found a love for marathons and plans to run her 15th this spring. When she isn't running, she is blogging about it at Crazy Running Girl.