YORK Athletics and Society Nine are like-minded brands. Both entered the performance industry because of design. For YORK, it was about minimalism in an industry where there is too much unnecessary shit on footwear. For Society Nine, there was a lack of combat sports gear designed to actually fit women and the only equipment out there was simply men’s product turned pink.
Both brands have a fighting mindset and align with brand ambassadors and an audience that embraces that fighting spirit, whether inside the ring/cage and out in the world.
We asked founder and CEO Lynn Le what it’s like being a fighter and an entrepreneur in this week’s Out of Step journal post…
YAM: Lynn, you have a Krav Maga (Israeli self-defense) brown belt and are a former kickboxing instructor. When did your love of MMA and combat sports start?
LL: I started training in Krav Maga when I realized that I wasn’t interested in traditional team sports, but I also was bored of running! I had just completed the Amsterdam Marathon and I felt like I really needed a new challenge. That same year, I traveled to Israel and someone had recommended that I look into Krav Maga for its fitness and self-defense qualities. From then on, I honestly was addicted. Now, I more actively train in boxing and sometimes Muay Thai. But I love learning any sort of combat sport, primarily for how it changes how I view myself every single time. It reminds me of how resilient I am, how much my body is capable of, and how strong overall I am in mind, body and spirit.
YAM: The name Society Nine pays homage to Title IX, the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination in education, best known for breaking down barriers in sports for women and girls. Did you know from the start that this position was something that was going to set your brand apart?
LL: I knew that having genuine, thoughtful meaning to our name and paying homage to a critical piece of history that paved a path for female athletes everywhere would serve as the basis for our community’s rallying cry. We celebrate ALL women who fight, and that’s a common misperception about women who train in combat sports. There’s a perception that women who train must be training to compete, or are aggressive, violent, etc. when the reality is women have been fighters since the beginning of time. It is engrained in us to fight, to protect, to stand up for our children and our loved ones. It is only within modern societal and cultural constructs that we’ve been stifled and trained to be quiet, timid and demure. But we’re wired to be fighters.
YAM: Another thing that Society Nine takes on fist-first is stereotypes. Does that come from a personal place for you?
LL: I think every woman has definitely had to face stereotypes head on, especially as it relates to combat sports. There’s the stereotype that you’re training at the gym just for attention or to find a date; or you’re not there to take it seriously; or you’re not strong enough to hang, you’re too emotional to be there. Time and again women have had to work much harder to prove they deserve to be there, just like with any other space. But the important thing is that we’ve galvanized a community, through love and passion for sport, to define what it means to claim your space.
YAM: There is a parallel between the dedication, perseverance, and hard work that goes into training like a fighter and being an entrepreneur. What made you decide to say fuck it and just go for it?
LL: I actually had a plan going into this, somewhat. I gave myself 2 years while I was working a full-time job to have a “sign of life” – a working prototype, and/or additional funding from someone else other than me – before I could quit my job and go full time into it. I got both in 2014--the additional funding came from the Portland Development Commission, which gives six grants to six startups every year in a start-up competition.
Everything has taken time and taken endurance like in training. You can’t take short cuts in business, just like in training, and the ones who do will fail.
YAM: A lot of brands that make “women’s product” take a men’s design, shrink it down and make it pink with flowers. You wanted to make product specifically for women and spoke to 100 fighters before designing your first pair of gloves. What did you learn from this experience?
LL: I learned that women want, and deserve, a chance to feel like their needs and voices are heard. And in this sport, the expectation is that we should simply settle – settle for “the way things are” or “have always been,” and settle for the men’s gear because “that’s good enough.” The reality is, you don’t wear running shoes that don’t fit you to train for a marathon, so why would you do that with boxing gloves? The focus group made these women also realize that they, too, have settled for a long time.
YAM: Society Nine has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Fast Company, Oxygen, UpWorthy and Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls. You also sponsored Haymakers 4 Hope’s Belles of the Brawl in Boston and outfitted all 28 female fighters with gear. That kind of collective exposure must instill some serious confidence. What kind of awesomeness can we expect from Society Nine in 2017?
LL: We’re really excited to expand our distribution (we more likely than not will be coming to a city near you!) as well as launch a few new products this year, so keep a look out! We are also excited to announce a few new partnerships later this year and to continue to grow our community.
Check out Society Nine's most recent campaign video, "The Fight Within,” featuring the journeys of five unique female fighters: the Urban Warrior (Alex Arrache), the Apprentice (Kaleah Oylear), the Matriarch (Laura Valent), the Practioner (Meghan Sekone-Fraser) and the Pro (Anna Dempster).
And to learn more about Society Nine, check them out here: