From sweating and sleeping to sipping and shopping, the female force is doing just about everything in activewear. By 2020, it’s projected that “athleisure” will continue to dominate the market with a whopping $350 billion in sales. And while 20 and 30-somethings remain the leaders of the pack, this booming trend now cashes in on 28% of teen purchases. Needless to say, it came as a bit of a shock to consumer products and brand marketing guru, Samantha Hodgkins, that there was a noticeable gap in the teen market.
Aside from the lack of teen-specific activewear, what lit the match for Samantha to launch SparkFire Active was the alarming statistics surrounding teen girls. By age 14 girls will drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys, with 51% quitting by age 17. What sets SparkFire apart from the Nike and Lululemon’s of the world is their approach. From everyday girls repping the brand to their incorporation of “ignitors” into every facet of SparkFire, this social enterprise has huge potential to become a roaring blaze.
We sat down with Samantha to talk about her race to production, the balance between motherhood and entrepreneurship, and the nonprofit partnership that’s bringing education to girls in Peru.
Tell us about your background and why you decided to start SparkFire Active.
I knew before I ever had a kernel of an idea for SparkFire Active specifically that if I was creating a business of my own, that a for-profit social enterprise model was the route I wanted to go. There are amazing girl and women empowerment organizations doing powerful work but I didn’t want to be a nonprofit, just as much as I didn’t want to simply put another product on a shelf in a store. For me, it had to be about creating a value and an impact far greater than myself, something that would live on and ripple out.
Women and girls are living in activewear and casual sports clothes – leggings, running shorts, athletic tops – just like I wear in my daily wardrobe. We have all these fabulous women-focused athletic brands with great styles, fabrics, and technologies, like Title Nine, Athleta, and Lululemon. There are also cute little girl clothes for ages 6-12, which some of the major women’s brands have extended into. In fact, my own daughter Payton wanted to raid my closet and shop for activewear with me. But activewear clothing today doesn’t fit them right – it’s not sized for their developing bodies, no longer little girls wearing youth sizes and not yet adult women wearing the styles right for us.
Somewhere in these very critical teenage years, girls are bombarded with stresses and challenges. Peer pressure, body image, self-esteem and media influences surround girls at every turn with image after image of unattainable “perfection” and unrealistic “beauty.” This leads to external pressures to fit in, to do more and grow up faster, with nothing quite right for them. SparkFire Active is a unique offering specially designed for these girls, to fit and flatter their developing bodies, and help them feel strong inside and out, so she can ‘play hard and dream big.’ From a product and marketplace, that’s how SparkFire Active came together.
I’m also the mother of two daughters, Payton and Tamara. While they are currently a little younger than core target SparkFire Girl ages, they are fast approaching this next stage. I can see clearly every day how important the brand mission, message, and product platform is for them. It all came from who I was, through the trajectory of sports and how being active was both powerful and important in my life. My girls are growing up with sports and activities, but the fact of the matter is, by the time girls are 14 years old they drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys. So something very significant is happening during these critical teen years.
We know that being active goes far beyond looking good; it is about feeling strong, inside and out. It helps girls connect together, learn about the power of a team, take risks, test their limits, and feel comfortable and confident in their bodies, minds, and hearts. An approach to not get caught up in all the other stuff that’s part of teen life. It acts as a springboard for where they can go and what they want to do in their lives. So the challenge and opportunity right now is to break through for the girls who are currently teenagers and adolescents.
How does SparkFire’s social enterprise model work?
While I was traveling and backpacking with my family, I visited the Sacred Valley Project school in Ollantaytambo, which is a rural remote area in Peru, near Machu Picchu. I built a relationship with the executive directors, who are two young American men dedicating their life to education for girls. They are deeply ingrained in understanding the local family dynamics, history, culture and context they are living in. They work to bring girls in this region an education. It’s an amazing program and they have an incredibly talented, heartfelt, and qualified team leading it.
My daughters and I had the chance to meet these girls, and I listened closely as they each introduced themselves and told their story, in English no less. They talked about where they came from, why they wanted to be in school, and what they hoped to do with their lives. I came back home to Atlanta and thought, ‘these are true SparkFire Girls!’ This is real strength and confidence and passion. This is changing the trajectory of where their lives could go. Why would I not start here, with these girls? So believing that Strong Girls = Strong World, every SparkFire Girl can Spark It Forward for girls’ education, with 5% of each purchase going directly to fund and support first-generation girl scholars.
Starting with Sacred Valley Project as our first partner school, in partnership with She’s the First, every 2 SparkFire shirts sold funds 1 full day of school for a girl, with everything she needs to be in school and stay in school; every 500 shirts sold funds and supports a full year of education. Education is key. It’s a cornerstone that all data and research shows as a fundamental starting point for girls’ trajectory to move forward. With 62 million girls out of school around the world, SparkFire can make a direct impact to elevate and empower girls. A small spark really can light a great fire!
SparkFire is very much a female forward brand. Can you talk about the ways that you incorporate that “female power” messaging for teens?
There is still an uneven playing field in the world today. As much success as I’ve had in the upper echelon of the corporate executive world that I’ve been in, I’m still commonly and regularly the only woman in the room, the only woman at the table, and the only voice. I never felt daunted or put off by that but I know I’m an outlier. If it wasn’t for who I am, opportunities that I’ve had, and luck to go along with it, how many other girls and women would deviate or divert off of that course?
It goes back to those adolescent years where girls are figuring it all out. I really felt like while there’s important and impactful work going on with girl empowerment, gender equality, and feminism space, there’s still so much further to go. We are doing a lot as women. As little girls, the world seems unstoppable. If you give a little girl a t-shirt that says “girls rule the world” they fully believe that, but somewhere during those critical adolescent years where girls are developing as teens, things change.
So it’s about building that strength and confidence and passion internally while also being the spark to each other – your friends, peers, and teammates so that we are growing together collectively. SparkFire is created and powered BY girls, FOR girls. I spent a lot of time with early college, high school and middle school teen girls, listening to them share and explore what they love to do, what they’re passionate about, what energizes them, what refreshes them, but also about how much stress and pressure and challenges they face. So, I give these girls – real girls, not models or celebrities – the microphone as SparkFire bloggers, photographers, designers, ambassadors and more so they can play an active part of SparkFire. I see how eager girls are to use their voice heard and let their light shine; if I can help them see their own inner spark, that in itself feels like I’ve opened a door for them. Beyond all else, my passion for SparkFire is to help girls grow strong, confident and bold in knowing her strength, owning her power, and using her voice to help elevate today’s girls to become tomorrow’s leaders. Isn’t that what the world really needs?
Know a teen who would love to get their hands on some kick-ass athletic wear? Check out SparkFire’s apparel here and remember, two shirts is a full day of education for a girl. Spark it forward! You can also follow their blog, and show them love on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.
Photos are property of SparkFire Active.