September 08, 2011

The Roga Evolution - A Shorts Story

Sally Bergesen

Updated: June 1st, 2014

The idea for the Roga Shorts happened in 2004 but didn’t come to life, in the form of what’s known in the industry as a “first proto” until 2006. The first proto was a God awful thing that looked like something like this – but worse because it actually looks uglier in person.  

But before the awful paisley proto that not even my musical muse Prince would wear, there was Yoda. And the search for Yoda. Because before I could wear bad looking protos, I had to find the Jedi Master of sewing…someone who could translate my idea into a real garment. Granted, this was the land before time…when I was a brand strategist and copywriter and a wannabe designer in my fantasy life, so I really didn’t know what I was doing.

So back to Yoda. There I was with just an idea. Nothing more than a thought bubble. A whif of smoke. A blade of grass. Everyone, everywhere has ideas about things they’d like to make. It was of course the execution that had me stumped.

But like the good little endurance athlete that I was, I set out on my journey. My first idea was to go to the fabric store. Brilliant! Fabric people know sewing people. When I got the fabric store (Nancy’s Sewing Basket on Queen Anne to be specific), I told the matronly sewer ladies of my quest for the non-poofy running shorts and tried to ignore the look that said “why is that skinny runner woman so weird about the shorts?”

They didn’t have an answer, but they had a binder. A 3-inch, 3-ring fattie, containing names of contract sewers, 90% of them who made custom wedding dresses and 0% of them who made athletic apparel. A bit defeated, I slid the bridal binder back across the counter. That’s when a woman behind me piped up. She had overheard me and knew another woman, who was married to a man, who worked at Eddie Bauer, and boy, was that woman really good with the sewing. I guess the Eddie Bauer connection equaled athletic apparel, and for whatever reason we were both very excited to start talking about my idea.

So I contacted the super sewer and we got together for coffee. The first meeting went great. I had sketches and a budget, she had skills and confidence. Away we went. In the second meeting, however, the skies got stormy. She informed me that she had been advised by her friends that she should consult with an attorney before handing over any patterns; that the patterns, in fact, would be her copyrighted work.

Now it’s true, I knew even less then than I do now, about all things garment industry, but something didn’t sit right. I figured, if it’s my idea…and you’re helping me execute it…isn’t it still my idea? Well, whatever! It was too much trouble to get into a pissing match – or worse, involve attorneys.

The next stop was a lunch with Helen Rockey, the former CEO of Brooks Running who was the head of a gaming company (as in board games). This was an informational, networking kind of lunch, of which I was fortunate enough to finagle. This meeting produced two gems: 1) the notion that covering the CASH FLOW, between production and accounts receivable, would be the business’s make or break (as it is with almost all businesses; but for us creative types, we need our pearls of business wisdom to hit us smack in the forehead) and 2) a name. The name of her friend who was also trying to get into the garment business with ice skating apparel.

I met the friend, and looked at her clothes, which I thought were awful in an ice skating kind of way, but she also gave me another name…the name of a woman who lived in South Seattle who was experienced in pre-production pattern making. Wow, finally, a real lead for my super sewer.

After talking with the super sewer on the phone, I headed to her studio. Now South Seattle is not Compton or East Oakland, but it’s rough around the edges. And the directions were involved. Freeway, city roads, smaller roads, left turn down the alley, park behind the chain link fence surrounded by blackberries…well, by the time I got close I was asking myself what fresh hell is this, and where’s the exit? Anyway, that’s how I imagined Luke felt right before he met Yoda.

But when she opened the door (next to the blackberries and chain link fence), my perspective was transformed. Before me was a very small woman with large, sparkly blue eyes, and behind HER was an elaborate, complex, completely tricked out sewing studio – with all the bells, whistles, and doodads you might ever imagine.

To make a long story longer, this was my first introduction to the Jedi Master of Sewing and, ultimately, the shepherd of the Roga Shorts, from the awful paisley prototype to (all biases acknowledged) the kick ass garment it is today.

And the idea of the Roga remains the same: to combine a yoga style waistband (flat and flattering) with a running short (liner, storage pockets, lightweight, etc.) to create a more comfortable, more stylish kinda short. Running + yoga = Roga. Hell, why not? (I’m pretty sure that’s what Luke said before he jumped into his X-Wing Fighter).

Fall 2007, the first Roga hits the market:

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It was also this short that helped me run my fastest marathon and half marathon. Of course it was the shorts.

In Spring 2008, a lighter weight fabric, not evidenced by this bad photo:

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In Fall 2010, we added a rear pocket and shaping to the side seams:

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In Spring 2011, a new super stretch woven fabric, poly/spandex waistband and drawstring:

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AND in Spring 2011 we introduced the Long Roga:

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Fast forward to Spring 2014, the Mac Roga was born, proving less is more: 

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