Sally Bergesen. Runner. Writer. Mom. Designer.
CEO and Chief Rabblerouser at Oiselle.

Protect Your Ugly Baby

There’s a good article in the April issue of Fast Company about Ed Catmull, the President of Pixar and Disney Animation, a trusted peer of Steve Jobs, and the author of a new book, Creativity, Inc. that I really want to read.

What caught my eye in the article was one of his tips on how to lead a creative business: Save the Ugly Baby from the Hungry Beast. The net net of this concept is that in the beginning, all ideas are ugly. Or half-baked. Or only a shadow of their future selves. And at this stage they are both fragile and precious.

As the incubator of the baby, it’s your job to protect and nurture it so that it has a shot at succeeding in the real world, aka the lair of the Hungry Beast — whether that’s customers, movie watchers, the financial markets, or the competition. Judgment day will come, and if the baby remains ugly, the toll will be swift and painful.

Catmull goes on to say that all of Pixar’s multi-billion dollar blockbuster hits, from Toy Story to Monsters Inc., started this way. Pretty remarkable.

What struck me immediately is the similarity to apparel design. In the beginning, when we first receive a prototype, or “proto,” it’s often laughable. For starters, it arrives in the dreaded “available” colors, which means everything from mushroom brown to Pepto pink. The fit is off. The measurements are wonky. The trims are temporary. It’s a very ugly baby. And to be honest, you’d prefer to kill it off quickly.

Just seeing it on your desk makes you queasy. You question everything from decisions you made on the details, to the meaning of life, your world view and the viability of your future as a designer. It’s heavy stuff. But then something changes. You see a good angle, a decent fit, a tweak here and there that will smooth it out. Someone in the office says, “Oooh! What’s that?” And then you begin to believe. You see that it has the potential to morph. To improve. And to possibly, just maybe, transform into something someone wants to wear.

But in the beginning, it’s scary.
When all you have is a mother’s love for an ugly baby. 

It’s Lesko legs!

It’s Lesko legs!

(Source: running4thehigh)

Could You Be a Little Less?

There’s a great article about Under Armour in the March 24th issue of The New Yorker ("Skin in the Game" 3/24/14). Like all good New Yorker articles, it’s amazing in that it gives you the feeling of sitting shotgun next to its subject — as you ride around all day, seeing where they drive, what’s on the radio, and who else is in the car. In this case, the driver is Kevin Plank, Founder and CEO of Under Armour.

And wow, what an incredible story. Founded in 1996, the company defined the base layerso much so that my little boy nephews simply refer to all their base layers as Under Armour. It’s a category that has driven their growth to the tune of $2.3B in 2013 earnings.

Needless to say, I’ve never met Kevin. (Weird right? Since we’re BOTH Founders and CEOs). But in the same way a squirrel monkey might take interest in a strolling gorilla, the article was a good read. After all, we roam the same safarithe great big space otherwise known as the athletic apparel market.

I knew from following them over the years, that they’ve been keenly interested in the women’s market, that they’ve had various initiatives, but that overall, it’s been elusive. The article confirms that only 25% of Under Armour’s revenue is from their women’s business, and that Plank told his executives this year that “sell more to women” is a top initiative.

According to the article, the head of marketing (also a man) states that the reason women have remained out of reach is because the Under Armour image is “hyper athletic,” and while it attracts “older, softer guys” who find the advertisements “aspirational,” this doesn’t inspire women.

Instead, the company has signed on “an extremely athletic female who is nevertheless not an athlete,” (she’s a dancer), and a fashion world designer (from the brand Theory) to create apparel that draws its inspiration from dance, yoga, and aerobics. And whereas Plank’s office is decorated with “a huge television flanked by bottles of Dom Pérignon,” the designer’s office “is decorated with art books and vases.”

As I read on, I began to feel physically uncomfortable. So I stopped and went back. I read it again and again. And then I realized that the crux of my discomfort isn’t that Under Armour was dismissing the notion that women could be hardcore athletes (after all, the company spends millions to develop fabrics that will boost performances of Olympic athletes, both men and women). The crux is that the company dismisses the notion that the same hardcore-ness that men find “aspirational” was determined to not be right for an equally large women’s market. 

Instead, the aspiration is dance and yoga. I’m not sure if this is because of the success of Lululemon. Or perhaps it’s because these activities are viewed as inherently less edgy, combative and ugly? When I think of dance, it’s not pain face, it’s eyes turned downward. It’s not anguish, it’s properly poised. It’s not blood or blisters, it’s unblemished. It’s not a blur of arms, muscle, and hair as the body pushes itself toward the finish line — grimaced and contorting. It’s everything in its place, and a place for everything.

That’s when a lyric from Madonna’s “What it Feels Like to Be A Girl” floated into my head: “When you’re trying hard to be your best, could you be a little less?” Could you not sweat so much, or fight so long, or look so bad? “When you open up your mouth to speak, could you be a little weak?”

I don’t pretend to understand all women. And I have no doubt that to many, yoga poses and dance fluidity are aspirational. But I do take issue with the notion that competition, and ultra athletic activities are non-aspirational. And further, that the challenge for Under Armour might not be that the company has a “hyper athletic image,” but rather that it hasn’t yet figured out how to translate that into an ethos that resonates with women. Not yet. Certainly with Plank and smart people in the driver’s seat, they have a good shot at getting there.

"Girls can wear jeans
And cut their hair short
Wear shirts and boots
'Cause it's OK to be a boy
But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
'Cause you think that being a girl is degrading
But secretly you’d love to know what it’s like
Wouldn’t you
What it feels like for a girl.”

- Madonna

Business Lessons of Disneyland

Not the rides. Not the shows. Not the all-in, all-up Disney experience. For me, the most magical part of the magic kingdom is that it has the power to transform someone like me, a cultural cynic who doesn’t subscribe to the cotton candy thinking of the Disney lore, into a line waiting, ear wearing, t-shirt buying happy camper. I’m not proud. But it happened this week, while we fulfilled our parental duty as Disneyland goers.

When you think about it, that kind of power is not just good family fun, it’s good business. And I found myself distilling what I see as the lessons of Disneyland:

1. Obsess every single detail.
2. Create an experience.
3. If the experience is good enough, time (lines) and money (food, pics, merch) are irrelevant.
4. Hide your flaws (lines, trash)
5. Put trash cans, albeit beautifully designed ones, EVERYWHERE (I learned they are no more than 30 steps apart, an early calculation based on how far a person would walk carrying trash.)
6. CLEAN bathrooms
7. There is only one brand: yours (even Starbucks is camouflaged in Disneyana, though I was sad to see “It’s a Small World” has Sylvania as corporate sponsor.)
8. GREAT food (why do “great view” restaurants always have the most mediocre food?)
9. When you tap nostalgia, there’s nothing, NOTHING you can’t ask.
10. Hopes and dreams unite us all.

Looking forward to getting back to Seattle, but I have to confess, Walt still puts on a good show.

"Life is like a carnival ride. You can play it safe and ride the merry-go-round, it’s predictable. But, myself personally, I will ride the rollercoaster, for all it’s glory and thrills, It’s ups and downs, twists and turns, and rushes." — unknown

"Life is like a carnival ride. You can play it safe and ride the merry-go-round, it’s predictable. But, myself personally, I will ride the rollercoaster, for all it’s glory and thrills, It’s ups and downs, twists and turns, and rushes." — unknown

Thoughts on #GIRLBOSS and a Woman-Up World

I picked up Fast Company for my flight today which included a good article about the rise of online phenom Nasty Gal and its founder Sophia Amoruso.

I was especially interested to read the part where she defends the title of her book #GIRLBOSS. Predictably, a follower challenged her use of the word girl. And she amusingly shrugs off the critic…”would you prefer matron boss?”

At this point, I’m totally rooting for Amoruso. Not because I think “girl” is awesome, but I do believe in the liberty of any subgroup to own and re appropriate words of equality and kinship. It’s the name she gives herself.

Then she goes on to say, “my story of female empowerment comes from rejecting everything that the feminist at the bookstore in Portlandia stands for.”

This part gets me down even though I know EXACTLY what she’s pushing against. The feminist stereotype. A stereotype so strong, that many women don’t even say it out loud, for fear that body hair and a pair of Birkenstocks will suddenly sprout forth.

Considering that “a feminist is the person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes,” as Beyoncé’s Flawless tells us, can we get a do-over on this word? If we can re appropriate girl, can we also brush up feminist?

'Cause here's the thing: just in the way strong can be beautiful, feminist can be feminine. And more than ever, we need to own and use the language of a woman-up world.

Sound advice

Sound advice

(Source: jeremybdavis, via fiti-vation)

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has." —Margaret Mead

This is what I affectionately call my Mob Boss pic. It’s crazy…the honor never gets old. Where these women lead, I follow.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has." —Margaret Mead

This is what I affectionately call my Mob Boss pic. It’s crazy…the honor never gets old. Where these women lead, I follow.

Serious Folly

The last time I broke 18 minutes in the 5K was when I was 38…not SUPER recent but still in the modern era. I think it’s possible, but I also think I’d’ have to have a long, serious ramp up in my training. You know…something logical, respectful, measured.

With all that sound thinking out of the way, I thought, hey, since I’m headed to Boston with the BADASSEST 5K-er EVER (Lauren Fleshman, aka Fleshmom, aka Coach), why not ask her to pace me to the finish of the BAA 5K with the goal of going sub-18 and the endgame being either implausible victory or spectacular defeat?

Totally illogical. Strangely motivating.

We talked it over via 2 texts and a phone call (note that I did NOT take offense to learn that my fastest possible, fantasyland masters 5K PR was her tempo pace) and BAM: I just finished one of two major workouts I’ll get to fit in. Let the countdown begin…break 18, or break a leg trying.

Last night’s dinner musings…observations on what we’ve seen, and what we’d like to see — for each other and other women:1. Confidence can be slow to develop, but keep going.2. Don’t let anyone live rent free inside your head.3. Cultivate and move toward the positive people in your life.4. We all have struggles; the goal is not perfection.5. Feed the things that make you feel strong.6. It’s okay to trust other women; beware environments in which you’re pitted against each other.7. Focus on your secret sauce; and help foster others’.

Last night’s dinner musings…observations on what we’ve seen, and what we’d like to see — for each other and other women:
1. Confidence can be slow to develop, but keep going.
2. Don’t let anyone live rent free inside your head.
3. Cultivate and move toward the positive people in your life.
4. We all have struggles; the goal is not perfection.
5. Feed the things that make you feel strong.
6. It’s okay to trust other women; beware environments in which you’re pitted against each other.
7. Focus on your secret sauce; and help foster others’.