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What you need to know for 08/17/2017

Athletic wear maker is a homegrown enterprise

Athletic wear maker is a homegrown enterprise

Company began in Saratoga County in 2012
Athletic wear maker is a homegrown enterprise
From left, Kelly Sullivan, Mike Borisenok and Dan Gejay of Greater Than Sports in their Ballston Spa office.
Photographer: Photo provided

Nestled atop a gym in Ballston Spa, sewing machines and sergers are moving constantly. 

Synthetic fabrics are continually cut and the pieces pinned to patterns and will eventually be sewn into yoga pants and other athletic wear.

The pieces could easily be worn by anyone at the gym below, but from the outside, an onlooker would never know that it’s home to Greater Than Sports Clothing.

The company -- often referred to as GTS Clothing -- has been operating out of their Ballston Spa warehouse for the past few months. Four years prior, when the company started, they worked out of Saratoga Springs. 

But what that work looks like has changed dramatically, according to founder Mike Borisenok. 

He’s an Albany native who had always wanted to start his own athletic wear or lifestyle brand that could provide people with athletic gear that was fashionable.  But it wasn’t until his freshman year at the University of New Hampshire that the idea for Greater Than Sports struck. 

Although Borisenok was involved in sports -- he was on the hockey team -- the inspiration for the company came during an anthropology class. The professor was discussing the influence of brands on culture and showed a documentary on fashion designer and icon Coco Chanel. 

Borisenok admired the way the Chanel created an entire fashion house because she didn’t like what was being designed for women. He wanted to apply that idea to his own idea for an athletic lifestyle brand, as sports were a large part of his identity. 

“So I started thinking about sports and . . . how it shapes you as a person. There’s something greater than the sport itself,” Borisenok said. 

From there, he started building a small team. 

Through a teammate on the hockey team, Borisenok met Kelly Sullivan, who was an art major at NHU. She helped design the GTS logo and other brand visuals.  

Shortly after graduation in 2012, Sullivan became Borisenok’s business partner and together they started Greater Than Sports.
Several months later, they hired Dan Gejay, who was also a graduate of UNH. He covers their marketing and their social media presence. 

At first, the team outsourced their active wear. They sold their products to retailers and sports teams, mostly in bulk.

But after a few years of outsourcing, the team began to see that their brand and business model wasn’t ideal.

“The business that we were back then was completely different from where we are now,” Borisenok said. 

In early 2015, the team came to the realization that the brand meant nothing to their customer.  That they didn’t have a story to tell, at least not the one that they’d originally wanted to tell. 

So they set out to make one. And ended up making much more than a story.

After they had a few product designs in mind, they went down to the New York City garment district to source out the manufacturing. 
“We told ourselves going into that trip that we weren’t going to come back until we found one [a manufacturer],” Borisenok said. 
But everywhere they turned, they came up against ethical dilemmas, long lead times and high minimum production counts. 

“Manufacturers . . . make more money when there’s more volume,” Borisenok said. 

But for a small upstart company, those minimums can be difficult to meet without a good handle on how much they will be able to sell. It also creates unnecessary waste. 

So the team came away with a manufacturer and not one they had to go to New York City to find: themselves. 

“If they can do it, why can’t we?” Borisenok said.

First, they just had to learn how to sew and make patterns. “It took a good three months for us to come up with our first product,” Borisenok said.

Sullivan is their head designer. She’s a yoga teacher so she tests out all of GTS' designs and often gets inspiration for her designs from her students. 

“I teach yoga and I practice yoga and I see what everyone is wearing all the time. . . Designs that are simple but add a little detail to the pant go over way better with our customers than something more complicated. If we design something that . . . I don’t end up wearing . . . to yoga or work than it’s a crappy product,“ Sullivan said. 

In late 2015, they had one product to go to market online. But by 2016 they had an full collection of athletic wear made entirely by the GTS team, including yoga pants, tops, sports bras and shorts. All made by hand in Ballston Spa. Hence their “Made By Us” slogan.

They now have anywhere from six to 12 sewers and cutters, depending on the day. They work with fitness bloggers and social media influencers to help spread the word about their product. 

“As our line was completely made by us and had a clear message . . . we started an ambassador program,” Gejay said.  The brand ambassadors are usually social media influencers who write or produce content for the GTS blog and for their social media accounts. It’s helped to not only spread the word about their product, but it’s helped to bolster the company’s online reputation.

Based on their steady online orders and from the following they were developing on social media, the GTS team was finally feeling like they were telling the right story and telling it well. Almost too well.

In November of 2016, they decided to hold a holiday sale, with the hopes that they would get holiday orders in early so that had enough time to produce and ship. 

Within 15 hours of starting the sale, they received over 2,000 orders. Prior to that, they’d been averaging 1,100 to 1,500 orders a month. 

Suddenly, they had to do the work of a dozen people, with a staff of five. “That put us three months behind,” Borisenok said.

But it was a lesson in two parts: They were doing something right, but their production processes had to be just as flexible as their demand. They eventually caught up on orders, but the experience led the team to strive further toward production agility. GTS already operates differently from other athletic wear companies. 

“Most of the industry is set up to be seasonal. . . but we believe if something is popular now, then we want it out now,” Borisenok said. But they’re working to keep pushing toward a quicker turn around time from design to point of sale to production to shipment. “We’ve gone against the grain of the industry . And we want to keep doing that,” Borisenok said. 

To do this, they’re looking into creating their fabrics in house, which would mean that every part of the product could be made right in Ballston Spa.

“Another thing that we’re starting to explore is eliminating the sewing machine,” Borisenok said. How? By fusing seams instead of sewing them. Flat seams are important in an athletic garment. So fusing could improve the garment feel and possibly the performance.  

“It’s just another one of those things where we’re going against the industry,” Borisenok said. “We’re just as much a manufacturing business as we are a brand and so we want to find ways to constantly change.”
 

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