Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Virginia Beach Fitness Apparel Company Launches New Shoe Line

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When former Navy Lieutenant Bear Handlon asked his neighbor to sew two pairs of compression shorts together for CrossFit training, he had no intention of starting a nine-figure ecommerce business called Born Primitive. But with a little luck, some serious grinding, and a lot of help from his co-founder Mallory Riley, business is now booming.

“We started back in 2014,” said Handlon. “I was actually getting ready to join the Navy and I was competing in CrossFit at the time to prepare for the military physically. I came up with a pair of compression shorts that were specific to Olympic weightlifters. It was a very niche need and very niche market. My next-door neighbor was a seamstress and she helped me stitch together a couple pairs of shorts that I had when I played football in college. The idea was that I would just wear that a couple times a week when I trained for Olympic lifting and there was no intent on making that a business.”

When some of the guys in Handlon’s life caught wind of what he had done, they encouraged him to change his mind since he had come up with something that other people in the fitness arena could use.

“I finally said, ‘Let’s take a swing at this’ and self-educated myself on supply chain, product development, had real prototypes made from professional manufacturers, and put in the first order for 200 units,” said Handlon. “Then I had to ship off to Officer Candidate School a month later, so Mallory, who is our co-founder and current COO, was running the company while I was in military training. I was doing as much as I could in the evenings and late into the night, as anyone who has started a business knows. And little by little, it grew.”

Handlon and Riley were going to CrossFit tournaments with a card table and the compression shorts, along with screen-printed t-shirts and hoodies, and continued to grow their business in that space. For the first five years it was just the two of them. But as the business started taking up all their space, they decided to make the move to performance apparel that included sports bras, leggings, men’s shorts, and more.

“I think that’s when I had my lightbulb moment,” said Handlon. “We had this huge focus as a brand on standing for patriotism and embracing strong work ethic—just a mindset that rejects the victim mentality and embracing people who are pursuing their goals and getting after it in life. We thought the workout mentality is a great analogy of life because I think a lot of the things that you learn in the gym are analogous to life. So, we really tried to convey that message and mindset from the beginning.”

When Handlon got military orders to report to Hampton Roads, he bought a house in Virginia Beach and hired his first employee. He also rolled the dice and got a 4,000-square-foot warehouse.

“We thought it was the biggest warehouse ever, but we quickly outgrew it,” said Handlon. “We had to get the sister unit, which brought us up to 8,000 square feet, but we quickly outgrew that, too. Now we have two giant ones. We have an office building and I’m building a 50,000-square-foot warehouse right down the street on Virginia Beach Boulevard that will be our new facility for distribution.”

They are also expanding their office building to 27,000 square feet with three stories and a rooftop patio.

“We’re at close to 75 employees now,” said Handlon. “In just a few years we went from two employees to nine to 20 to 75. Needless to say, things have been very busy the last few years.”

Now Born Primitive is ready to progress into the performance shoe market with the launch of the Savage 1 cross trainer that will be available in August. The Savage 1 is a high-performance training shoe that will accommodate any type of athlete or workout activity as it was specifically designed to cover a wide variety of modalities and training styles, including strength training, high-intensity interval training (HIIT), running, and more.

“I’ve been wanting to do shoes for a long time, but honestly, being on active duty, I just didn’t have the bandwidth to take on a whole new category like that,” said Handlon. “As you can imagine, shoes are very technical and I didn’t want to go after it unless I was very comfortable with our capabilities of putting out a good product. The way I saw it, you only get one shot at it. If you go to market with a subpar product, that’s probably going to be the end of you as far as making shoes.”

Handlon eventually teamed up with a shoe company that helps people engineer shoes. A self-described gym rat and having been in and around the world of human performance for so many years, he was comfortable with knowing what people would demand from training shoes.

“While some of the shoes I’ve been wearing were pretty good, I noticed inconsistencies and saw opportunities to make improvements,” said Handlon. “I took all of that feedback from training my whole life and tried to throw it into one all-encompassing product, and we tried to break out every little detail. Quite frankly, we’re stoked about how well this first one came out.”

According to a press release put out by Born Primitive, the Savage 1 is the perfect shoe for the ultimate competitor. Its advanced features include a specially formulated EVA midsole for lightweight cushioning and a highly durable rubber molded outsole that can withstand the toughest of workouts.

Key details include: Lightweight air mesh upper construction and open cell mesh tongue for advanced breathability; dual-density molded footbed, which is denser at the heel for heavy lifting stability and softer at the forefoot for cushioning while running and jumping; wide toe box for toe splay, which allows for better balance and comfort; TPU heel stabilizer which translates to improved lateral stability and holding of the heel; and a uniquely designed tread to ensure maximum traction during both linear and lateral movements.

The Savage 1 will be available in five different colorways in men’s and women’s sizes. The shoes will be priced at $130 plus taxes and will be sold through the Born Primitive website.

“I’m really proud of the fact that Mallory and I have built this business starting with $2,800, running it out of a garage and building it into a nine-figure business with seven international distribution hubs, 75 U.S. employees, a million-and-a-half dollars to charities to date, and half of our employees are made up of military and first-responders or their spouses, which is really awesome because that is embedded into our DNA,” said Handlon. “I’m also very proud of the fact that we have never had to raise outside capital like many of our competitors have done. We bootstrapped this whole thing and we’ve been able to go toe-to-toe with companies that have raised more than $100 million, and we’re still hanging with them.”

Handlon was also quick to sing the praises of his co-founder.

“When I was running around doing military training, Mallory was alone and unafraid,” said Handlon. “She was originally a dental hygienist but took this on and became a bad-ass businesswoman. So, it’s important to include her role in our success.”

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