MBC Innovation Track Spotlight
The 2021 Finals for the Michigan Business Challenge (MBC), are quickly approaching! The week leading up to the campus-wide business plan competition, the Zell Lurie Institute will highlight the innovative teams advancing from the MBC Semi-Finals.
Aurora Tights is a disruptive company that designs sports apparel for performers of ALL skin tones and ALL sizes. Imani Rickerby (MHSA ’21).
What was the origin of this venture? How was the problem or opportunity discovered?
There are thousands of performers who do not have the proper gear for their skin tone. Shade and size-inclusive gear are imperative in performance sports such as cheer, dance, skating, and gymnastics because athletes are judged on their appearance and skills. Performance tights are our primary product, and they are required for four significant reasons:
- They protect performers from the elements
- They create a smooth canvas under your wardrobe
- They provide a barrier of modesty between the performer and the audience
- They are aesthetically pleasing
When performers do not have options in their unique skin color, they often feel isolated within the sports they love. Their marginalization is compounded when factoring in financial obligations for proper training and gear. This leaves some performers with no choice but to quit and forgo an incredible opportunity to learn sportsmanship and increase their confidence. Aurora Tights fills an unmet need in the market by designing athletic apparel for dancers, ice skaters, and other performance athletes in all shades and sizes.
What do you think will be the long-term impact of launching your venture?
Both ice skating and dance are diversifying rapidly. To best support this inclusive environment, we need to change the definition of beauty in performance sports. To do this, the first step is ensuring that all performers have apparel in their unique skin tone. Currently, there is a whole population of performers who do not have tights that match their skin color or do not like the shades that are available to them. We strive to make sure adult and children, just like us, feel comfortable in their skin and excel at their athletic passions.
How was your team formed?
The Aurora team is composed of a figure skater, synchronized ice skater, and a competitive dancer with over 60 years of performing experience combined. Imani Rickerby, Jasmine Snead, and Sydney Parker attended the University of Maryland, College Park, and are sisters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Jasmine, a figure skater of over 20 years, used to dye her tights in a bathtub before every competition, and the process was time-consuming, messy, experimental, and expensive. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Imani, a lifetime synchronized ice skater, grew up skating in tights that were too pale for her complexion. While they had different experiences, they were unified in feeling marginalized, unheard, and unseen in the sport they loved. While coaching a team of young synchronized ice skaters, Jasmine and Imani noticed that many of their students, particularly those of color, were reliving their experiences of isolation. Due to the lack of diverse skating gear, their students were lacking confidence, loneliness, and identity issues. Many times, athletes of color draw away from the sport – not because of a lack of talent – but due to the lack of community.
Inspired by their students, the duo both quickly realized that there was an unmet need and shared their stories with Sydney, their best friend and lifetime competitive dancer. Sydney had a similar experience while dancing, with the added pressure of being a dark-skinned woman in a predominately white sport. The hair products, makeup, and especially the apparel never fit her appearance. Sydney’s feelings of isolation rose so high she avoided even looking in the mirror. It was only after finding her community on her collegiate team of predominantly black women that Sydney started to have confidence in not only her skills, but also her appearance. She understood then what it meant to have a support channel to turn to in times of need.
Together the three decided to be the catalysts to end the destructive cycle of monoculturalism within performance sports and instead build a community of empowerment. Aurora Tights was created in January 2018. The name Aurora Tights is a play on the Aurora Lights, a natural display of bright and colorful dancing lights in the Earth’s sky. Since its inception, Aurora Tights has been an inclusive performance apparel brand, but more importantly, a safe space that empowers ALL athletes to perform in color.
How has participation in the Michigan Business Challenge (MBC) helped move your venture forward?
MBC has given us the opportunity to run through our pitch deck with a fine tooth comb and make drastic improvements. Thanks to the MBC workshops and office hours, we have had the chance to ask questions and practice our pitch numerous times. We believe that we will leave MBC with a pitch deck that is appropriate to pitch to investors and VCs in the future!
What has been your biggest takeaway from the MBC experience (so far)?
MBC has challenged us to think of creative ways to portray the importance of our product and how large our total addressable market is. As co-founders, we understand who our customer is and how important it is to feel beautiful in your own skin while practicing your passion. MBC has made us think hard on how to portray that there are thousands of athletes that need our product within a 7 to 15 minute pitch.
What are your plans following MBC? How would prize money help your venture?
The MBC prize money will put us in a prime position to continue our product expansion. We are looking to start research and development for shimmery tights. Currently, thousands of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) band dancers wear shimmery tights and we want to be first-movers in this market and offer shimmery tights in all shades.
What advice do you have for other student entrepreneurs?
Do not let striving for perfection stop you from taking the next big step! Making mistakes creates the best lessons.
How can others connect with your venture?
Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn – @auroratights
2021 Michigan Business Challenge Finals
Learn more about these great University of Michigan student startups by following the Michigan Business Challenge Finals on February 26 through ZLI social media. Route for your favorite team during the MBC final presentations and cheer on the winners as they accept cash award prizes totaling over $100,000!