Discontent with exercise apparel leads D.C. area women to develop their own


Worked up over a lack of good workout clothing, Danielle Dobin, pictured in the foreground, set out to develop her own. Models wearing the Apifeni line, from left, are Julie Brigati, Jessie Norris, Yun Chong and Krisztina Scherer. (Evy Mages/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)
Vicky Hallett
Fit editor, Express June 21, 2011

Danielle Dobin likes to participate in a variety of activities at the Equinox health club in Bethesda, everything from Pilates to cycling to swimming. But there’s one thing you won’t ever see the 38-year-old doing: pulling up her pants.

Tired of exposing her bellybutton while practicing her yoga headstands, and fed up with her pants falling off her rear end during sets of squats, the former lawyer and real estate developer set out to find her ideal workout outfit. She wanted better coverage, fabric that moved with her instead of slipping and support around her waist for a sleeker appearance.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express. View Archive

What she was looking for, however, wasn’t available in stores. “Activewear was getting way bigger, but no one was making anything for women over 30,” says Dobin, of Bethesda, who’s now hoping to fill that gap with Apifeni (pronounced like “epiphany”), her apparel line that launched this month with a Georgetown bash. Her niche is that she’s combined exercise fashions with shapewear (the generic name for those beloved Spanx).

So the $98 Diana pant looks like it has a typical waistband, but extending up from that is a tightfitting sheath that tucks under the bottom of your sports bra. Cover it up with a $45 sporty tank that hugs your hips, and no one will know the secret of your sucked-in stomach.

“You’ll feel self-confident, not self-conscious,” Dobin promised me when I met up with her at Equinox to test out some Apifeni at a cardio sculpt class. Putting on the pants was slightly trickier than normal, but it took just a few seconds to get myself adjusted appropriately. Although the fabric squeezed around my midsection, it wasn’t uncomfortable — it felt more like a constant reminder to keep my core engaged. And I have to admit, I liked the view in the mirror.

Dobin says that simply wearing her clothes around town has already resulted in a number of sales to women who’ve inquired about her threads. Just as she was explaining this to me in the locker room, 35-year-old Julie Rienzo came up to her to compliment her top. “That’s such a pretty color,” she cooed about the turquoise ruffled tank Dobin had pulled out of her bag and asked for info on how to get one. “Workout wear is now all-the-time wear because it’s easy to chase after kids in it, but you want something that looks cute,” said Rienzo, a mother of three, who’d never met Dobin before.

With two little boys of her own, Dobin understands that sentiment. She grabbed her Flow cardigan to show Rienzo how it drapes over her bottom so she can quickly cover up when she needs to go from the gym to pick up the kids at preschool. Having these kinds of conversations is the ultimate in feedback for Dobin, who says they prove the time and money she’s spent over the past three years to learn the business — and finally have her Apifeni — have been worth the investment.

Now it’s time to find out definitively. At the Georgetown launch party, co-hosted by longtime pal Dana Perino, the former White House press secretary, the Apifeni fashions strutted around a club on models. The young women sporting the clothes clearly didn’t have any bulges to hide, but they demonstrated to cocktail-sipping guests (including a few of D.C.’s “Real Housewives” and local TV news personalities) how secure the ShapeTech waist technology is and let them feel the comfortable stretch of the fabric.

It may not be long until they can get their hands on another piece of apparel inspired by exercise exasperation, that of Aliza Yudkoff Glasner. The 28-year-old lawyer’s 32D bra size poses a couple of very big problems every time she runs.

“I was pretty flat-chested until college. Then, all of a sudden, I had enormous breasts. I didn’t know what to do with them,” she says. No sports bra worked, and even layering a few wasn’t enough.

As a student at George Washington University eight years ago, Glasner studied what was on the market and came up with her own design for an “elastic support system.” The plan called for an undergarment that could separate the breasts and lift them up (rather than squishing them flat), and have another band of elastic across the top to eliminate upward movement. She ripped apart three sports bras from her underwear drawer and used her sewing machine to refashion them into her design — which worked.

While attending law school, she patented the system, originally with plans to sell it to an athletic apparel company. But Glasner instead has decided to try to manufacture it herself. Working with a private label lingerie factory a mile from her home in Baltimore, she’s tweaked the pattern, picked the fabric (she settled on “a gorgeous one from Italy”) and received the final prototype.

The next step is getting 10 of her friends of varying bust sizes to provide final feedback. Then it’ll be time to set up the Web site, and by September, Glasner expects that the Zabra will be for sale.

As wild as it may seem to start a business based on an exercise complaint, Glasner and Dobin are in good company. One of Glasner’s neighbors in Baltimore is the headquarters of Under Armour. In just 15 years, it’s become a giant in the world of sportswear, and it exists only because founder and chief executive Kevin Plank was getting too sweaty when he played football in cotton T-shirts.

If enough other women are peeved about pulling up their pants or bothered by bras that bounce, it could all work out for these local entrepreneurs. And we just might work out better as a result.

More: Follow @postmisfits on Twitter, and read more wellness coverage.

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