When Yale athletes perform on the track, court and field against other universities, the “Y” emblazoned on their blue-and-white uniforms represents the storied tradition of Yale’s athletic teams. This season, however, female runners and throwers for the Elis will be representing something entirely different with their new uniforms: Yale entrepreneurship and modernity.
As of August, the Yale women’s cross country and track and field teams have switched from Nike apparel to new, custom uniforms by Oiselle, a women’s-only sports brand with ties to Yale. The startup company employs former Eli runner Sarah Lesko ’91, who negotiated the deal — Oiselle’s first team sponsorship — with Yale track and field coach David Shoehalter and women’s cross country coach Amy Gosztyla.
“Our position has always been that we are a by-women, for-women company, encouraging women to be powerful and strong,” Lesko said. “Working with Yale, we knew that would be a natural inclination as well. It was a natural partnership.”
Lesko, who works on Oiselle’s corporate development, said founder and CEO Sally Bergesen was excited to tackle the challenge of making a college uniform look modern without sacrificing the historic program’s traditions.
The new uniforms have a unique style, incorporating the classic Yale look with some changes, distance runner Rachel Jones ’17 said.
“I think we are most excited to have a distinct uniform that stands out and helps us to represent Yale well at races,” Julia Borowski ’18 said.
Other athletes said the new uniforms have much better ventilation, which made a difference during the warmer races in the beginning of the season.
There were two requirements involved in approving the new uniforms, Shoehalter said. The competitive gear had to comply with NCAA rules, and the apparel also needed to be a design that would work well for the entire team — not just the middle-distance and distance runners.
“Full women’s track teams have many different athletes competing in many disciplines of the sport,” Shoehalter said. “A thrower will have very different [uniform] needs from a sprinter, who will have different needs from a distance runner. [Oiselle was] able to meet the needs of each group of athletes.”
Shoehalter noted that the choice to partner with Oiselle was not out of any dissatisfaction with Yale’s previous Nike gear. Still, he added that he had a very positive experience dealing with Oiselle, as the small company was responsive to all of Yale’s needs and requests.
Nike will maintain some presence on the Yale running teams, however, as Oiselle does not produce running shoes or men’s gear.
Although Oiselle is smaller than its competitors, four of five Eli athletes interviewed had heard of the brand even before they began to wear its apparel.
Some of that recognition may come thanks to former Bulldog runner Kate Grace ’12, who holds the Yale 800-meter record and is sponsored by Oiselle. Grace, who trained for the 2012 Olympic trials during her senior year, was Oiselle’s first sponsored athlete. She got involved with the company through Lesko and her husband Bob Lesko ’91, another former Eli runner who works as a financial adviser at Oiselle.
“Oiselle sponsors some very high-profile runners, such as Kara Goucher, so they have had a big presence in the running scene in the past couple years,” sprinter and middle-distance runner Grace Brittan ’16 said. “It’s really exciting to be the first college team to wear their uniforms.”
Currently, the two running teams have been the only Yale squads to make the switch to Oiselle. The company is very open to the possibility of sponsoring other Yale teams, Sarah Lesko said.
Oiselle is a French word for bird.