BTS
March 26, 2014

Story Behind The Style: Bird Lion Tee

Sally Bergesen

It was the 2012 Olympic Trials 5000m qualifying race and the Lauren Fleshman fans, aka Fleshmaniacs, were restless. Scared, even. We knew our sister hero was in trouble, having been malignantly injured for almost 8 months. And yet, for 8 months she soldiered on, attempting repairs and rest and long-distance flights to visit healers.

At the time, she was still running for Nike, but like it or not, Oiselle had nominated itself chief fan girl. Through the magic of her killer blog and incredible stories, we knew Fleshman. She was the runner we followed, and cheered for, and possibly creeped out. We did everything short of send her our underwear. Oh wait, we did that too. (Hello Rundies)

Even though it was June, the weather at the Trials was utterly horrible. A black cloud of rain had clutched Hayward Field all week, and day after day, we sat shivering in the stands with make shift ponchos (because no umbrellas are allowed) including plastic garbage bags as we refused to buy the $2 Nike poncho. Nothing says track nerd like a Safeway bag hat. At one point, I remember pressing my fingers along my legs, from thigh to knee, working like a squeegee to move the water out of my jeans.

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Trials by rain.

The qualifying heat was approaching, and Fleshman let us know what to do: hold up your hand in the shape of a "C"... C for Courage (#CforCourage). Courage to face an against-all-odds challenge. Unbelievably, she qualified for the final. It was crazy, epic, unreal! Afterwards, during her interview, she said she made it by conjuring her spirit animal, the lion. A reporter asked, “So were you running from the lion?” “No,” she replied, “I WAS the lion.” And instantly I had a visual. If nothing else, that race was about her clawing and maiming and killing her way to the front. I mean, seriously. Making the final on 10 miles of speed work per week? Who does that?! This woman was a legit badass. Hard to fathom, but now we loved her more.

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A meetup with our hero after she makes the 5k final.

Six months later, the unthinkable was happening. We were on the verge of signing our sister hero as a Oiselle athlete. It was our biggest coup ever, and the lion crept back into my line of sight. The strength. The ferocity. The power. I didn’t want to replace the lion with a bird. I wanted to create a new symbol that would honor it. Birds aren’t lions, but there’s no reason we can’t have a bird lion. The Griffin is a mythic beast that is just that: a lion with wings. Powerful, regal.

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Signing Lauren...time to celebrate!

I also wanted the design to be akin to street art. The strong lines of a stencil…ready for its spray paint application. The inspiration flowed:

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Inspiration.

After I shared it with Fleshman, we tweaked the design and got it where we were both satisfied. To have her love it…well, as a designer, it’s the most incredible feeling. Like you’re affixing a small piece of metal to the armor of a warrior.

Almost two years later, I still draw inspiration from that race. I think about how she could’ve bagged it. She knew her fitness wasn’t there. Why expose herself? Why not call it a year and take up spectating in a Safeway bag? Or a Nike poncho if you must? 

In the end, it reminded me of something a friend used to say: there’s no such thing as ideal conditions. And if you wait for them, the opportunity could already be gone. I see this at Oiselle every day. We’re always being scrappy. Pressing the gas pedal even when the tank is low. Fighting for a place at the track & field table, even when there’s only seating for one. But the lion doesn’t wait. The lion knows it must hunt, it must survive. With a forward lean, claws slightly spread, it must leap…it must kill. {Shop the Bird Lion Raglan.}

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The final fierceness.

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