Rebel Athletic is fighting a spangled, appliqued, fashion-forward guerrilla war against an industry giant.
The audience at Cheerleading Worlds 2013 expected pyrotechnics from the Cheer Athletics Panthers. Lithe and powerful as their mascot, the team of 36 teenage girls took the stage at Walt Disney World Resort and proceeded to show gravity who was boss. As gasp-inducing as their handsprings and back tucks were their uniforms: micro-crystal-drenched mesh with a muscular feline appliqué draped chest to hip. The effect was radical, as though Bob Mackie had been appointed wardrobe master at your local high school.
Karen Noseff Aldridge, founder of uniform company Rebel Athletic, had risked her startup's entire $10,000 marketing budget to establish her brand at the event, the cheerleading calendar's big kahuna. "Overnight, everybody knew who we were," says Noseff Aldridge. "Following the reveal of that uniform at Worlds, we took in over $600,000 in 72 hours."
The roughly $300 million market for cheerleader apparel is dominated by traditional sideline squads that rally crowds at high school and college games. A smaller but bigger-spending segment is All-Star--teams, like the Panthers, that live to compete. All-Star cheerleaders buy their uniforms from the specialized gyms where they train. Gym owners buy uniforms from manufacturers and sometimes act as their sales reps. As in Olympic figure skating, aesthetics matter in All-Star, where uniforms are sexier and flashier than their school counterparts.