Alyson Neel & Blyss Running (February 2017)
Alyson Neel embraces the old maxim, “form follows function.”
It’s no secret that athletic wear is a huge, multi-billion-dollar international industry. But just because there’s a lot out there to choose from doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll want to wear what’s being offered. Alyson Neel, owner of Asheville’s Blyss Running, recognizes this and, with her line of women’s running apparel, aims to do her part in providing fellow runners with comfortable, functional, sophisticated gear.
Interestingly, she came to the game relatively late, having had a career in merchandising and not getting into running until the age of 41. Within three years she was tackling marathons, and that regimen, in turn, gave her the confidence to start her own business.
“In the spring of 2015,” recalls Neel, “out of frustration in not being able to find a running short or skirt that was functional, I started to consider the possibility of having a prototype made of a design I had [created], one with a longer inseam and pockets to hold my phone. When I started to run, for so long the athletic wear industry had been designing clothes for what they thought was the body type of a woman who ran. That translated to ‘small and lean,’ when in reality, women of all body types run. It is important that women have options.
“Then that summer, I signed up for a business foundations class at Mountain BizWorks to explore whether I could make a business out of selling my designs to others. In October of 2015, I officially became an LLC and started laying the foundation to launch a small line in March of 2016.”
It wasn’t necessarily a cakewalk for Blyss Running, however. Neel, having no interest in producing her designs overseas, had mistakenly assumed she’d be able have everything done by United States manufacturers. (“They told me the designs were too complicated to manufacture, which meant too expensive.”) Eventually she located a one-woman production facility in Pennsylvania whose owner was trying to grow her business. Through careful strategizing, the two were able to streamline the production steps and keep costs in line while also, in Neel’s words, “keeping the integrity and quality of the product.”
“This is why I started Blyss—to get this feedback was so empowering to me as a designer and business owner. On tough days, I will always go back to that moment as reassurance that I am on the right track.”
Neel adds that there have been other extremely gratifying moments during her journey, including her very first sale. Blyss was set up at a booth last year during a race in Charleston, and a woman came by to listen to Neel’s spiel about how Blyss skirts wouldn’t chafe due to their length. Though skeptical, the woman made the purchase, and a few days after the race, Neel opened an email from the woman thanking her for selling her a skirt that was “perfect” and had completely eliminated what had been a persistent chafing problem.
“This is why I started Blyss—to get this feedback was so empowering to me as a designer and business owner. On tough days, I will always go back to that moment as reassurance that I am on the right track. Blyss is for women looking for flattering and functional running clothes that are a bit more sophisticated and offer a little more coverage—so you don’t have to worry about the functionality of your attire and can feel comfortable and confident while you run.”
Looking to the future, Neel says that she wants to establish a clothing production co-op/incubator-type facility for fellow small-scale designers and producers. Another goal: to partner with local organizations that support and contribute to the empowerment of women. And of course, she plans to expand the Blyss Running line and offer more fabric options in her current designs.
Additional details, customer testimonials, and online store can be found at www.BlyssRunning.com.
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