Sports enthusiasts – we’re always thinking about the latest and greatest gear from bikes to sneakers, to smartwatches, all designed to help increase our sports performance. But oftentimes we overlook something that’s really important…I’m Hilary Topper and this is Hilary Topper on Air. Today I’m really excited to be speaking with Soj Jibowu, who is the founder and chief officer of Varlo, a company producing best-in-class garment products for triathletes, cyclists, and athletes. This sports apparel company launched during COVID-19. So Soj, welcome to the show
Soj – Hilary, what’s going on. Thanks for having me.
Hilary – So I read about Soj in Philadelphia magazine. It’s so random because I live on Long Island and I don’t even know how this magazine popped in my inbox, but I read about his company, Varlo. And I was so intrigued that I reached out to him and asked him if I could interview him for this podcast. So tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.
Soj – Yeah, absolutely. Um, so I, like anyone growing up, I was always into sports, being outdoors. I was born overseas, in Nigeria, moved to the States and I was fairly young and just always loved being outdoors, being active. Fortunate enough to have an athletic scholarship and track and field at Central Michigan University. And I studied biomedical science and chemistry, which does not mean that I’m a brainiac. It does not mean that I know anything. All it means is that I’m very curious about science and how things worked.
And that was that but post-collegiate, I’ve always been intrigued in business handle a fair share of jobs as market development managers, launching products in the biopharma and medical device space. And went on to pursue some things with real estate. I love numbers, Excel spreadsheets, and always been a fan of sports. And so people that know me really well are like, it makes all the sense in the world that now this is what he’s doing. And it’s been great. It’s been a great journey.
Hilary – Let’s talk a little bit about how you launched your business during COVID-19. I mean, talk about timing. So tell us how this impacted you and your business.
Soj – Yeah. You know, I was talking to a good friend of mine today and we were talking about, um, just things that happen in life and she lost a family member. She lost her sister. And I was mentioning how, in life, everyone goes through these just horrible things, just very traumatic things. And I go to the common denominator for, I think almost everyone on the planet was that COVID was that thing. And it caused a lot of people to not just reset, whether it be spiritual, whether it be physical, mental, whatever space they’re in. It just did cause a reset for a lot of people. And for me, I think it allowed me to kind of view things, uh, in a way that said, Hey, really, really think about this and how you would do it, but then the time it allowed me to pursue it. On the business side, I think it was kind of luck.
Luck is, um, having a desire, a passion, and when the timing is right for you. So, we were fortunate enough to have pursued Varlo, sourcing out manufacturers. We work with a number of suppliers and, at the time, we were looking for some manufacturer partners to kind of do business with. And fortunately for us COVID did just that, because it really kind of opened the playing field. We were not here in 2019. We’re not here in 2018. We didn’t do any business then. So being this fresh new company, we just had kind of a fresh playing field is okay. Well, Hey, it’s all upside from here.
A lot of manufacturers were looking for that. They were looking for fresh new faces that wanted to do something unique in a time where a lot of brands and maybe our counterparts may have been retracting a little bit. So I think it made sense for us on the business side, for sure.
Hilary – So let’s talk a little bit about Varlo. What exactly do you sell there and how is your brand different than other athletic apparel companies out there on the market?
Soj – So, we are in the space to provide, as you mentioned, just best-in-class products, garments for triathletes, multi-sport athletes, whether they are pro athletes, whether they are individuals that are in all three disciplines independently, that is swim bike or run, and also cyclists. So the cycling enthusiasts that are out there it’s, it’s massive. I mean, if you look at what happened in 2020, relative to 2019, there’s like a 85% boom in performance bike sales globally.
For us, we see this huge attraction to bring value to individuals that want to be outdoors. They want to be active. I think the thing that really sets us apart is having this multi-facet where everyone that’s involved in, in the handlebar look, cause it’s just not me. But, um, we all come from an athletic background.
Jake, my business partner, was in the NFL, I was a D one athlete in track and field. We have a number of pro athletes with the brand that are our current ProTrack fleets. And so we have this huge flux of individuals that pour insight into the brand, making our products great, making them better.
But then also I think the ethos of the brand and our mission to not just kind of have products that we can just provide for people or sell to people. I think our underlying mission is how can we make multi-sport better and attract more people to it. So how do we get more people into the sport? What do we have to do to be that hand that is guiding individuals into the sport? Because when you think of triathlon or multi-sport it can have like an intimidating factor. I don’t know if you would agree with that or not.
Hilary – No, it certainly does. I got into the sport when I was 53, so I already back of the packer, but you know what, it’s something that I absolutely love. And I’ve been trying to share that, it’s not always about those super athletes. Anybody could do it. I mean, want to do it, you could do it.
Soj – Exactly, exactly. Right. We have a number of initiatives in line to do just that, which is to welcome people into the sport, no matter your gender, no matter your athletic level, no matter where you’re at in your journey in life, whether you’re young, middle-aged or no matter where you’re at to bring them into the sport. One of the things for me that multi-sport … was back in like 2015 or 2016. I remember seeing the first race and being like, Oh my God, this is amazing. I got to do this. I got to do it, it’s so cool. And the empowerment that not just multi-sport, but like athletics, my whole life has kind of fed into me has to be shared with as many people as possible. And one of the first initiatives that we did is, on our website, I don’t know if you’ve been to it or not, it’s called your journey your story where we have our ambassadors sharing real life stories of how they got into the sport and encoding this entry for new participants to come into the sport as well. So we really want to focus on that.
Hilary – Very cool! Now, talk to me about custom apparel. Do you guys do any of that kind of stuff?
Soj – Yes, we do. We definitely do. And I think our custom concierge service, I would argue it as like, one of the best in the marketplace, hands down. We provide this like kind of white-glove service with our concierge service that I believe is like, it’s rare to find in the marketplace wherefrom the design element, from, initial contact with our sales reps and our sales team, working with our designers, going back and forth, making sure that everything from, you know, if you’re, if you’re a clubber team you’re trying to rebrand yourself, you’re looking for a fresh facelift of colors to use Pantone selection to really tell the story of the brand. We do that and I think beyond just that, we also find creative ways to like showcase those clubs and teams, what we call their partners, to showcase them and, kind of like put them on a stage of light as well. So, our custom apparel processes it’s awesome. I would argue it is awesome.
Hilary – That’s great. That’s great to know. Thank you for sharing that. Before we move on, I have to say that I’m so appreciative of our sponsors and must take this time to thank them. Please support our sponsors and tell them that you heard about them on Hilary Topper on air. Special thanks to the Russo Law Group, The Profit Express, Pop International Galleries, Gold Benes L L P, and the Pegalis Law Group. Now back to you Soj, we’re talking about your business Varlo, an athletic apparel company. What goals have you set for the brand in the coming year?
Soj – Our goals are kind of like, I would say that they not just are rooted from our initial principles, which were, stay sustainable, scale appropriately as need be, don’t get too far ahead of your skis. Our goals are more so to make sure that we are tapping into customers that are looking for that extra detail. And so that’s everything from being at shows, conventions that are everywhere from outreach to community groups, being published where we can, we work with a number of like sources thus far who are interested in the story of uplifting athletes towards goals of tomorrow.
And so I think you’re going to find us in a couple of places. Obviously, you’re going to find our retail store at varlosports.com. You may hear of us through the food chain of custom apparel needs, but you can also start to look for us with a few distribution wholesale partners that you’ll be seeing, if not by the end of this year, also in early to spring of 2022.
Hilary – So let’s talk about your location. So, you guys are located in Philly, right? On the East coast. What’s been unique about this decision to base the company in that particular area?
Soj – Philadelphia and the East coast in general are just been… personally to myself, I have a lot of love and appreciation to Philadelphia. I think the East coast and all, it’s a very, very rich, vibrant, I would say coastal area, with diversity and just loving people, right? It’s the city of brotherly love. And I think also when it comes to training and having resources for swim bike or run, we have a ton of that. And I think that it’s very, very important to highlight that not just regionally I am not just domestically here in the States, but then also internationally. So, currently, we have customers in the UK, Switzerland, Honduras as well as Canada and also domestically here. And it’s cool to kind of hear this buzz of like, Oh, Philadelphia, this Company of Philadelphia, kind of put it on the map. But then also it kind of leads the path for what we can do in the future to potentially have some, whether it be regional or national, events here with collaborative partners. I know we have like, Domo sports is a massive, massive race organization in New Jersey. There’s a number of them that range from DC up to New York as well. And I just think there’s a lot of room for collaboration right here at home, on the East coast.
Hilary – Totally. And lastly, can you talk a little bit about, something that you’re most excited about, like giving us a sneak peek into some new launches you’re preparing…
Soj – Yeah, absolutely. That’s kind of in the buzz right now. April first we’re going to be launching our summer collection and very, very excited for it. And it’s been, it’s only been like seven months. We officially launched in September of 2020. Now, we launched a couple of items and so we’re really getting, we’re really excited to show more color of the brand more products, bid more designed bibs, more new technology, based layers, cycling vests, a number of jerseys, and some swimwear that is coming athletic leisure stuff that’s coming. It’s a lot of fun. And as far as a sneak peek, you’ve heard it here first on Hilary Topper on air, you’re getting kind of the first spills of the beans on what’s coming…
Hilary – That’s so cool. I love it. That is so exciting. I’m sure you guys are gonna do really, really well. And I congratulate you for launching your sports apparel company during COVID-19 and persevering through it, so really amazing and kudos to you. So how can people get in touch with you and learn more about your shop?
Soj – You can follow us, subscribe directly on the homepage of our website. It is varlosports.com. You can also follow us on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, and then, if you are interested in just knowing a little bit more about me, you can follow me on Instagram at @allthingsmovement. And you can always shoot us an email. We’re at [email protected] Definitely shoot us an email. If you have any inquiries or just curious to know more about what’s going on behind the brand and that’s all the ways to get to us.
Hilary – That’s so awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking the time out to be on the show. And I also want to thank our sponsors, The Russo Law Group, The Profit Express, Pop International Galleries, Gold Benes LLP, and the Pegalis Law Group. And last but not least, I want to thank you, our listeners for tuning in. I very much appreciate you being here. If you want more information on this show or any other show, you can visit us at hilarytopperonair.com or you can find us on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play, Apple podcasts, you name it. We’re out there. Have a great week and we’ll see you next time.