Breaking into Women’s Golf Apparel with Style

A fresh approach to club attire

Jennifer Glaspie launched Chicago-based Aphira golfware to create apparel for the social golfer who wants to stand out on the green, not fit into the club.

by Carolyn Schwaar

When novice golfer Jennifer Glaspie was kicked off the green at a Florida golf club for wearing a sleeveless, collarless sweater, she didn’t know then that women’s golf apparel would become her life’s passion.

From the runway to the fairway

Pinks and Greens

In 2000, Glaspie, a successful corporate business consultant at the prestigious Chicago-based firm of Baine & Co, started learning golf at the request of her boyfriend (now husband). But as her golf swing improved, this petite and style-savvy urbanite found her clothing options didn’t.

“Golf apparel is so far behind the curve fashion-wise and the options for the fashion-conscious golfer are limited,” she says. But it took a cool October morning with a tee time looming and “nothing to wear” that finally pressed Glaspie to action.

Convinced that there was great potential in a high-end line of women’s golf clothing that was trendy and comfortable yet sophisticated, Glaspie put her career on hold, and put her Kellogg MBA to use developing a business plan to launch a chic line of women’s golf apparel.

“I’ve always had a love of fashion, but I thought entering the competitive apparel industry would be just crazy,” recalls the 32-year-old Michigan native. However, research showed that, although the apparel industry is cut-throat, high-end niches such as resort ware and specialized sports apparel, have their own, more accessible and less competitive market. “I found some fashion-forward lines that were doing well, but the market certainly wasn’t saturated, so everything pointed to ‘go,’ ” she says.

Glaspie and her tradition-bucking designer, Cassy Clark, set out to create golf apparel that was fun to wear, hip, and a little bit sexy, hoping against hope that they would have a hit. And they did.

Aphira debuted at the 2005 PGA Merchandise show in Florida. “There we were walking practically three miles back to our little booth past these huge corporate booths,” recalls Glaspie. “We felt totally overwhelmed, but from the beginning, people started saying great things. One women said ‘I love this line, this is my favorite line here out of 1,000 exhibitors. It felt promising. We felt really, really good.”

The duo wrote dozens of orders at the show for their first line. And when their initial customers received their shipment and loved it, they began to think that they might just have something. “One client said people where buying it right out of the box before she could get it on the rack,” says Glaspie.

Now in it’s third year, Aphira is established in nearly 150 golf shops in the United States, Europe, and Asia. But success didn’t come without some missteps.

“I thought we had to be really different when we first launched,” recalls Glaspie. The debut line was sexy and edgy with closefitting tops and tennis-length skorts. “But we’ve toned that down a bit as we’ve gone on.” The shift in style reflects the company’s research into just who’s buying their stylish line, which in many markets is actually retirees in there 50s and 60s.

“Nike and Addidas design sportswear for the athletic golfer,” says Glaspie. “Our customer is more socialite than athlete. She doesn’t play four-times a week, she plays with her girlfriends on the weekends, and she’s someone who’s always put together.”

Like a lot of entrepreneurs, Glaspie is owner, marketer, sales rep and even model. “One time at a meeting with the proshop owner at the Ravinia Green Country Club I ran and put on a pair of shorts to show the client how they fit,” says Glaspie. Every piece in the line is made in her size for product testing. “I need to try it all on. I swing a club and I walk around it in. I’m a golfer and I know the functionality that the garment needs to have.”

The Aphira line is made entirely in America. The fabric is custom dyed and shipped to a factory on Chicago’s north side for assembly.

For now, Aphira apparel is only available in golf stores, and that’s just fine with Glaspie. “We need to stay focused on the golf market. We know every dollar invested will be a few dollars return in the golf market but it would take too much capitol to break into the larger apparel retail market.”

Although you won’t see Aphira in department stores, you can get a glimpse of it on the popular Golf Channel reality show The Big Break: Ladies Only, which will feature Aphira apparel on golfer Valeria Ochoa this spring. And the new Hollywood film “Who’s Your Caddy?,” billed as “an urban take on the comedy golf movie” features a sexy character wearing Aphira throughout the film.

The chancy career hop from guiding the strategic growth of Fortune-500 companies to making golf skorts has definitely paid off, says Glaspie. “It has just been a whirlwind but I’m definitely having fun. In consulting I had peeks and valley and good weeks and bad weeks, but when it’s your own company your highs are really high and lows are really low. Everything takes on so much more importance when it’s your own.”

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Callout or boxed item:
Aphira: a-fear-ah. A word invented by golfwear entrepreneur Jennifer Glaspie taken from the Latin word ephiro, meaning to exult.

Sidebar:
Can fashion attract more women to golf?
Although it may sound shallow to say more fashionable golfware will get more women to play golf, Jennifer Glaspie, owner of Aphira women’s golf apparel in Chicago, says it’s absolutely true. “I have a friend who I asked to take some golf lessons with me but she said ‘I play tennis because the cloths are cuter.’ Having more fashion in this sport does change its image.”

Just take a look at internationally televised women’s golf tournaments like the Lexus Cup where teams lead by Annika Sorenstam and Grace Park ditched the masculine polo top for trendy designer golfwear to project a fun and fashionable image for women’s golf.

And younger players, such as tank-top sporting Michelle Wie, are bringing their young attitudes and free spirit with them to the green — and this includes their fashion statements.

“There’s a lot more younger people playing the sport,” says Glaspie. And with youth, she says, comes new ideas that buck the traditions and set a new style.