When soccer star Meghan Klingenberg talks about Re-Inc, it's clear that the clothing company isn't your average celebrity-athlete-backed startup.
"We're not the type of founders who are just like, 'OK, we're going to hire somebody and hope they follow through with our mission,'" says Klingenberg, a member of the 2015 U.S. Women's National Team that won the Women's World Cup.
The four launched their direct-to-consumer gender-neutral apparel company earlier this year to great fanfare. It announced a lofty business mission "to champion equity, creativity, progress, and art." Its initial release was a T-shirt, a run of about 1,000 that sold out in a week. The waiting list for the shirt, in oversize ($125) and cropped ($75) versions, stands at more than 4,400.
"The reason a lot of other startups don't work for athletes is because they're not entirely involved," says Klingenberg. At Re-Inc, each of the CEOs has her own role: Klingenberg in strategic partnerships; Press, quality control; Heath, design; and Rapinoe, design and brand innovation.
The four have had prior success together both on the field and in the boardroom, negotiating a collective bargaining agreement for the Women's National Team.
Despite their history of teamwork, the unusual leadership structure could become "problematic," says Thomas Knapp, a University of Southern California Marshall School of Business professor who also has founded clothing companies. "Unless they figure out a whole new model," the CEOs may need to adjust their roles in the future, says Knapp. "That doesn't mean they can't have an equal voice in terms of voting power and things like that, but certainly they're going to need to trust each other to handle certain skills and get wise counsel."
The founders believe they have that counsel in Steve Nelson and Rocky Collis, co-founders who help with business operations, capital raising, and strategic planning. Nelson is co-founder of Carbon, a 3-D printing company, and Collis is outside general counsel to the U.S. Women's National Team Players Association. Co-founder Jenny Wang, a Kleiner Perkins fellow, manages the 10-employee company on a day-to-day basis, running operations and order fulfillment.
Klingenberg acknowledges the challenge of translating success on the pitch to the business world.
"When we want to do something as athletes, we just go out and do it," says Klingenberg, a current member of the NWSL's Portland Thorns. Business functions such as supply-chain management, for example, she says, are "really difficult. 'You can't ship it until you do this, and you can't do this until you do this.'"
The co-founders' goal is to grow the company to the size of a Nike or a Google with the ultimate aim to gain sufficient influence to have an impact on business norms, particularly when it comes to venture capital funding for women-led startups. "When you're that big of a company, you're able to throw your weight around and create a different status quo based on the values that you hold and the mission that you have," Klingenberg says. She declines to comment on the company's own funding.
The sold-out success of Re-Inc's first run of T-shirts had the co-founders shipping to customers all the personal stock they'd set aside for family and friends when more orders poured into the website than they were able to fulfill.
"I actually never got my tee because mine got sent out to one of our consumers," says Klingenberg.
Today, Re-Inc is unveiling its next release: an eight-piece line, called RWB--short for red, white, and blue. Inspired by the U.S. Women's National Team's 2019 Women's World Cup title, the line "rejects both masculine and feminine labels and is not confined to gender normative design." It includes a T-shirt ($75), cropped T-shirt ($60), hoodie ($150), socks ($25), sweatpants ($150), shorts ($90), bike shorts ($90), and a crew-neck sweatshirt ($110).
The RWB line, says Klingenberg, is about patriotism, and the ways to express it.
"Patriotism has had a little bit of a negative aspect to it lately, and that's not the way we think about it," she says. "We love this country and representing the USA, because we're allowed to disagree about things and voice our frustrations or our wins."