This isn’t your average “who we are” cycling and triathlon story. Wattie Ink. wasn’t born in the Ardennes Forest, or the French Alps, or the foot of the Dolomites. It’s not a collective of investors looking to flip the brand in five years. It’s a small crew of athletes whose spirit was born on the Pacific Coast Highway and the back roads of Bend, Oregon, a spirit tempered on the trails around Boulder and on the Queen K Highway. It’s a crew that rides. That runs. That swims. They grind the training and relish the racing.
It’s a small group that saw an opportunity for something different: irreverent, counter-culture, unique. The man behind the “W,” founder Sean Watkins (a.k.a “Wattie”) saw a place for apparel that departed from the standard offerings, a style he saw riding skateboards in backyard pools, or grinning out from the faces of album covers and sleeve tattoos. In 2009, he decided it was time, leaving a steady job with Triathlete Magazine to attempt the near-impossible and create a brand. Wattie Ink. was born.
“I saw a gap,” Wattie says. “You had big brands that, to me, were untouchable. I wasn’t even thinking of competing against them. I just wanted to have something that looked different. Something that people would be attracted to—or not. I didn’t care—I just wanted to get an emotion out of people. When we first came out, we were met with open arms, but also a lot of criticism. Some didn’t understand who we were and why we were doing it, but we stayed true to who we were. I was committed that nobody was going to take me off my game: to create great product that was made in the USA, but also gave athletes a chance to stand out.”
He started with $250 and an idea, planning to bypass the standard athletic apparel model of sourcing and producing in Asia. Instead, top-shelf fabrics would be sourced out of Italy, the product developed in San Diego. Designs would be unconventional. And everything would have Made in America stitched on it, at the Wattie Ink. factory. The goods would be dynamic, unique, and of the utmost quality.
By 2012, it was a two-person company: Watkins and his then-girlfriend, a budding pro named Heather Jackson. Jackson, for her part, was skeptical. Despite her misgivings, she put her faith in Wattie; choosing to Rock the W instead of the sponsorship dollars other clothing companies offered. There was no signing bonus, no performance bonus. “Sean said ‘this is what I want to do, and this is how it’s gonna happen,’” Jackson recalls. “At first, I didn’t believe him; I didn’t understand the concept. But Wattie is one of the most creative, entrepreneurial, outside-the-box guys I’ve ever met.”
Heather also tested the company’s first prototypes, often breaking triathlon’s cardinal rule of “never do something new on race day.” A small band of seamstresses created her first race kit just in time for Panama 70.3 on February 2014, but the new gear was missing something.
“I’d been prototyping kits that were hand-sewn around my body shape, and for Panama they’d gotten a white kit finished…but my sponsors needed to be on there,” Jackson recalls. “Wattie literally took the kit to a screen printer next door and said ‘Hey, can I borrow your machine?’ He hand-pressed the sponsors onto this white kit by himself. By the time we got to Panama, the printing was peeling off. But that was the very first Wattie Ink. race kit!”
Within a year of that first kit, though, Wattie Ink. was live, selling apparel to age groupers and outfitting a handful of professional triathletes, each helping refine products and influence the edgy look of the brand. “I hear companies say they don’t sponsor athletes because they don’t see value,” Watkins says. “But I’ve always thought that without athletes, we don’t have a brand. Working with athletes like Heather, Rachel McBride, Joe Gambles, Donna Phelan, Ivan Dominguez, Chris Bagg, Josh Amberger and Sam Appleton—that adds immense authenticity to the product; they wouldn’t use it if it didn’t work. Heather is one of our harshest critics, but she’s particular—as she should be. It’s pushed us into revision after revision until we have what we feel is perfect for them, and ultimately for all our consumers.”
Since then, Wattie Ink. has evolved into one of the most progressive companies in the triathlon apparel industry: laser-cut panels of leading-edge fabrics with vivid print quality, all assembled by hand by an in-house team in Vista, California. It also maintains a collection of diverse signature designs that have made Wattie Ink. what it is, with concept departures that are clean, but remain edgy in the Wattie Ink. vein.
No matter what you choose from among the line, there’s no doubt you’re standing out from the crowd, expressing your own style. It’s your chance, simply, to Make Your Statement.
Rock The W