Recently, I discovered rabbit. A friend of mine was gushing about the brand’s running apparel and its co-founder, Jill Deering. Another running apparel brand? But I took a look for myself, and I decided that I had to talk to her.
The company kicked of its KickStarter campaign in 2015 and has grown tremendously since. They have products in running specialty stores across the country and launched an ambassador program along with a team of sponsored elites.
Jill was gracious enough to take some time out of her very busy schedule — besides working on rabbit, she’s a lawyer and competitive marathoner — to share her runtrepreneur experience with me and you!
Rue (SR): With so many shoes and apparel companies on the market already, why did you want to start your own?
Jill: We started rabbit because, as runners ourselves, Monica and I were fed up with the lack of good options available to us for running clothes. Although we are just amateur runners, running is our identity. We live and breathe running. We spend so much time running, doing something we love so very much, and we just wanted to have great running clothes that looked amazing, fit great, and were affordable. I wanted to be able to open my drawer every morning and pull out a pair of shorts and a shirt without worrying about whether it would fit well or not. It’s a simple concept, but we just really were not satisfied with the options available to us.
Plus, my business partner, and co-founder of rabbit, Monica DeVreese, also owns the local running shop with her husband Joe. She has first-hand experience about what other brands are doing, what is and is not selling, and what people want from a local running store and from running brands. This experience helped us figure out how to make rabbit different from other brands out there.
SR: Over the past year, rabbit has taken off! How has the company evolved since your first Kickstarter campaign in 2015?
Jill: Wow, what an incredible start we’ve had. Honestly, we are so honored, flattered, proud, and amazed by the response we have received. And to be sure, there has definitely been both wonderful feedback as well as constructive criticism. And, it’s vital for us to listen and respond to the constructive criticism. We are definitely not always going to get things right on the first pass. But, we will always strive to make things better, to improve, to master the details, and to build as a brand.
Listening to our consumers, followers, friends, and runners has enabled us to evolve in so many positive ways since we launched the Kickstarter campaign in 2015. Some things are easy. For example, we received a lot of feedback from the initial spring ’16 apparel that the neckline on the women’s tanks were too low. Great! We listened. We implemented a change, and — boom! — higher necklines for spring ’17. Some feedback is harder to implement an immediate change, but we are still listening, still implementing change, and constantly evolving.
SR: What sets rabbit apart from other running apparel companies?
Jill: rabbit stands apart from other brands in certain ways which we are very proud of. One key difference, and something that is extremely important to us, is that rabbit is manufactured in the United States, and actually in California.
This is more than just a fact, but it also represents our mission, our values, and our ethos. We are so proud of the fact that rabbit is produced in an ethical and socially responsible manner. We stand behind our process, our factories, and our difference. All of our clothes are manufactured in L.A., which is only a short drive from rabbit HQ in Santa Barbara. We know that it’s being done in a way that we are truly proud of.
SR: Building relationships and feeling connected to the company is crucial to building a business. How do you strive to include the community in rabbit?
Jill: Yes, rabbit makes running clothes. That’s what we sell on our website, and that’s what we technically do. But, our vision is so much bigger than just that. Like I mentioned earlier, Monica and I live, breathe, sleep and eat running. We love the sport of running. We are committed to using rabbit to better the sport as a whole, in whatever way we possibly can.
And that vision starts with the running community. Runners are pretty special people. They support each other, they cheer for each other, they love each other. Running is something that can bring people together, despite geographical boundaries, social or political differences, language barriers, or any other plethora of differences we all have. Running is something that connects us, and that is powerful.
We strive to include the community in our journey, from all aspects of rabbit. We are proud to partner with many running clubs and teams across the nation. We have a team of RADrabbits, our Runners And Dreamers, who are amazing runners of all ability levels, located across the U.S., who represent rabbit and share in our story. We individually sponsor a small team of incredibly talented elite and professional runners as they pursue their dreams, our rabbitPRO team.
We work with race directors to help provide gear, sponsorships, and other support for local races. We commit to only selling rabbit online or in running specialty shops around the world, to make sure running stays special and local. We also spend a lot of time and effort communicating with the running community, especially through social media, our blog, and other community outreach efforts.
SR: Who are other women in the running industry that have inspired you when starting rabbit?
Jill: Oh man, there are just so many. From athletes, to business women, to role models, I feel blessed to find inspiration from so many women in this industry. To name just a few feels like an injustice, but I must mention Lauren Fleshman, Kara Goucher, Sally Bergesen, Shalane Flanagan, Sarah FitzPatrick Clancy, and Stephanie Bruce. I am just so incredibly amazed at these women who seem to be able to balance everything.
I must also mention my business partner Monica. I admire her so very much and am so appreciative of her on a daily basis. She somehow manages to race 100 mile races, while running rabbit with me, while helping her husband run the two local running stores, and finding the time to be an amazing mom to her two young kids. She is a superhero.
SR: You recently introduced RADrabbits, rabbitELITE and rabbitPRO programs. What is the goal of each of those teams and how do they enhance rabbit?
Jill: Yes, we are so excited to have three different teams of runners representing rabbit! We initially launched our RADrabbit and rabbitPRO teams last year and they were a huge success. We added the rabbitELITE team new for this year and we just launched the 2017/2018 teams. In fact, we are still accepting applications through April 18th for the 2017/18 RADrabbit and rabbitELITE teams.
So, the RADrabbit team, which stands for Runners And Dreamers, is available for runners of all ability levels, who love to run, and who want to be part of a special team and want to represent rabbit. As part of the team, they get a unique race singlet, exclusive deals, discounts and news, optional coaching, and access to occasional meet-ups and private groups.
The rabbitELITE team (new this year), is available for those elite runners out there, who are not quite professionals, but who are pretty darn amazing and want to be part of a special team. There are time standards to apply, and as team members, they also get amazing perks, discounts and benefits.
Lastly, we have our rabbitPRO team, which is for our sponsored professional and elite athletes. We don’t have a set application or deadline to apply, as we happily consider athletes for this team throughout the year.
SR: You were invited to set up a pop up at the Boston Marathon. That’s a huge deal! Can you expand on what your role at the Boston Marathon will be and what runners can expect if they see you around?
Jill: We are so excited and honored to be part of the Boston Marathon this year. Yes, we are taking part in a pop up shop, with several other amazing brands, including Strava and Rudy Project, located at 91 Newbury Street. The shop will be open Thursday April 13 through Monday April 17. We will be selling all of the current Spring 2017 line as well as some new clothes too! You have to swing by if you will be in the area to check out our new stuff!
Also, we are so proud to be at Boston to support our team of BOSTONrabbits, which is a team of runners from across the US, who joined rabbit to run the Boston Marathon. Keep your eye out for these runners, because they will be looking sharp in their bright blue rabbit singlets and will be crushing PRs left and right. We cannot contain our excitement to support these runners next Monday!
SR: What are your long-term goals for rabbit?
Jill: I am relatively long-winded (haha, can you tell?), so I could go on and on with this question. But, for the readers’ sake, I will keep this short and to the point. Our top goals are to become the number one running apparel brand in the US, to benefit and progress the sport of running as a whole, to support and build the running community, both locally and in the larger sense, and to continue to find passion and love in the sport of running.
SR: So you are basically superwoman, you’re a runner, lawyer and business owner! How do you balance all of those roles? What are the challenges?
Jill: Ok, you are far too sweet! I look at all the other amazing women in the industry that I mentioned earlier and feel like there is just so much more that I want and can do. But, there are only so many hours in a day, and my coach already nags me for not getting enough sleep!
First, I must say, as cliché as it sounds, rabbit rarely feels like a job even though it is my full-time other job. (I also work full time as an attorney, working in-house for several affiliated companies in the healthcare and wellness industry in Santa Barbara). But, that [it’s a second job] doesn’t mean it doesn’t take up a lot of my time.
Essentially, I spend a lot of time working. From the moment I wake up at 5:00 a.m., I am checking email, posting on social media, and a myriad of other little things that inevitable take up more time than you’d expect. Then I get to run.
Yes, I said “get to run”, because running is a privilege and a joy in my life, one that I appreciate on a daily basis. Then I go to the office and work a full day. Then I usually get to run again. I incorporate doubles five to six times a week.
After that, it’s back to the office or home to cook dinner and kiss my husband. Then I spend a few more hours before bed “working” on rabbit stuff, before going to bed (too late), and getting ready to do it all again the next day.
So, what does that mean? I work a lot. But, I love what I do, I am passionate about rabbit, and I am appreciative for the ability to do it. That’s my balance.
There are many challenges, there will always be challenges, there will never be enough time, and there will always be things to do. I have accepted that and refuse to let it stress me out or bring me down. My life is truly a privilege – I am living and chasing my dreams – and that is my fuel for success.
SR: How does owning your own business affect your personal running?
Jill: Interesting question because I think it mostly helps, but probably also hinders my running. But, the benefits outweigh the negatives in my mind without a doubt. I am not a professional, and I don’t have the innate talent to be one, so I will never be able to have a career as a runner. That means I must balance running with working a full time job (or two), like 99.9% of all other runners out there.
That means that I don’t get enough sleep on a daily basis, I can’t nap after workouts, and I can’t spend the afternoon getting PT or going to yoga to increase my flexibility. I have to cram in my massage appointments during lunch or after work. I have to stretch in the shower so I can multi-task. But, those minor detriments (which all non-pro runners face), are outweighed by the benefits.
Creating rabbit has opened so many doors for me, has inspired a passion for running in me that was already ridiculously strong to begin with, and has connected me with so many inspirational people that I would never have had the opportunity to connect with but for rabbit. I have never felt so loved, so supported, and so inspired, and that has greatly benefited my personal running.
SR: What are your personal running goals? Are you training for anything now?
Jill: I am currently training for or actually now, tapering for the London Marathon, which is April 23rd. While I love racing anything from the mile to the marathon, I most identify myself as a marathon runner. There is something just so special about 26.2 miles, something almost indescribable about the personal journey that occurs during the marathon, which I am addicted to.
I love the battle, I love the mental struggle that inevitable occurs, and I love the feeling of accomplishment that floods my soul when I cross the finish line of a marathon. As for personal running goals, yes, I have about a zillion.
My biggest goal however would be to toe the line at the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials. My PR (2:54) is far from close to getting me there, but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming big and chasing after it.
The only failure for me would be not to try at all.
SR: What is your favorite rabbit outfit to run in and why?
Jill: Hands down the legs shorts and my favorite tank which is the rabbit-Sarah Marie Design Studio collaboration elite marathoner tank (currently sold out, gah!!!). But, we will have more available soon … maybe even at the pop up shop in Boston. Hint, hint.
SR: What advice do you have for other aspiring runtrepreneurs?
Jill: Don’t spend the rest of your life wondering “what if”. Whether it’s pursuing a running goal, a business goal, a life goal, or a runtrepreneur goal, go for it. You may fail, but at least you know you did all that could. You are guaranteed a better chance of success if you allow yourself to try. You never really know what you are capable of, so go ahead and try to find out.
Be bold, be brave, and enjoy the ride.
Do you love rabbit? If you’re headed to Boston next week, make sure look for the rabbit pop up shop!