BY LINDA BAKER
Diana Marsden started Aries Apparel in Hillsboro in 2008 to target young female athletes.
// Photo by Sierra Breshears
In 1972 Congress passed landmark Title IX legislation banning gender discrimination in public schools, be it academic or athletic. But according to Diana Marsden, a former broadcasting marketing manager in Durham, gender discrimination in sports still exists, at least in the year-round athletic apparel market for girls. Retailers “aren’t paying much attention to girls,” Marsden says. “It’s usually about boys, for boys.”
To even the playing field, in 2008 Marsden opened Aries Apparel, a Hillsboro-based brick-and-mortar and pop-up retailer targeting young female athletes. Her research appears to be paying off. In 2012, Aries grossed about $1 million. Last year, Marsden opened a second retail location in Clackamas Town Center, and she is exploring the possibility of opening a third store in Seattle.
During tournament season, Marsden says, girls who visit the store from out of town inevitably lament, “‘We really need a place like this in Bellingham; we need one in Boise.’”
Although Title IX became law 40 years ago, the effects are still playing out in the marketplace, says Marsden, adding that her customer base consists of girls whose moms were the first generation of girls to play Title IX sports. “I didn’t have that luxury,” says Marsden, who is 54.
The rise of club sports, which allow kids to play the same sport 12 months a year, is also driving business. In Portland, a mecca for athletic apparel retailers, there are other places to buy select girls’ athletic gear, Marsden says. “But no one is selling it in a concentrated place, and no one is selling it year-round.”
To help grow the business, Marsden follows a simple marketing strategy: Go where the girls are — on the court, in the pool, in the gym. About 20% of revenue comes from pop-up stores, which means her 14 employees help set up shop at about 100 sporting events a year. “We take our product out to soccer, volleyball games, cheer competitions, all in an effort to make girls aware of the store, and then to serve them where they are,” says Marsden.
Volleyball and general workout wear are Aries’ biggest sellers; the store also sells apparel for adult women. But in a store built around gender equality, Aries doesn’t leave the male sex out altogether. Men are Aries’ “tertiary demographic” for marketing dollars, says Marsden. “We love dads,” she says. “They want their daughters being active in sports.”