Stylish activewear for women is everywhere and at every price point, from Tory Burch’s luxury line to wallet-friendly offerings at Forever 21, but there is at least one group of sports enthusiasts that’s sartorially underserved: triathletes.
Just ask Andrea Robertson.
After about 15 years spent racing in men’s tri-suits, she knew she couldn’t be the only woman fed up with the limited selection that was offered to her in stores, so she set out to create a feminine alternative.
Triflare, as she named the line, embodied everything she felt was missing from the market for female triathletes: bold, splashy designs that looked great, fit well and performed even better.
“I knew how I wanted it to fit, I knew the material I wanted,” recalled the former Pfizer research biologist, model and Mrs. America. “I did a lot of research. I was up all night with manufacturers overseas, asking if they could make me some samples, and my approach was whoever responded the quickest was going to get my business. And I still use the same manufacturers as I did in the beginning because they responded.”
Triflare was awarded a $50,000 Arch Grant in 2013, which allowed Robertson and her team to make crucial investments in order to grow the brand quickly. This included sponsoring a professional triathlete called Alicia Kaye.
“She is great all the way around. She’s a beautiful woman, 5 foot 10, incredible physique and personality—and she won huge races (the Lifetime Pro Triathlon Series and the Lifetime Triple Crown Series) wearing Triflare,” Robertson said. “That’s how we launched.”
It wasn’t long before the loud line caught the attention of the U.S. Synchronized Swimming team, too, and in 2014 Triflare inked an agreement to provide the swimmers with performance suits through 2017.
“Whenever you’re a new company and you sign a contract with an athletic team, for a variety of reasons, it makes you feel so proud,” Robertson said. “It’s just an indication that you’re doing things right. That, in terms of growing our business, has been huge.”
So what started out as a line of women’s triathlon suits and post-competition casual wear has expanded to include swimwear and running apparel, as well as a small selection for men.
“We get a lot of requests for men’s apparel but at the end of the day, that’s the problem. There’s everything for men. We don’t want women to be the afterthought,” she said, “So we’re 95 percent focused on women’s apparel.”
What sets the St. Louis, Missouri-based line apart from its competitors (namely Smashfest Queen and the American-made Coeur) is it’s steadfast commitment to creating statement pieces that hold up when the going gets tough.
“We have a lot of criteria that we don’t stray from,” she noted, explaining that less seams mean less weight, less chafing and more warmth. That’s one reason why Triflare opts for digital printing. The other: “If you print it per panel you know exactly where [the design] is going to hit [on a woman’s body].”
She added, “There’s always a lot of trial and error. It never stops.”
The same goes for raw material choices. “We learned that when you have a very expensive Italian compression fabric with closely knitted yarn, you need to have a phenomenal heat press for it to accept the color,” she said.
Triflare currently sources fabric from three different companies, two of which are domestic and the third is in Italy. Explaining that choice, Robertson said, “We are willing to not have our margins as big but celebrate product at a reasonable price. We want people in our clothes.”
Because, she pointed out, Triflare is still young. “We’re a small company but we’re busy so when you are a large corporation you have the ability to be under one roof but when you’re a new line you’re at the mercy of manufacturers,” she said.
That’s why the business has so many moving parts: the triathlon apparel is all made overseas; swim is made in Europe; and the running attire that launched last spring is made in the U.S.A.
But no matter where it’s made, it all screams Triflare.
Robertson said, “We really have a different aesthetic. I do think what sets us apart is that I feel at Triflare we are so focused on developing a brand. You can see when our hand has touched something. It has to fit our criteria or we don’t produce it.”