Saying no to ugly lycra: Taupo entrepreneur reinvents sportswear with Kori Kita

Saying no to ugly lycra: Taupo entrepreneur reinvents sportswear with Kori Kita
Kori Kita was born when Taupo teacher and ultramarathoner Kate Townsley decided her days of wearing ugly lycra needed to end

Taupo teacher and ultramarathoner Kate Townsley decided her days of wearing ugly lycra needed to end (a move everyone should agree with). She looked around for alternatives to the big sportswear brands but there didn’t seem to be anything that matched what she wanted so she decided to create her own. She had also just been turned down for a job she really wanted so timing seemed perfect. “I went home and thought, well, I can let someone else control my life for the next 20 or so years or I can do something about it,” she recalls. And so Kori Kita was born.

From her home in the central North Island, Townsley designs all the garments for Kori Kita’s collection. The items are then manufactured in the Hawkes Bay, using high quality dry-cool materials. “For the last 12 years I’ve worked as a high school technology teacher.  I have taught Food, Fabric, Graphics and Computing.  That combined with an Accounting and Finance degree has given me a great base to start this business,” she says.

Townsley, who competes in ultramarathon events and ironman, wanted the brand to reflect both her passion for New Zealand - the country she has called home for 11 years - and her love of fitness. Kori is Maori for “to move or play” and Kita means “fast, intense or tight”.

“I was sick of wearing the standard black lycra. Years of multisport, ironman and ultra marathons meant I was spending a lot of time in sportswear and spending a lot of money,” she explains. “I had started buying those over-the-top sportswear garments from a few overseas companies but I felt a bit bright in them and thought they were for a younger group of girls. I wanted my sportswear to have colour but to be more toned down. My customers come to me for this exact reason. You really don’t feel out of place walking round the supermarket in it.”

The garments are all made of technical dry-cool sports fabric, which wicks away the sweat, has an antibacterial coating and provides UV protection. “This helps if you get caught out in the rain and makes them great for swimming in too.  They also don’t need much drying out of the washer either,” says Townsley, adding that there was definitely a gap in the market for this type of clothing, both high quality but also made in New Zealand in a sustainable and ethical way.

The brand officially launched in April and Townsley has been busy travelling all over the country to promote it. “I’ve actually been a little bit shocked by what has happened and how it is going.  There was a massive rush on the day I launched in April. Then, as I expected, things trailed off but it has slowly started growing since then,” she says. “If people are enthusiastically buying singlets and skirts in Winter then summer can only get better.”

She has now gone one step further to turn Kori Kita into her main business and has just handed in her notice from her job as a teacher, effective from the end of the year, so she can focus on the new brand.

Kori Kita is a one-woman show but Townsley counts with friends and the tight-knit New Zealand running community as “great walking advertisements”.

Marketing has been mostly a word-of-mouth kind of deal, due to budget constraints. “Facebook has been phenomenal. I’ve tried Google Ads but found it expensive without great results,” she says. “My gym has been fantastic at supporting me and it is great to see all my walking mannequins in my gear.  I had boxes of little red bags made and give them out everywhere.  Also, I try to go to markets and events where possible. More recently I’ve started tweeting and that has produced some interesting business leads for the future. I hope to get into some magazines for product reviews but figure I’ll wait till closer to summer for them,” she adds.

Her skorts (skirts with shorts underneath because why have one when you can have both?) are particularly popular with “golf and tennis ladies, as well as runners and gym goers”. She has also recently been approached by a business to do a custom skirt for their athletes.

Townsley will continue to grow her business from Taupo, even though she realises moving to a bigger city would probably mean more opportunities to grow the brand. “That is just life. I could never live in a big city. I wake up every morning looking out on the lake and run and walk on the beach and in the bush every day straight outside my front door,” she says. We can’t really argue with that.