Idea to Product: Activewear from Cause I Run

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As a runner, I wanted there to be sustainable, ethically-made options for running clothes.  I wanted to see if I could produce a high-quality, performance-ready product while still giving back and making a positive impact. After mulling the idea for months, in July 2014, I came up with the name Cause I Run, a play on the word “cause” and “because,” connecting running with charitable giving.

Cause I Run is a sustainable, ethical active wear made in America. My first product line — the classic collection — is a set: a running tank top, calf-length tights, and a low-impact sports bra.  Let me walk you through the process of creating an activewear collection as a startup.

sustainable activewear

Step 1: Idea/Research

Serious about making my activewear line a reality, I bought the domain. Next, I started hounding Alibaba on my lunch breaks and on weekends, thinking I would order blanks from a production company in China and have my logo printed on them. I ordered a couple of items and had them shipped to me in the U.S. for $175. What arrived did not look the same as the pictures, and the language barriers made it difficult to find a solution.

The idea of making my own products was exciting but a little nerve wracking. I decided that a few key pieces of running gear would be best to start with — items that most people can run in for three out of the four seasons.

Step 2: Design

After the Alibaba fiasco, I started looking into designing my own products. The problem was, I had no professional education or experience, and had no idea where to start. I tried to do sketches on my own. My designs were based on how I like my running clothes to look and feel (a tank top long enough in length, a not-too-tight waistband, etc.). I envisioned pieces that would be realistic to make, valuable to my target market, and versatile.

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I tried to have patterns made by a freelancer I found online. Neither of these was particularly successful, so I enrolled in Factory45, a fashion startup accelerator on Maker’s Row. I was given the tools to create professional-looking sketches, as well as an outline for what steps I needed to take — and in what order — to produce in America.


Step 3: Pattern Making/Prototype

I found a local pattern maker who could take my sketches and produce professional patterns and markers to make them technically sound. I started sampling fabrics from a variety of suppliers, figuring out which fabric weight and composition would work the best for the pieces I wanted to create. I wanted to use sustainable materials, and decided that recycled polyester (both post-consumer recycled polyester and RPET, made from recycled plastic bottles)  would be used in my first line. In the future, as I expand I’ll likely use bamboo, organic cotton, modal, and other eco-friendly materials in my products.

Fabric testing

Step 4: Grading and Digitizing

Luckily, my pattern maker and production facility are working together on grading and digitizing, ensuring a size run that meets industry standards.

Step 5: Testing/Sample

My first round of sample testing went surprisingly well. I worked with the same production facility to produce my samples that I will use for the entire first production run. The tank top needed no changes, and the pants needed only a slight adjustment to widen the leg opening a bit. The sports bra, on the other hand, I consider to be an educational opportunity. It was much too complex of a garment for my first round, and I struggled for months to finalize it. As a result, I’m offering it as a “bonus item” if my customers buy both of the other items in the collection during my upcoming Kickstarter campaign. I’m also marketing it as a “low-impact” sports bra. It is still valuable as loungewear, but may not be suitable for high impact running. The other items have been worn and tested by myself, friends, and my product model.

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First prototype sports bra First prototype tank pants

Step 6: Ordering Materials

During pre-production, I was able to order swatches, and eventually a sample run, of the fabrics I wanted to use. Now that I’ve made my samples with the fabric, I know which fabric – and how much of it – to order. I’ll also order bra cups for the sports bra, elastic for the sports bra band, packaging materials, and heat transfers (think of an iron-on) that will be used as labels.

Step 7: Pre-Production/Approval

Just before I submit my production order (likely next month), I’ll have a TOP sample run made. This is the the entire set’s final samples, producing one of each size of each piece, to make absolutely sure that the sizing is done properly and that the fabric yield is 100% accurate. I’ll be fundraising soon to have the money to order all of my materials. When I receive all the materials, I’ll place an order and be placed into my facility’s production schedule.

Production facility MA

Support Cause I Run on Kickstarter as they continue to bring their collection to production.

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