As a plus-size athlete, Kristina Blake was accustomed to race shirts that were too tight and too short. It frustrated her so much that she took to her blog, The Contrary Athlete, with an open letter to race organizers.
“Since I’ve started my journey, I’ve gone on to do several 5Ks, a 10K, a few triathlons, and have even attempted a half-marathon,” Blake wrote. “But alas, I still can’t squeeze into most of the shirts I’ve collected.”
The letter made the rounds in the Charlotte running community on Facebook – with many echoing her sentiment – which is how Davidson resident Todd Mayes happened upon it.
“Keep up the good work, Kristina!” he wrote back. “I have a high-quality, super-soft … shirt I can offer you that I know will fit. I’ll even mail you a couple different sizes to try on.”
Blake took heart (and the T-shirt). And because of his short post, Mayes now has a number of loyal customers in that running community.
Mayes, 30, works full time as an inventory planner at Lowe’s Home Improvement headquarters in Mooresville. But three years ago, the longtime endurance athlete decided to spend nights and weekends launching a sportswear line.
Its name: Alot Sports. His inspiration: The commonplace language of athletes who always say, “I run a lot,” “I bike a lot,” “I swim a lot.”
Charlotteans can now buy T-shirts sporting one-word phrases such as “runalot,” “trialot,” and “fightalot“ (for breast cancer awareness) online at alotsports.com and in a couple of specialty stores locally.
The shirts retail for $20 to $24, in sizes up to XXXXL.
Alot Sports also sells padded, moisture-wicking performance socks – manufactured by local company DeFeet International, headquartered in Hildebran – for $12 a pair.
And for now, Mayes said he operates it all from his garage, “a hodgepodge of a four-door sedan, old bookshelves, a dresser, lawnmower and a bunch of Rubbermaid boxes with plans and all my printing materials.”
Creating a brand: Having worked in merchandising for years, Mayes knew how important it was to register his ideas with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
“Anyone can design a T-shirt,” Mayes said. “I wanted to create a brand, where I could make socks, hats, underwear, whatever … and set it up for future licensing deals.”
So he asked a local attorney to help him navigate the research and file the paperwork for five trademarks.
“If there are questions or litigation, going through the legal mumbo-jumbo can be daunting for an individual,” Mayes said.
Mayes said he spent $1,000 to $1,600 on each trademark application, with no guarantee that he’d get them approved. Fortunately, he said, all of them were.
In-store success: Mayes sold about 500 shirts in his first year. This year, he’s on track to sell about 3,500.
Mayes attributes the growth to word of mouth as well as his expansion into local specialty retailers, such as the Run for Your Life store in the University City area, two years ago.
“It’s less revenue for me because you have to sell at a lower cost, but it helps your brand exposure,” Mayes said. “Because people can put their hands on the shirts and try them on, it further validates that you have a likable product.”
Mayes said he now has customers in 48 states as well as Great Britain and Germany.
Hawaii, home to the Ironman World Championship, was one of the best markets to crack, Mayes said, because of its extensive triathlon community.
Developing a voice: For now, Mayes single-handedly tackles processing, production and shipping. But one day, he said, he’d like to have employees, operate a small warehouse and scale more internationally.
For now, though, developing a Charlotte following is critical. Which is why he follows people such as “Contrary Athlete” Kristina Blake, their conversations, and their own communities.
“When he reached out to me, I shared that,” Blake said. “For him to go out of his way to make this plus-size athlete feel comfortable, well, that just speaks volumes.”
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