Sports bras are an evil necessity for any woman who wants to move faster than a swift stroll. They're usually more expensive than they have any right to be and finding the magical fit/style combo is tricky. Too much control and it's hard to breathe. Too little and the thing creeps up. When I plunged into outdoor adventure a few years ago, an athletic friend of mine urged me to try Title 9 Sports because of its extensive sports bra section.
The Colorado-based retailer with eight locations out West and a colorful catalog and Website makes what can be an unpleasant experience--finding great women's activewear that performs as needed without sacrificing style--into a fun one. Whether you're a kayaker in a tiny town or a runner in a big city, Title Nine (named after the benchmark legislation that says schools getting federal funds have to give females equal opportunities in sports) has a knack for finding you.
At first, I just flipped through the catalog. I imagined myself being more like the real people Title 9 uses for models: teachers, doctors, firefighters who all look strong, pretty, and at ease doing their sport of choice. As I later learned from Rebecca Wara, head of brand marketing and creative at Title Nine, "We don't believe in hiring fitness models. We use real women that we know who are active and participate in their lives. It's not hard to look fit and super great if that's your job." The catalog proves so inviting with its handy barbell rating system to measure a bra's support and founder Missy Park's helpful catalog descriptions that, after the metal hook on one of my sports bras bent in the washing machine, it was easy to go from admiring to buying.
Purchasing a bra remotely is a challenge because it has to fit perfectly. Title Nine has refined the process to make it painless, easy, and pleasurable. When I called, a woman named Julia answered the phone, sounding like someone I'd meet at the rock climbing gym, not a scripted customer service rep. She patiently walked me through different models for my size and style, advising against one I initially asked about because it lacked support. For another style, she told me that the company's on-staff bra specialist had left a note saying the sizing ran large, preventing a possible return.
If the $40 one I picked doesn't work out, Julia said, Title Nine's return policy is very flexible. "In three years if you're like, 'What happened to this bra?' we'll take it back," she says. Three years? If only I'd bought my now-bent bra from Title Nine. Then she gave me advice I should have known before: put sports bras inside a pillowcase in the washing machine so the hooks don't catch.
Title Nine's passion to deliver sports bras as well as wicking tees, pullover dresses, trail-running shoes, and yoga pants for women is all about helping us feel comfortable getting off the bench and participating in sports. Its service culture evolves from that mission. "During a week of [our customer service] training, one of the most important things is learning that you have to do what it takes to make it right" Wara says. "Sometimes you end up calling [a retailer] and asking for someone's supervisor. Our reps are empowered, so it doesn't need to escalate. [We] do what it takes, which is a very different approach from other call centers that give very distinct scripts to follow. We say rules make us nervous."
That empowerment--to care for you as a customer, to eliminate any impediments to being active--is what you're ultimately paying for. "You're definitely paying for the service," says avid outdoorswoman Natalia Hernandez, who also pored over the catalog a long time before placing an order. "But, given how hard it is to find something as personal as a bra and how much time you could spend, it's definitely worth it." When a shipping fiasco delayed (and delayed) my new Moving Comfort black sports bra, Title Nine offered to file a complaint on my behalf with the shipping service. And when it finally arrived, it fit like it was custom-made. No bench warming for me.