On January 29, 2018, Playa Society launched, paving the way for
female athletes of the future. What started out as an exploration of entrepreneurship, has quickly become a business that brings women together. Founder and CEO, Esther Wallace, began this journey with OriginallyYoung Sportswear, and recently pivoted to accommodate a much greater vision for sports apparel. In her own words, this is the story of how Project OriginallyYoung became Playa Society.
If there’s one thing I’m passionate about, it’s basketball. I have been a player, a coach, and a fan. But more importantly, accompanying that passion, is a sense of obligation that I feel towards women who play sports. Perhaps this is because I have experienced, first-hand, the impact that sports have on girls who play. Or perhaps this is because I have built so many meaningful relationships with women through sports. Whatever the reason, in 2014, as a recent business school grad, I decided to create something specifically for women like me; women who love sports.
Now, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to create. But, I figured it would start with a t-shirt. Before I had ever picked up a basketball, probably as early as the fifth grade, I dreamt of being a fashion designer. By the time I reached high-school, I had my heart set on attending The Fashion Institute of Technology. This dream took a back seat when I started to play basketball in the 10th grade, but at age 23 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design and a Master’s Degree in Marketing Management, I was confident that I had the tools I needed to embark on a t-shirt business.
I CALLED MY FIRST COLLECTION "THE STARTING FIVE" - IT WAS ALL ABOUT BASKETBALL WITH A MIX OF T-SHIRTS AND SWEATSHIRTS FOR MEN AND WOMEN.
Designing was the easy part for me, initially. It was the name that took a lot of effort. Although I had settled on creating a t-shirt brand, I had no idea what I would call it. Ultimately, I decided to roll with the only option that stuck in my head at the time - OriginallyYoung. The name was inspired by my hobby of “thrifting”, and was actually a part of a separate idea that I had to create an online shop for vintage sportswear. But, since I couldn’t get the name out of my head, and I knew there was a long road ahead, I kept it and moved forward with the next step: screen printing.
To this day, if someone asks me about screen printing, I cringe! In 2014, I had this bright idea that I would elicit the help of my father, and build a screen printing press in my mom’s garage. Long story short, it wasn’t just a bad idea, it was a terrible one. I learned that if you don’t have any money (or patience), you shouldn’t try to build your own screen printing press. Mainly because the time and money that you waste trying to build, you could actually just pay someone else to print your t-shirts for you. At least that was my experience.
So, after I failed at creating my own screen printing operation, I found some local professionals to take care of production. I put together, what I considered at the time, to be a strong group of graphics and I called that fist collection “The Starting Five”. The collection was all about basketball, with a mix of unisex t-shirts and sweatshirts for men and women.
The Beginning of Business
During year one, engagement was low, but my optimism was high. I launched a make-shift website in November 2014 and a few sales rolled in. What I remember most about launching OriginallyYoung, was the waiting. I spent days, and often weeks, just waiting for a sale. I hated waiting.
The process then (and still to this day) was all about figuring out how to sell more t-shirts everyday. It took a lot of strategizing and some failures, but most importantly, it took a lot of resiliency.
When year two came around, I was still optimistic and determined to make progress. My focus was on attending more events to make more sales. I did a little bit better, but I still hadn’t figured out the “secret sauce” yet. The problem was, that I was still struggling to narrow my focus and figure out what my brand wanted to say.
Finally, in year three I felt confident that I knew what I wanted to accomplish, and how to get it done. By the end of the 2017, I had hit my stride and an influx of sales had me traveling back and forth to the post office with packages daily. I was even chatting with some of my favorite WNBA players on social media, and as the year came to an end, I thought a lot about how far I had come. I thought about what OriginallyYoung meant to me, and I thought about what my long-term goals were - I felt like I was ready to make a change and grow my brand.
PLAYA SOCIETY FEELS LIKE THE POSITIVE COMMUNITY NEEDED TO HELP WOMEN MAKE MORE BREAK-THROUGHS IN SPORTS.
The End of an Era
Growing my brand meant that the era of OriginallyYoung Sportswear ended. With the end of the old brand came the end of the apprehension, second guessing, and self-doubt that I had as a young entrepreneur. After 3 years of "figuring things out", I had to put more trust in my instincts, which had already gotten me pretty far at that point. My next instinct was Playa Society.
Playa Society isn't just a new name, it's a completely different feeling. To be honest, I wasn't sure if anyone would notice the new branding, but in the first two weeks of launching came with a lot of positive feedback. Players have shared their stories with me and others have given me messages of encouragement. Playa Society feels like the positive community needed to help women make more break-throughs in sports.
This is a new beginning, of establishing a brand that makes an impact for women. That's how I define and measure success for Playa Society - by the ability to make an impact. The more girls we influence to play sports and the more stories of players that we can share, the closer we will all be to our vision of greatness.