Wattie Ink. Turns Ten
by Sean Watkins, Jay Prasuhn, Heather Jackson, and Chris Bagg
Ed. Note—2019 marks Wattie Ink.'s 10th birthday, and like any tween, we're really looking forward to the impact our brand and athletes can wreak on the world in our second decade of life. Today we launch our 10th Anniversary Collection, and have a look back at where we've come from, and where we're headed.
We always tell people "There was the team before there was the brand," and it's completely true. Years before we sewed our first stitch into some cloth, Wattie Ink. first existed in the minds of a few athletes who believed we could do something different in the triathlon market. Triathlon—if you weren't here yet or don't remember—needed a little kick in the butt ten years ago: a fresh look, a team approach to an individual sport, a community that wanted something bigger than personal achievements. With Heather Jackson’s help, and the confidence of our founding members as well as our first OG Wattie Ink. team, we began building something by athletes, for athletes. We knew that what we wanted to do was to provide the sport of triathlon with the best apparel possible, but from the outset, Wattie Ink. has been and is about so much more than just our apparel.
We began as a small group that saw an opportunity for something different: irreverent, counter-culture, unique. Wattie Ink. wasn’t born in the Ardennes Forest, or the French Alps, or the foot of the Dolomites. It’s not a collective of investors looking to flip the brand in five years. It’s a crew of athletes whose spirit was born on the Pacific Coast Highway and the back roads of Bend, Oregon, a spirit tempered in Tucson, Arizona and on the Queen K Highway. It’s a crew that rides, runs, swims, and races, but also does so much more. Over the years, our athletes and teammates have become our family. We’ve attended marriages, funerals, and birthdays. We’ve gone on race-cations together. We’ve sat with each other through difficult moments, and been the cavalry when the need truly arose. We head out the door to train together, pushing each other to new heights, and celebrate the accomplishments of all our athletes. Wattie Ink. is a brand, certainly, but it’s also a way of doing things that focuses first on the integrity of our community. It’s from that attention to family that we’ve built our company, and with the release of this book we want to thank YOU, the person reading this, who was there at the beginning, joined us along the way, or is encountering us for the first time. You are all welcome, and we are grateful for your attendance on this wild ride.
In 2009, we saw a place for apparel that departed from the standard offerings, a style seen riding skateboards in backyard pools, or grinning out from the faces of album covers and sleeve tattoos. “I saw a gap,” Sean “Wattie” Watkins, founder, says. “You had big brands that, to me, were untouchable. I wasn’t even thinking of competing against them. I just wanted to have something that looked different. Something that people would be attracted to—or not. I didn’t care—I just wanted to get an emotion out of people. When we first came out, we were met with open arms, but also a lot of criticism. Some didn’t understand who we were and why we were doing it, but we stayed true to who we were. I was committed that nobody was going to take us off our game: to create great product that was made in the USA, but also gave athletes a chance to stand out and express themselves.”
Wattie Ink. was started with $250 and an idea, aiming to bypass the standard athletic apparel model of sourcing and producing in Asia. Instead, top-shelf fabrics would be sourced out of Italy, the product developed in San Diego. Designs would be unconventional, and everything would have Made In America stitched on it, at the Wattie Ink. factory. The goods would be dynamic, unique, and of the utmost quality.
By 2012, we were a two-person company: Watkins and his then-girlfriend-now-wife, a budding pro named Heather Jackson. HJ, for her part, was skeptical. Despite her misgivings, she put her faith in Wattie, choosing to Rock the W instead of the sponsorship dollars other clothing companies offered. There was no signing bonus, no performance bonus. “Wattie said, ‘this is what I want to do, and this is how it’s gonna happen,’” Jackson recalls. “At first, I didn’t believe him; I didn’t understand the concept. But Wattie is one of the most creative, entrepreneurial, outside-the-box guys I’ve ever met, and I figured that if someone could do it, he could.”
HJ tested the company’s first prototypes, often breaking triathlon’s cardinal rule of “never do something new on race day.” A small band of seamstresses created her first race kit just in time for Panama 70.3 in February 2014, but the new gear was missing something. “I’d been prototyping kits that were hand-sewn around my body shape, and for Panama they’d gotten a white kit finished…but my sponsors needed to be on there,” Jackson recalls. “Wattie literally took the kit to a screen printer next door and said ‘Hey, can I borrow your machine?’ He hand-pressed the sponsors onto this white kit by himself. By the time we got to Panama, the printing was peeling off. But that was the very first Wattie Ink. race kit that we’d sewn ourselves!”
Within a year of that first kit, though, we were live, selling apparel to age groupers and outfitting a handful of professional triathletes, each helping refine products and influence the edgy look of the brand. “I hear companies say they don’t sponsor athletes because they don’t see value,” Watkins says. “But I’ve always thought that without athletes, we don’t have a brand. Working with athletes like Heather Jackson, Rachel McBride, Joe Gambles, Sarah Piampiano, Andy Potts, Jen Annett, Amy VanTassel, Chris Bagg, Josh Amberger, Cody Beals, and Sam Appleton—that adds immense authenticity to the product; they wouldn’t use it if it didn’t work. HJ is one of our harshest critics, but she’s particular—as she should be. It’s pushed us into revision after revision until we have what we feel is perfect for them, and ultimately for all our consumers.”
We also took the concept of the ambassador team and pushed that concept to new heights, building groups in our Elite Team and Hit Squad that do far more than amplify the brand to the greater triathlon community: they exemplify the concept of teamwork, supporting each other in training and racing as a family would do, but then also working past the sport and volunteering for causes all over. Those groups carry the torch of the brand, and are its life’s blood: we could not have achieved any of this without them. They are the ones we wanted to reach at the beginning, the ones that also hungered for something different from triathlon, something edgy on the outside but warm and welcoming at its heart.
Since then, Wattie Ink. has evolved into one of the most progressive companies in the triathlon apparel industry: laser-cut panels of leading-edge fabrics with vivid print quality, all assembled by hand by an in-house team in Vista, California. It also maintains a collection of diverse signature designs that have made Wattie Ink. what it is, with concepts that are clean, but remain edgy in the Wattie Ink. vein.
So here's to the next decade of Wattie Ink. We never dreamed that we would be counting our existence in decades, yet here we are, and here we will stay, doing what we've always done: supporting athletes on and off the race course, providing world class apparel to support the activities they love, but also providing a place for them to engage the sport and its community in a deeper, more personal manner. We are incredibly grateful to you, reading this, since you're a part of this movement, too, and we can't wait to see you at the races.
Rock the W,