Athletic DNA Has Tennis In Its Genetic Code; Newport Merchandise Contest Giveaway
You probably started seeing those shirts with the little double helixes, too. At tournaments and pro shops, they just seemed to appear one day, out of the blue.
You’ll see it all week at the Tennis Hall of Fame Championships in Newport, Rhode Island, being worn by Rajeev Ram and Tim Smyczek and special guest observer Brian Baker.
It was the brand I knew nothing about.
So I spoke with Evan Zeder, Vice President of Athletic DNA, about his company’s genesis. It is apparently the first sporting apparel company founded by tennis players since Lacoste.
Zeder’s based in New York, but the business is based in Seattle and he is on the road for about 10 months a year. He and a few other employees live out of an Athletic DNA RV that visits academies, retail shops and tournaments. It’s even a borrowed RV. “We sleep at the Wal-Mart parking lot and the motor court. We walk the walk and talk the talk”, Zeder said.
They’re currently on the road through the US Open with swings through places like Kalamazoo.
The company started when Zeder’s former college teammate from the University of Illinois, Michael Calkins, started a tennis academy in Seattle. He was joined by another former pro, Dan Willman, in the venture.
They started with 4 kids in the 8-10 range and drilled them all day.
Zeder told me that “out of the original 4 kids we originally trained, 3 were ranked #1 nationally at different times, which is unheard of out of the Pacific Northwest. At some point, we said, ‘What if we branded what we do with this academy?’. One of the kid’s parents began noticing not only the changes in his son, but the other kids in this program as well. He used to drag his son out of bed and now his son is knocking on his door at 5:30 saying ‘Hey Dad, I need to be stretched and ready for practice’. We realized that their work ethic and their character traits are changing who they are. It’s in their DNA.”
Hence the name.
Zeder has strong feelings on the company’s mission to change the perceptions of tennis.
For the youth market especially, tennis has not been marketed as the sport we think it is. We know that tennis has some of the best athletes in the world and it’s not being marketed that way. We know our apparel needs to withstand a three-hour match in hundred degree heat. People think tennis is a softer.Tennis is no longer for short shorts and country clubs, it’s for the best athletes in the world. We’re here to showcase those athletes.
“Especially opposed to children now rather than when I grew up, there’s been a drastic change from an apparel perspective. Athletes don’t wear cotton anymore. They wear high-performance apparel and from a youth perspective, there wasn’t anyone there to service that community. The big brands don’t totally service the junior community.”
The company has an incentive-based program for junior players to earn points toward a sponsorship from the company.
ADNA has 8 sponsored players on the ATP tour. Rob Kendrick and Peter Luczak were their first signs when the company started in 2007. In addition to 2013 Newport players Tim Smyczek and Rajeev Ram, the roster includes Alex Bogomolov, Tennys Sandgren, Dennis Nevolo, Brian Baker and Daniel Kosakowski. Baker is actually here in Newport this week, but did not enter the event.
We don’t sign players who wear the brand to wear it. We sign guys who believe in what we’re doing. A unique thing about our company is that a certain percentage of stock is allotted to our pro athletes. They don’t just wear a brand. They’re a part of it as well. They’re making in an investment in us and we’re making an investment in them.
All the guys that we have possess a ton of upside. I want them to have a reputation as one of the harder-working professionals out there.
The average age of a top 100 ATP player is 28 years old. We’re looking for guys who’ve had some experience, too.
I wondered if it was all about the guys, since I noticed women’s apparel in the latest catalog.
“Currently, we’re looking at WTA players to bring in within the next three to four months. Our initial line was not where we needed it to be. When we sponsor a WTA player, we want her to wear only our product. Up until this point, we have not had a full selection for a player to wear on and off the court. Now, our women’s line has made some new improvements.”
It’s an upstart outfit born of tennis with a team of the scrappiest players in men’s tennis. What’s not to love? And the fact that the clothes are designed by tennis players make me think they won’t fall apart on me or make me self-immolate on a hot Mid-Atlantic summer day on a concrete court. Try one for yourself. We’ll be giving away one men’s ADNA shirt and one women’s shirt at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championships in Newport, Rhode Island this Thursday.
Just follow @TennisEastCoast on twitter and be the first person to find me on the grounds on Tuesday during the 1st Thursday Center Court match when the tweets goes out.