Interview with Alison O’Brien

We all promise ourselves that we will active lives starting from tomorrow, but in most cases the tomorrow never comes. Likewise, we all want to support humanitarian causes, but there is always something else in the market that is the best thing in the world. But, to have a company which values humanity and active living high in its values is truly amazing. JWalking Designs is about helping people stay active and look the best. The idea took seven years to finally materialize, but it has added value to a large number of lives already.

So, join us, as we interview Alison O’Brien from JWalkingDesigns.com about her entrepreneurial journey from being a novice athlete who was uncomfortable with her sportswear to designing her own and setting up a company.

When did you formally launch the business?

I incorporated JWalking Designs in May 2012, but did not launch our e-commerce store until July 15, 2013.

What was the inspiration behind it?

As a veteran television producer and novice athlete, in 2006, I decided to train for my first marathon in the hopes of finding and funding a cure for the cancer my friend was bravely battling. I spent the 26.2 miles finding fault with the ill-fitting, dysfunctional and certainly unflattering running shorts I was wearing. Seven years, thousands of miles, and even more running ‘bottoms’ bought, I decided that if I couldn’t find fitness fashions I liked, I’d make ones I’d want to wear myself.

And JWalking Designs was born.

JWalking Designs make eco-friendly, funky and functional fitness fashions for women and men. From our 3-pocket women’s active skirts and leggings, to our men’s running kilts and button-down, wide-collared shirt for running and golf, we want you to have the self-confidence to get out and get active in style!

Sourcing materials that are environment friendly can be a problem and they cost more. Did you have to face any issues there?

The hallmark of our brand is our eco-friendly fabric which feels as good as it looks! Our skirts, shirts, kilts and leggings are all American-made from 84% PET – recycled plastic bottles that are cut into shards of plastic that are then melted and turned into strands of plastic fiber. That fiber is then transformed to make anything from outdoor carpets to the fabric that makes our fitness fashions! The 84% PET keeps our active wear lightweight, breathable and comfortable in both hot and cold temperatures. The 16% Spandex keeps our products flexible and, as an added bonus, washable! It does cost more to make our JWalking Designs’ skirts, kilts and shirts from ecofriendly material, as well as having our entire line Made in the USA. Being responsible to our country and our planet is very important to us, but we feel the added expense is worth it.

How has been the response from the public?

I am thrilled to say the response has been great and our audience continues to grow. Our sales have tripled year-over-year and I am on a marketing mission to continue that upward trend. I am a solo-preneur – I fund and run JWalking Designs myself – so every second and cent needs to be well-spent.

We just love your kilts, is there a story behind that?

I began racing in a purple plaid running skirt / kilt which was made by a now-competitor. I felt powerful in the plaid and I certainly stood out in a crowd, which is a plus when my spectators are straining to find me in a marathon start of 35,000! So, I began JWalking Designs, plaids for women were on the top of my “must make” list.

Our Men’s Running Kilts were also an idea I had from the beginning, but it was spurred along by a fellow runner, James, who approached me to make a kilt like my women’s version for him. That kilt has become our best seller.

A lot of people from different causes support your products, is there something special there?

My dad instilled in us that giving back and being charitable should be a way of life. I follow that lesson and, since I began with my first marathon in 2006, I race and raise funds for a cancer cure (Leukemia & Lymphoma Society / Team in Training). So, when I began JWalking Designs, supporting important causes such as Leukemia & Lymphoma, the Police Unity Tour and various cancer runs, is a natural extension of my personal beliefs.

What are you plans for the future?

This Spring, we are adding a new plaid kilt – for men and women – to our line, as well as a great pattern for our women’s skirts. We are also adding more to our “fit tips” sections with free, downloadable training programs, called “JWalking 5K and 10K Your Way”, because we truly believe in helping people to get healthy by getting out and getting active. And we have a few more exciting plans in the works that I look forward to sharing soon!

Lastly, there are many entrepreneurs out there who are struggling to bring their products to the market. What advice do you have for them?

Becoming an entrepreneur is both exciting and a tad scary – the decisions, effort and, sometimes, the financing all falls on you. But, the reward of building something you believe in, that fuels your heart and soul is tremendous. My advice – don’t let fear stop you from following your dreams. Living with regret is worse.