Running past a store window in December 2003, Nicole DeBoom ’94 experienced a life-changing epiphany: She looked like a boy.
The realization more than shocked her — it led her to found SkirtSports Inc., a company dedicated to providing women with sexier clothing options for their workout routines.
“The whole reason the company came about,” DeBoom said, “was because I was frustrated with my options … I thought, ‘If only I could look more pretty, I might be more inspired.’ ”
The company specializes in workout skirts and dresses, although it also sells items ranging from earrings to children’s bodysuits. Since the company’s incorporation in September 2005, over 50,000 women have shopped at SkirtSports, Inc., and the business has been featured in magazines from Marie Claire to Active Cities.
DeBoom, who majored in sociology and wrote her senior essay on women’s body images, did not start her career as a successful businesswoman, though.
“I decided after school that I wanted to do triathlons, and it was at that point that my parents began to question the value of my Ivy League education,” she said.
After moving to California, which DeBoom describes as “triathlon central,” she qualified in 1995 for the World Championships as an amateur. In 2002, she began focusing on short-distance triathlon running, and it was a year later that the idea for SkirtSports was born.
“After that epiphany in 2003, I started thinking about the word ‘pretty’ and what it meant to me,” Deboom explained. “It took about a year from that moment to take that idea and make it into a business.”
Her first step was to learn about business and then to begin to create the company culture that she wanted. Meg Gill ’07, a brand manager for SkirtSports, said one of her favorite aspects of working for the company is its visionary culture.
“Every day is a challenge for us as a startup company,” Gill said, “but Nicole manages to turn the workplace into a creative force … She is inspiring every day.”
Gill said much of the culture of SkirtSports is focused on fitness, which is not surprising, given its founder’s history. Oftentimes, business meetings will take place during long bike rides, according to both DeBoom and Gill.
Of course, the real focus of the company is not just fitness but providing female athletes with the chance to look and feel good. According to Kristina Freisem, a SkirtSports customer who has participated in approximately 35 marathons, that devotion to style is the reason she has remained loyal to the company for the past two-and-a-half years.
“I love everything about SkirtSports — the pink, the skirt, the sexiness. I ran the NYC marathon in a tennis skirt, and of course when I saw these I had to have them,” Freisem said.
Yet SkirtSports is about more than women’s apparel, DeBoom said.
Recently, DeBoom decided the company should become more inclusive and host events for both men and women. So she developed the idea of Skirt Chaser races, “fun and flirty” five-kilometer races in which female entrants start three minutes before their male counterparts. The races now include fashion shows, dating games and a huge block party.
“People are even starting to get dressed up for these,” said DeBoom, who met her husband when she boarded the flight that would take her to her first triathlon World Championship. “Men are showing up in tuxedo tops and running shorts. People are starting to take seriously that they may meet their future spouse here.”
According to DeBoom, the biggest challenge she has faced thus far in running SkirtSports has been managing its growth.
“When I started, I was literally shipping boxes out of my basement,” DeBoom said. “You have to anticipate growth, but you can’t really plan for it. And managing personnel growth has been difficult as well.”
Two Yalies have been hired to work at the company thus far, and SkirtSports recently hired its first Harvard graduate, DeBoom said.
“She’s really outnumbered,” DeBoom laughed.