Stephanie Lynn threw a mismatched disco skirt over her padded bike shorts when she rode to photograph a client’s house for a listing. It was 2009. The Vancouver woman was working as a real estate agent, and she wanted to squeeze a little fun and exercise into her day without looking completely unprofessional on the job.
She discovered that the skirt somehow compensated for hair squished by her bike helmet and a jersey soaked with sweat. She decided she could make an even better skirt than the one she grabbed from her closet. She traced her design, cut a pattern from newspaper and hired a local seamstress. After some trial and error, she created her first Sweet Spot Skirt: a short reversible skirt with rows of snaps so it can adjust to fit women as they gain or lose weight.
The idea, as they say, had legs. Outdoor retailer Recreational Equipment Inc., headquartered in Kent, started carrying Sweet Spot Skirts at 44 REI stores in 2013, then 150 in 2015. Sweet Spot Skirts is expanding its customer base by acquiring a T-shirt company and introducing a kilt for men this summer. Lynn anticipates the company will soon hit $1 million in annual sales.
Lynn knew she was on to something in 2010 when her skirts sold out at the Seattle Bike Swap. Sweet Spot Skirts took off so quickly that three years later she relinquished her real estate license.
“Everything in the athletic world has a ‘sweet spot,’ ” Lynn said, explaining her company’s name. But she also enjoys the name’s sly wink toward the purpose of the skirt — to cover the wearer’s “sweet spot” while she enjoys cycling, running or other activities.
Lynn wants women of all dimensions to feel comfortable and cute while they enjoy exercise and sports. Lynn, 51, a former college basketball player, coach and referee, refers to her 5-foot-9-inches and 175 pounds in a matter-of-fact way. Her love of cycling, running and golfing is apparent in her toned arms and legs.
“I’m the face of women in this country who are a size 12 — who aren’t skinny but are super active,” she said. These women, especially those pushing past 40, want to be able to move freely in tight knit shorts or leggings without showcasing every bulge and bump. The classic Sweet Spot skirts start at $69 and come in four adjustable sizes to fit sizes 0 to 24.
Lynn is in the process of acquiring Run Pretty Far, a Seattle-area company founded by Vancouver native Jennifer Hughes, that makes T-shirts emblazoned with motivational phrases. The deal, which hinges on securing a trademark, helps Sweet Spot Skirts fold in a younger demographic, Lynn said. Meanwhile, the new kilt, which she’s unveiling at a cycling event in Iowa, will add men who might appreciate changing into something well-ventilated after long bike rides.
Lynn is adamant about manufacturing locally, even though the CEO of a sportswear company (she wouldn’t name names) has recommended that she take production to Asia.
“If I can hit my 50 percent margin in the U.S.A., why do I need to go to Asia to get a 60 percent margin? Do I need to be greedy?” Lynn said. “We’re keeping the money here.”
Lynn started the company in the depths of the Great Recession, hiring seamstresses to stitch the skirts from home.
“I plucked people out of unemployment,” she said.
After a missed order, Lynn decided to open a storefront on Sixth Street in downtown Vancouver, which also serves as the manufacturing center and corporate headquarters. Companies in Beaverton and Wilsonville, Ore., cut fabric and sew knits.
Sweet Spot Skirts’ director of operations, Mary Meier of Portland, started by sewing for the company.
“This is the most fun place I’ve ever worked,” said Meier, 42, who has a background in interior design. She never knows what a day will bring. Much of the time, she’s scribbling notes on whatever ideas Lynn is tossing around, or handling the accounting. But she also built a loft that serves as the office area at the store. Three other women who handle distribution, promotions at events, and production round out what Lynn calls the “Fab Five” who form the core of the company.
“I started this because I don’t have a legacy to pass down,” said Lynn, who is divorced and doesn’t have children. “I wanted to grow it from the ground up. My family is the Sweet Spot Skirt family. … We want women to get one and wear it to get out and get healthy.”