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This story highlights the impact personal situations can have on innovation, and how the drive to do something for someone has contributed to Alison O’Brien’s impact on many people through JWalking Designs. O’Brien’s true passion is working on television with her communications degree, but she has had just as much impact with her colorful designs and very personable business. With a focus on sustainable and practical designs, JWalking designs makes a great difference for many people at different stages of their running.
The story of JWalking Designs began with O’Brien’s desire to do something “more” for her friend going through cancer. She participated in multiple runs dedicated to raise money for the cause, and came to the realization that finding the “perfect fit” for her clothes was not always possible. The idea of a skort came after seeing others wearing them, but what makes her product so impressive is that the fabric is composed of 84% recyclable material. O’Brien has taken a different approach, and wants her clothes to pop out while running. Her designs consist of colorful patterns, convenient pockets, and fabric that is surprisingly comfortable. O’Brien originally started JWalking Designs with a friend as her business partner, but has since then transitioned into running the business herself.
JWalking designs is not limited to women, and many men have been willing to show off their kilts while running races. O’Brien makes the time to follow up on these stories shared with her, and has been successful at making her business personable. Her understanding of the importance of comfort comes from her own bad experiences with running clothes that didn’t seem to meet expectations. “When I first started running these races, you basically wore the men’s stuff in different sizes. So I had these shorts and they just hit me in the wrong spots.” Understanding her customers has made a huge difference in how she’s decided to manage her clothing line. O’Brien admits the eco-conscious-made-in-America route is not the cheapest, but she’s committed to creating value in her product by holding it to this standard. Her innovation serves a larger purpose for the average consumer looking to make conscious changes without having to give up comfort. It is this strong emphasis on the customer that has created a mission of collaboration between business and customer.
In considering designs for her skirts and kilts, O’Brien is aware that figuring out what both men and women want is very important. In regards to her design choices: “I call it 360 degree view of you, where you’re not worried about going from running in Cranford to sitting and having coffee at Starbucks with someone. You’re comfortable in what you’re wearing.” O’Brien makes sure that her eco-friendly designs don’t compromise comfort, versatility, or practicality, and this is exactly what makes her product so unique.
The CEO and co-founder, Alison O’Brien, was inspired to create JWalking Designs after participating in numerous marathons for charities. Ten years ago, May 2006, Alison received a pamphlet to participate in a marathon with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s endurance group, in the hopes of finding and funding a cure for a cancer one of her friends was battling. Initially Alison and her friends would wear men’s athletic wear in small sizes because women’s athletic wear were not as readily available. However, the women were not as comfortable in the male attire. Many of the shorts led to chafing, pants were too heavy and skirts were not made to fit all women’s sizes. The lack of athletic wear for women was a major factor in the creation of JWalking Designs.
On April 15, 2013, Alison participated in the Boston Marathon, known as the world’s oldest annual marathon and ranking as one of the world’s best-known road racing events. In 2013, there was a terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon. Fortunately, Alison was a mile away from the attacks and was unharmed. In that moment, Alison realized time was not guaranteed and if she was planning on starting up a company she knew she had to do it now. Three months after the marathon, she officially established JWalking Designs.
O’Brien’s innovation wants to raise awareness for “learn(ing) to love exercise.” She says, “Had anyone told me that, in January 2006, I would consider, let alone start training for a marathon, I would have fallen over laughing. But the miles I dreaded, I soon began to enjoy. Here’s how I learned to love what I do and how you may find the same adoration too.” She explains that in her book “No Sweat: Building Behaviors to Last a Lifetime,” Michelle Segar, PhD, says ‘Many people hate to work out because we've been taught to do it for the wrong reasons’, meaning that we run because we want to lose weight. She says that instead of losing weight, our goal should be positive. It should be to "gain health and longevity." And she wants others to find their driving forces. O'Brien's driving force was her friend, Marybeth, who was fighting cancer. Similarly, everyone has their own driving forces. She wants to make fitness more fun. O'Brien explains that whatever it is that you love doing, do it and stick to that, but “don’t be afraid to mix it up and making differing days different activities.” She also mentions that finding a friend to join the gym with you can help, too. Finally, she mentions that while exercising, you can find yourself. She says, “It is MY time away from the business, and the movement clears my head of clutter, which allows me to tackle those to-do list items that seem never-ending. I feel stronger in mind, body and spirit when I’m done, even if I dislike every step at the beginning.”
Not only does this innovation help the environment due to the recycled material that is used, this company creates a positive image for exercising and motivates people to exercise, not because you want to lose weight, but because you want to be healthy.
Women's kilts in signature purple plaid were the first product JWalking created and have since paved the way for an entire line of activewear which includes men's kilts as well as men's and women's collared running shirts and button-down running shirts. Without the success of the original women's kilts, JWalking would not have been able to expand their product line and grow as a business.
Using a patented fabric sourced in the US, JWalking apparel is made from earth-friendly, 84% recycled materials, so not only is the clothing line supporting domestic jobs, but it is also helping to reduce consumer waste while doing so. Additionally, O’Brien hopes that her fashionable, functional clothing designs inspire people to get active and lead healthy lives while raising money for good causes through marathons and sporting events. The following paragraph, taken directly from the JWalking Designs website, spotlights CA-based Team McKenna Claire, and provides a perfect example of the impact that Alison’s vision has had nationwide:
"Pay it forward – that is the message these four perfectly plaid pretties profess as part of the McKenna Claire Foundation. The Huntington Beach, California-based foundation was created by David and Kristine Wetzel in memory of their daughter, McKenna, a 7-year-old beauty who lost her battle with pediatric brain cancer in 2011. Among the many fundraisers the foundation holds each year is a golf tournament called “Play It Forward”, which Michelle, Ann, Janice, and Jacqueline help to organize. In 2015, the ladies chose to dress for success in our purple plaid kilts. Not only did the event raise $65,000 for research, the Kilted Cancer Warriors took home the prize for 'Best Dressed.'"
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Alison O"Brien, Founder
JWalking Designs makes running apparel for men and women out of 84% recycled materials that are comfortable for the runner and earth friendly. The business strives to inspire people to get started on a fitness journey and develop a healthier lifestyle. The goal is help people feel good, look good, and become more athletic.