In the Bay Area, the law has transformed the lives of countless girls and women, giving them equal access to sports. But when the law changed five decades ago, the industries supporting the sports world – sportswear and sporting goods – didn’t change fast enough.
Emeryville-based Title Nine has been working to close that gap for 33 years.
“Once Title IX came around, we were off the sideline and on the pitch,” said Missy Park, founder of the women’s activewear company.
VIDEO: Football legend Brandi Chastain shares how Title IX paved the way for her sporting career
Park played basketball, tennis and lacrosse at Yale University.
“I was in the first generation of girls and women to grow up with Title IX in effect,” she said. “It meant I could play a lot of sports. And my big sister, who was four years her senior, didn’t.”
But being a multi-sport varsity athlete in the ’80s, just like today, was far from glamorous for women.
“We were training in the wrong training slots,” she said. “The shorts don’t fit us. We’re allowed to play sports, but we don’t have sneakers. We wear last year’s basketball uniforms for the boys.”
RELATED: How Title IX Changed the Game for Women in Sports 50 Years Later
Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments, abbreviated as Title IX, may have created women’s sport in schools and colleges, but girls and women still struggle to find the proper equipment to support a new generation of athletes and a new consumer.
“My girlfriend had to buy her shoes from the little boys department because they didn’t make women’s shoes,” Park said.
So, soon after graduating from undergrad and moving west to the Bay Area, Missy had the idea to start her own activewear and sporting goods business. for women.
She would name the company after the legislation that allowed her and millions of other girls to gamble.
“Title IX is foundational,” she said. “It’s the ‘without what not’ of my entire life. All of a sudden I’m post-college and I have nowhere to find material. And I have all these friends around me who are the same way. I was the only one who started my own business and started a business that was going to serve all of these female athletes.”
It all started in his Berkeley garage in 1989.
“There was no Lady Foot Locker, Lululemon, Athleta. There was no such thing,” she said.
VIDEO: Title IX – Explaining the landmark civil rights law that codified gender equity in sport and beyond
Park started the business by mailing out 30,000 16-page mail-order catalogs. Only eleven orders arrived, but there was clearly a must-have item.
“For most women working out, their most important piece of sports equipment was not shoes, but sports bras. Sports bras became the staple of what turned out to be to be a pretty fit company,” she added.
Today, Park said “fit business” is a $100 million private enterprise. Its head office is in Emeryville with 300 employees – mostly women.
“We support each other a lot,” said Title Nine Senior Community Specialist Lisa Gilliland. “We really love each other. And I think being able to sweat and play together really helps cement those relationships.”
The company specializes in activewear to keep girls and women moving.
RELATED: 2 Fresno State Professors Explain How They Benefited From Civil Rights Act Title IX
Staying active is a core value along with camaraderie at head office. A lunchtime team training session is offered daily on campus.
In 33 years, Title Nine has grown to 17 outlets including four in the Bay Area.
The flagship location is on 4th Street in Berkeley.
“As the women walk in, they tell us their stories about Title IX and how it’s really affected their lives and what the law means to them,” said Chris Freewoman, Title Nine retail partner.
RELATED: Title IX Progress Seen in NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament, But Still Room to Improve
At headquarters, the meaning of the game-changing law is literally written on the walls.
You’ll find quotes from “sheroines” and the “difficult women’s wall” with names like Billie Jean King to Greta Thunberg, Stacey Abrams and Vice President Kamala Harris.
It’s not just quotes on the wall,” Park said. “We are committed to women owning, risking and leading in all aspects of life.
“I love the creative freedom I have,” said Jacq Safer, Title Nine’s senior photo stylist. “I definitely feel like my voice is heard a lot more here.”
Title Nine is dedicated to uplifting women and elevating women’s issues.
The company recently made headlines for donating $1 million to the United States Women’s National Soccer Team in its fight for equal pay.
The United States Soccer Federation reached a deal with America’s women’s soccer stars earlier this year and agreed to pay men and women an equal rate going forward.
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This leveling of the playing field is something Park hopes to see more of.
“My goal for Title Nine is that if we’re successful, we’ll have nurtured a whole bunch of other entrepreneurs and leaders who will make women leading, risking and owning not so unusual,” she said.
“I especially want children to see, whatever their gender, that all doors are open.”
All thanks to just 37 words: “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of gender, be excluded from participation, denied benefits, or discriminated against in any program or an educational activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Go here to find a collection of stories from our sister stations and Localish celebrating women and girls as we commemorate 50 years of Title IX and the push for gender equality. You can also learn about the history of the law.
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