“Real Women, Real Work” is a Darling series about everyday women who work in various fields including business, entertainment, science and education. We want to get to know the WHY behind their WHAT and get an inside look into different industries.
Allyson Felix is the most decorated track and field Olympian in history, with nine Olympic medals, six Olympic championships and 25 total global medals. The track and field star plans to add to that list in 2021 at the Olympic Games in Tokyo; however, these days, she has a new motivation to succeed.
Felix gave birth to her daughter, Camryn, by emergency C-section on November 28, 2018. The drive of motherhood has been paying off. Just 10 months after giving birth, she surpassed Usain Bolt’s record for the most gold medals at the track and field World Championships. The acclaimed sprinter is open about how having her daughter has changed her priorities and motivated her to use her voice to speak up for causes she cares about, one of which is empowering women and girls.
This passion has recently catapulted into an apparel collaboration with women’s activewear brand, Athleta. The line, which launches today, is Felix’s first-ever apparel collaboration and will offer pieces for both women and girls, with a focus on providing a sense of empowerment, community and hope for the future.
Casey Schumacher, Athleta’s Senior Director of Design and Performance, shared about the process of creating the new line. After observing Felix’s stretches, warm ups, sprints, weight-lifting and restorative routines first-hand, the Athleta team, together with Felix, considered specifics for fit and design. They integrated their insights into each piece of the final collection to ensure any level of athlete will feel confident when wearing it.
“Through our partnership, myself and our amazing team of female designers, [we] were able to dissect the nuances of what an Olympic athlete needs to train and compete in,” Schumacher said. “The entire collection represents the beauty of what happens when women come together to define their own legacies.”
Darling got to sit down with Felix to discuss the new line inspired by her daughter and how she is using her voice to call attention to the challenges female athletes face that impact equality.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I always wanted to be a teacher. My mom taught third grade and so I grew up in her classroom, grading papers and all of that. Even at USC, I studied Elementary Education so I think I always imagined myself in the classroom being a teacher. My plan was to go into education. Even to this day, I love kids, and I see myself working with them in some capacity. Just probably not full-time in the classroom.
How do you think younger you would react to present day you being a six-time Olympic Gold medalist and a household name in track & field?
I would have been blown away because I think at the time, I had no real interest. I loved being active and sports, but I don’t think I could have ever imagined myself being a professional athlete or doing this as a career. It just wasn’t on my radar at all.
I started running track in high school. In my younger years, I played basketball. I was just kind of being active, playing with kids in the neighborhood. I didn’t start organized track until high school.
Based on past partnerships, what have you learned about brand partnerships and the role brands play in supporting female athletes?
Historically, we have seen such a disparity with sponsorships for women as compared to men. We are really lagging so far behind. For me, what I have seen, my experience and what I have learned is really holding brands accountable to what they market and what they say that they are going to do. It has to be more than a campaign. You have to be able to see that through the business.
What is really special about the partnership with Athleta is that it’s truly at the core of who they are. I think that’s why our missions align so well. They stand to empower women and girls and that really speaks to who I am and what I want to accomplish as well.
[Athleta] stands to empower women and girls and that speaks to who I am.
This is your first apparel collaboration. How exciting! Why did you choose to work with Athleta specifically?
To me, everything that Athleta is about, it really creates an authentic partnership. I was at a place where I only wanted to do things that were meaningful. I wanted to be able to have a partnership that I was proud of, not just about all the things that were done publicly but about things that were done behind closed doors and the way business was done.
I remember one of my first meetings formally with Athleta and sitting at a table surrounded by female leadership. Athleta’s workforce is 97 percent women. It was something I had never experienced before. I was heard, and I was seen. I really love how they are redefining how sponsorship looks and looking at an athlete holistically. I’m not just an athlete, but Athleta sees me as an activist and a mother, and they want to celebrate and shine a light on those things as well. That’s a model that needs to be pushed forward for women and people in general.
I’m not just an athlete, but Athleta sees me as an activist and a mother, and they want to celebrate and shine a light on those things
What makes the Athleta x Allyson Felix collab unique? What’s your favorite item from the line?
What makes this partnership unique is that it was deeply collaborative, from beginning to end. I sat down and I talked about what is important to me as an athlete—what my standards are and to have pieces perform at the top level. For me, it’s about not having any distractions and having a really close to skin feel and even bringing in how I use training pieces to life in this collaboration. I love to layer and to be fully covered. We have the track suit to start that off. As I get warmed up, I love to shed those layers and get down to those minimal pieces, which there are a number of.
When I finish a workout, I am not typically going home. I might be running errands, grabbing coffee or going to the grocery store. I didn’t want to sacrifice style either. I wanted pieces that would perform at the highest level, but I wanted them to look great as well.
I don’t think that a lot of other athletes and people who have collaborations are able to be involved at that level. That’s something that is really unique and special about this partnership. Also, just the way that I want women and girls to feel when they put on the pieces. I want them to feel confident, empowered and strong. We were really thoughtful and mindful when creating them as well. There are little love notes written to the individual who puts them on.
I have two favorite pieces from the line: the Legend Luxe Crop Halfzip Jacket in Flora Mauve Metallic and the Legendary High Neck Bra. This jacket is one of my favorites. It’s a crop top and super easy to throw on. I love it, and I love the mauve metallic color. Also, the Legendary High Neck Bra looks so great. It looks very sleek and is practical to take down for training.
You speak a lot about how your daughter Camryn has been a source of inspiration for you. How has motherhood changed you as a woman and as an athlete?
It’s given me a whole different drive and motivation. I’ve always been this really competitive person and athlete. Being a mom has shifted the reason why I am competitive and the drive to win. It’s changed. For now, I really want to show Camryn how to overcome adversity, teach her to keep fighting and what that really looks like.
Then, it also has shifted my perspective beyond sports. I have a platform, and I want to affect change because of her and because of the world that she will grow up in.
How is Athleta committed to helping Camryn and the next generation of women have a voice?
I think there’s this idea of being able to empower them. I also love Athleta’s commitment to not retouching images and putting out a healthy image of what a woman looks like. One thing I really have been experiencing, even more since coming back from childbirth, is that you can be strong and look a lot of different ways. That’s something that I want Camryn to grow up with, and I want all young women to understand. I want them to know their worth and value, and I know that Athleta is truly committed to that by what they are producing.
One thing I really have been experiencing, even more since coming back from childbirth, is that you can be strong and look a lot of different ways.
What is the heart behind the #PowerofShe hashtag? How is it spotlighting female athletes and the inequalities they face?
I think it goes back to that empowerment moment and really celebrating women and girls in everything that they are. I think that Athleta does a wonderful job on social media of highlighting a lot of different girls, the activities that they are doing and the sports that they are involved in. I love that they always use real girls and real athletes in their campaigns and in interviews. I am always inspired by the mother-daughter duos. It always comes back to empowering women and celebrating them for everything they are.
You previously used your platform to speak up for female athletes to ensure they are not penalized for having children. Recently, you have used your platform to speak up against racial injustice and issues like voter suppression. As an athlete, why is it important to use your voice?
It’s a privilege and a responsibility to be able to have a platform and to be able to affect change in some way. It’s a really special time what we are seeing happening with athletes. For the longest time, we have really been told to just do our sport and that no one really cares what we have to say. More than ever, we are seeing athletes speak out on things that they are passionate about and getting things done. Athletes are having a positive influence.
More than ever, we are seeing athletes speak out on things that they are passionate about and getting things done.
Before, I think there’s always been a sense of fear around speaking up because there’s consequences. We look at Colin Kaepernick, what he did, where he’s at now and just what can happen if you take too strong a stance. There hasn’t been anyone telling athletes not to speak up, but we see what happens when someone has.
To me, I just want to be able to do my part. I feel really blessed to get to do what I love every single day. I want to be able to use that for things I am passionate about and things I deeply believe in that encompasses everything from racial injustice to fighting the maternal mortality crisis for Black women and advocating for women in general.
Who are some of the women in your support system who have helped along your career and personal journey? Are there any women in the Athleta family who you look up to?
I find inspiration from women all over the place. I always go back to my own mom and to my grandmothers, who are really strong women who had amazing work ethic. They taught me a solid foundation. American track and field athlete, Jackie Joyner-Kersee has really been a mentor to me and was super influential in my own life.
I also find inspiration from women across different industries. Bozoma Saint John is one. Serena Williams is another, and Kamala Harris now with such a historic moment as her being selected as the Democratic vice presidential nominee. There’s never a lack of inspiration for myself.
With the partnership with Athleta, it’s really incredible because every single person on the team has been amazing. I’m inspired by Mary Beth Laughton, Athleta’s CEO, and how she is leading the company. What she is doing is totally inspiring! The way she has listened to me and been open and welcomed me has really been incredible. It’s a really incredible team, and I really enjoy the people I get to work with like Casey Schumacher, the lead designer. It’s really cool to see these women thriving and just killing it across the board.
Knowing what you know now about the journey as a woman and an athlete, what advice would you give to your younger self?
I would tell myself to really embrace the journey. When I was younger, I focused on one specific goal. Winning gold medals was how I defined success. Looking back, it was totally about the process, stretching yourself and getting outside of your comfort zone—all those magical moments along the way are really what it’s all about, instead of only the end goal. I’d tell myself to embrace the failures and the defeats. Learn from them and to continue to push forward.
For women who are interested in pursuing a career as a professional, what advice would you give them?
Go after it if it’s something you are passionate about. Embrace that and enjoy the process. Have your priorities. Continue to be well rounded and go to school. There’s no limit on what you can achieve. It’s all about finding that passion and achieving it.
To follow along with Allyson’s journey follow her on Instagram and on her website, Strong Like a Mama. To shop the new Athleta line, visit their website.
Images via Athleta