Jen Leonard and Kate Malo’s love of the world’s most iconic characters bloomed into an athleisure apparel brand that has brought people together through their mutual affinities for treats, Disney and most of all — running. Together, Jen and Kate help people celebrate their favorite stories, characters and their unique style through fun designs.
When and why did you get started with Raw Threads?
JL: I just got into running a few years before I started Raw Threads. Running used to be a punishment for me in playing volleyball in college, but when I started running races, it gave me a whole new perspective on the sport. As I got better at it, I wanted to show off my accomplishments, especially after my first marathon, but I was so disappointed with the running apparel available. So I set out to find a great fabric and create more inspiring designs. This led to our first design, Race You to the Castle.
KM: I started working for Raw Threads in March 2014. I actually was a customer before I started working here! I bought my first Raw Threads shirt at the Expedition Everest Challenge Health and Fitness Expo in 2013! It was the Polka Dot Bow Heather Gray Equilibrium Tank and after that, I was hooked. After I bought my first shirt, I had to buy a new Raw Threads shirt for each RunDisney race that I was running. I always looked forward to visiting the booth at the expo. I even did expo pick-up after using a Raw Threads gift card that I got for Christmas the January before I started working here!
How often do you run?
JL: I’m dealing with a severe tendon issue now, so walking is my current cardio. I hope to get back to running this summer and run the Fanatic Series with Kate this fall at Track Shack.
KM: Lately I have only been running once or twice a week, but I am hoping to get back on a regular training schedule this summer to prepare to run the Track Shack Fanatic Race Series again! I love to run in the evenings after I get home from work. It is how I like to unwind after a busy day at the office.
What's your advice to someone who's beginning to run for the first time?
JL: Figure out what works for you and go with it, regardless of what others are doing. I started long distance running using the Jeff Galloway method, and it has always worked for me until this day. I don't beat myself over not running the entire race. I am just grateful to be active. Our clothes are meant to inspire you to be active.
KM: My advice is to pick a 5k in the future that you want to do and sign up as a way to start moving. That is one of the reasons that I love running the Track Shack Fanatic Series here in Orlando — there is a race every month from August to March and it gives me a reason to train.
How would you describe the Raw Threads community?
JL: Inspiring and very supportive of each other. They are also very loyal to our small business, and we are so humbled by it. Our customers drive our business, and this inspired us to create a Club, a membership-based community that offers benefits to our fans and also creates an environment in which they can encourage each other and create friendships.
KM: I would describe our Raw Threads community as very passionate, supportive and loyal.
How have you seen your passion support the Raw Threads community’s passion?
JL: I love seeing the reactions to each shirt. That is the best part of my job. When I read the reviews on our website, I get so emotional, because I get to hear what each shirt meant to them.
KM: One of my favorite things is talking to customers at expos about if they have bought from us before and asking them about what their first shirts were. There are many people who bought from Jen and Terry when they started Raw Threads and still come see us at every expo. We love seeing our customers at races and at finish lines while celebrating their accomplishments.
What's your favorite design?
JL: That is really hard, cause I feel like I have a special story for each one. For some of the original designs, the Skullandia pirates are my favorite. I love pirates, and these just make me smile. For our newest collections, I am very partial to Mary Poppins. She has always been one of my favorite characters. I was so excited about the new movie, and our new line reflects that love.
KM: One of my favorite designs has to be Polka Dot Bow since that was my first purchase, but my current favorite design is Be Strong and Fearless. It is such a good mantra that can apply to any aspect of your life, not just running and working out. I love the design on our Nola tank. That is also my current favorite garment style!! If you have seen me lately, I have probably found a way to tell you how much I love the Nola tank!
What's something we don't know about you?
JL: I originally went to school to do alternative medicine for horses but changed to graphic design sophomore year, quite the 360 degrees. It wasn't until Kate had been here for a while that we realized we BOTH played volleyball in college.
KM: I played outside hitter for the Midwest State University volleyball team in Wichita Falls, Texas, from 2002-2006! Back then I used to not like running at all, as it was always used as a punishment, and having to run a timed mile was always a day that I dreaded! But once I moved to Orlando I was looking for something competitive to do, and after hearing about RunDisney, I did a few different RunDisney races! My first half marathon was the Walt Disney World Half Marathon in 2013 and after that, I was hooked on that distance. I have now run 36 half marathons!
Do you wear Raw Threads every day?
JL: Of course! Once you wear bamboo, it is hard to wear anything else. It is 90% of my closet. :-)
KM: I do wear Raw Threads every day! I, of course, wear it to the office every day and when working out, but I also wear it on the weekends. Even if it is not a printed shirt, you can always find me with the Black Balance Cardigan tied around my waist or in my backpack when I am at the parks!
Why do you do what you do?
JL: I love to express myself by designing graphic tees that tell a story or are a source of inspiration. At the beginning, I designed what I wanted to wear. Now I use my customers as inspiration. I want to help them reach their goals and have fun along the way.
KM: I do what I do because of our amazing customers and community. I am always so overwhelmed by people's kind and encouraging words in person, in e-mails and in notes in their orders or returns. It is hard to describe the feeling of happiness I get when I see people in our shirts before the races walking to their corrals and on the race course. Our shirts give people a way to connect with their favorite characters and messages, and I know that they have chosen that design for a reason and it means something to them. I have also made so many lifelong friends because of Raw Threads. I look forward to every expo and event knowing that I get to connect and see so many friends.
Learn more about the Raw Threads mission, and keep up with Jen and Kate on their personal accounts, @katemalo and @jenrunsoncoffee.