Boathouse Sports Sets Sights on Redefining Performance Wear

“Performance wear” has taken on a new meaning and mission for Boathouse Sports, according to the brand. And for the U.S.-made premium outerwear and sports apparel company tasked with dressing the most fastidious customers of all — Olympians and athletes, that is — its current challenge revolves around entering a new phase of uncharted territory in a post-COVID-19 world.

Based in Philadelphia at the brand’s vertically integrated manufacturing facility, Boathouse Sports is well-known for its custom athletic outerwear and gear that combines mass customization and high-quality product to more than 500,000 teams and 10 million athletes as it has for more than two decades.

And here to navigate the path for Boathouse Sports is Cindy DiPietrantonio, the brand’s new president and chief executive officer, who brings 30 years of experience to the company. DiPietrantonio is the former president of Alex and Ani and Sheex Inc., and spent more than 25 years at The Jones Group, assuming several senior leadership roles, including chief operating officer. DiPietrantonio has also built and turned around underperforming businesses, driven profitable growth and created new ventures, making her well-suited to address challenges and shifting consumer demands the brand may face in the changing retail landscape.

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Here, DiPietrantonio talks to WWD about her vision for Boathouse Sports, creatively communicating the brand’s narrative, and emerging trends throughout COVID-19.

WWD: How is Boathouse Sports differentiated in the outerwear/outdoor market?

Cindy DiPietrantonio: [We are most differentiated by] quality. We are scrupulous and uncompromising in our standards of quality. If our clothing doesn’t meet those standards, we will not sell it. It’s why we have a long tradition of excellence and why we’re very protective and proud of our legacy.

Secondly, all of our products are designed, handcrafted, cut, sewn and produced here, at our vertically integrated factory, in the heart of Philadelphia. Many companies aspire to be American-made, but few are. We are proud to be made in the U.S. and we have been doing so for over three decades.

And lastly, Boathouse Sports has Olympic history in its DNA. Our founder, John Strotbeck, is a two-time Olympian. Our outerwear was developed and created to perform under the extreme conditions John remembers from his training days. Our focus has always been “performance” focusing on fabrics first and design with the goal of making the athletes’ daily journey better. He has lived and breathed athletics all his life, and the commitment and focus he brought to sports is the same that he brings to Boathouse handcrafted quality outerwear.

Cindy DiPietrantonio, president and chief executive officer of Boathouse Sports. 

WWD: How has Boathouse Sports fared during COVID-19? What are some the trends that emerged?

C.P.: During COVID-19, companies realized that they needed to be nimble and innovative. Boathouse was one of the early responders to the need for masks and gowns. Once Governor [Tom] Wolf shut down all “nonessential” businesses on March 19, John, our founder, realized the Boathouse team could pivot into the production of gowns, masks and two-ply gaiters for frontline health-care workers. John reached out to friends who are registered nurses in New Jersey and NYC to discuss possibilities. We identified materials sitting unused inside hospitals that could be repurposed into masks.

On March 24, we went to two local hospitals and got some of these materials. The next days we presented hospitals with prototypes. The following day, Thursday, we were approved and got our first order for 31,000 masks for doctors and nurses. Shortly afterward we started making surgical gowns for FEMA. We worked quickly to make our working space safe, well-ventilated and well-filtrated. We brought on a nurse to monitor our employees’ health and administered regular temperature testing. It’s been amazing to see the whole company unite under a single mission and rise to the occasion. We’ve been able to do a lot of good and “performance wear” has taken on a whole new meaning and mission.

WWD: Would you share how you envision leading Boathouse Sports into its next stage? Will technology play a role?

C.P.: My passion for sports and fitness led me to Boathouse Sports, its mission and purpose-driven brand identity. People have an emotional connection to this company and everyone has a story about their first Boathouse jacket. Former Olympians and athletes in most sports nostalgically share with me stories of cold, early-morning workouts wearing Boathouse gear. I’ve also heard stories of tough competitions with teammates and memories they would do anything to relive. It’s extremely powerful. One of my priorities is to amplify those stories, find creative ways to channel and share that emotional connection, and to create a community around the people who love and support the brand.

Another priority is to highlight all of the good that goes on behind the scenes here at Boathouse. We have been a fully made-in-the-U.S. company since our inception. We employ hundreds of workers in our local community and are committed to them 100 percent. When you support Boathouse Sports, you’re also supporting a local community, and all of that has come from John. He has never wavered in his integrity as he’s grown this company.

Technology plays a role in all our decisions as we move forward. We continually look for ways to integrate innovation into our products and processes as we amplify our brand purpose and mission, especially in our custom apparel. Technology has always been prominent at Boathouse, in part because John is always looking for a better way because it’s necessary in order to succeed. Boathouse adopted Lean Enterprise Early on, which has allowed us to mass-customize for 30-plus years and deliver bespoke product quickly to the customer.

WWD: Are there plans to grow the brand’s customization business? How has customization evolved over the years, and how big of a role does it play for Boathouse Sports?

C.P.: Yes, absolutely. Customization and personalization have been a trend for some time now, and it shows no sign of slowing down. At Boathouse Sports, we have always customized team sportswear and apparel. Over the last two decades, we have delivered quality custom apparel to more than 500,000 teams and 10 million athletes. We will continue to look for ways to enhance, streamline and improve our customer experience.

WWD: What’s next for Boathouse Sports?

C.P.: We want to be the elite premium brand of outerwear for all athletes — from weekend to amateur to Olympians. We want them to feel powerful and confident, and to support our community and country by producing quality apparel here in the U.S.

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