This entry is part 19 of 22 in the series Winter - 2017




by Beth Etter

Over more than 20 years in the apparel industry, CJ Riggins (M.S., ’16) has seen a lot, from the straight-sized, quick-wear fashions of Abercrombie & Fitch to the high-performance materials of Salomon and Pearl Izumi. And she’s taken her vast knowledge – as a technical designer, materials developer, and director of sourcing – to solve a significant, and yet often misunderstood, design challenge: Creating activewear for the Athena athlete.

Athena athletes are women who weigh more than 165 pounds (regardless of height) who compete in running, cycling, triathlon, and other events. (Their male counterparts, at 220 pounds, are called Clydesdales.)

“We’re focusing specifically on the needs of this consumer — her athletic needs, her expectations.”

“When I got to Salomon, I saw a limited size scale – up to only size 14,” Riggins says. “But the data say that the average woman is larger than that.”

In fact, a study done at Washington State University found that the average size of the American woman now falls between a 16 and an 18.

“In school, you’re taught to buy and fit product to the middle of the size range so you meet the majority of your consumers’ needs,” Riggins says. “If size 16-18 is the average, we’re missing the majority of women.” This miss sparked Riggins to start her own apparel company, Rsport (, in early 2016.

She developed her business plan and the products for wear test while a master’s student in CSU’s apparel and merchandising program.

“We fit the garments on a size 2X initially,” Riggins explains. “Then we built the full size run from size 10 to 6X to outfit our global wear-testing team and gave them a month to use and abuse the product.” By October 2016, she had received enough feedback to go into production.

“Our intention is to build a great product. We are investing in the science by using technical materials with permanent technologies embedded in the fibers and yarns because we don’t want the items to wear out.”

“We know that this woman may change sizes more often than a ‘straight-size’ woman, and we want to respect her choices on how she spends her money.”

Continually learning

Riggins is growing her business the way she approaches her designs: continually learning and applying that new knowledge. She has accessed the insight of many mentors who guide her on finance, marketing, and sales, and she’s taking a lesson from Eileen Fisher, a well-known professional knitwear brand, by starting small.

“We’re coming out with a small line of seven styles in multiple colorways and will add product from there, based on seasonality and feedback. We want to be intentional and focused in our choices,” Riggins says.

Rsport’s “small” line compares to Nike’s total of five women’s plus-size offerings, which come only in black.

“I don’t think these women necessarily want to be in the back of the room,” Riggins says. “As a society, we’ve made presumptions about what this woman wants when, in fact, she’s telling us something different. We want to give this woman an opportunity to choose.”

Rsport’s consumer runs the gamut from the entry-level athlete doing her first 5K all the way up to the finisher who podiums in an Ironman.

And those women will have options for new and technically advanced clothing starting in March 2017, when Rsport will launch its products online. Riggins and her team will also attend race expos and athletics events across the country from March to October.

“Design is about solving problems,” said Riggins. “Rsport is doing just this for a segment of the population that has been underserved for many years.”