Skirt Sports’ Nicole DeBoom Turned Her Love of Athletics into a Successful Business
One cold afternoon in December of 2003, in the small Rocky Mountain foothill town of Lyons, Colorado, professional triathlete Nicole DeBoom was on a training run. As she ran down Main Street, her reflection in a storefront caught her eye—for all the wrong reasons. Thought DeBoom, “I look like a boy, I’m uninspired, and I just want to feel pretty.” With those ideas, she ran home and started dreaming up ways to create a line of attractive, high-performance running apparel. That dream evolved into Skirt Sports, a local women’s apparel and events company focused on inspiring female athletes and non-athletes worldwide.
We talked to Nicole about the challenges she faced in starting and growing her business and how she overcame them.
Boulder Chamber: Nicole, the story of how you started this company with a seemingly simple but great idea is an inspiring one for entrepreneurs. Did you ever have any qualms about it?
Nicole DeBoom: I’m going to be honest here. I never once doubted that I would be anything but successful with my business. When I was in the idea phase, I was running on inspiration. When I was in the start-up phase, I was running on excitement and adrenaline. Ten years later, I am still running! There are many times that I doubt decisions I make, from products to marketing to what color to paint the walls. But I never doubt the overall direction of Skirt Sports, and I am constantly in awe of the women’s lives that we continue to change through making accessible products that fit real women’s bodies.
BC: At what point did you realize there was a market demand for your product ideas?
ND: I was wear-testing one of my prototype design skirts at the 2004 Ironman Wisconsin in Madison. I wanted to see if it would hold up to the ultimate endurance challenge – the marathon run at the end of an Ironman triathlon. Not only did it hold up, it helped me with the event! As I ran toward the finish line at the Capitol building in first place, people started noticing my outfit. I heard people shouting, “The skirt is winning!” Three days later I incorporated Skirt Sports, Inc, and five months after that, we hit the market with something that had never been done before – skirts for runners. We hit expos, and we had so much fun. Our first year, we did $325,000. We sold out our performance skirts within three months. And we were profitable in our sixth year of business. That’s when I realized that a) it takes time to build a business, and b) Skirt Sports had staying power!
BC: You started your company with prize winnings from athletic competitions. What other capital investments did you get, and how did you get them?
ND: It was a challenge at first. I had to start by hiring some friends to work with me for little pay. But they really understood my vision and embraced the brand. Financing did present a lot of pressure because my husband and I personally guarantee our loans, even to this day. We got a bank line, but there were challenges specific to the apparel business, as we found out. We have hit a financial wall a couple of times, and we did get some friends-and-family financing.
BC: Did you have to overcome any specific business challenges along the way? How did you resolve them?
ND: Other than financing, the whole manufacturing process is challenging—finding great factories at an affordable price that can consistently deliver. We did have some issues with coordinating some overseas suppliers, and at one point, we flew abroad overnight to contact our rep directly to get them resolved. Then, it’s hard getting good employees to work on the promise of future gains. Although I appreciated the folks who helped us start, we eventually had to turn over almost our entire staff to get the skill sets we needed. In fact, besides myself, the only person still with us who was there at the beginning is our president—who had started out in the stockroom. Then eventually the market got saturated, and big companies really came in. So we had to reinvent ourselves, moving from elite sportswear for athletes into a more inclusive clientele. And we became a multichannel brand.
Then, of course, I had a baby. So being a working mom added a whole new challenge.
BC: In a related matter, you started the Kick Start program to help women overcome barriers to fitness. Tell us about that.
ND: I am very proud of this program. Each year, we take a group of women who want to become runners but don’t know how to get started. We give them support, help them train and give them the motivation to do their first race. We give them a customized training plan—mentoring by a personal motivator and a trainer—nutrition advice, fitness apparel, and entry into the race. It’s really a life-changer for the participants.
BC: What advice would you give to other budding entrepreneurs?
ND: When you are competing at an elite level, you really have to be focused and be willing to work hard and sacrifice. I knew I had that inside me, and that’s what really kept me going after I had that “epiphany run” in Lyons. I didn’t know anything about starting a clothing company, but I applied what I call an “aid station” approach to building my business. I just looked ahead mile by mile in working through my plans in specific steps. Also, I had a lot of coffee meetings and picked a lot of brains. I took multiple classes at the Boulder Chamber on how to start a business and learned so much from actual business professionals. That helped a lot. I took my dream and built a business.
BC: Nicole, thanks so much for sharing your story.
ND: My pleasure. Thank you.