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Clothing Company Seeks to Empower Female Athletes spotlight: Esther Wallace, FOUNDer of Playa society

By Mia Cathell | Oct. 4, 2019

For Esther Wallace, working full-time as a marketing director for MIT's Sports and Recreations Department—a job many aspire to be in—is just her day job. At night, she runs an international business in her basement.

Playa Society is a sportswear company with a message to empower female athletes and call awareness to the social issues women face in sports and in every industry, "one T-shirt at a time,' said Wallace, founder and designer.

A look inside the mind and heart of a do-it-yourself entrepreneur who plays solo.

Wallace spoke at HubWeek's fifth annual 2019 Fall Festival in the Seaport district on Oct. 3. During the "Pursuit Talks: Realizing Your Potential" session—her first formal speaking event—she touched upon how women are often underestimated whether on the basketball court or in the workplace.

Wallace talked about the social stigmas and lack of positive imagery in society that contribute to gender bias.

"Girls cannot become what they cannot see," said Wallace.

When Wallace was in graduate studies for marketing management, she wrote a thesis that profiled the media and advertisements behind women's sports. Then Wallace officially launched her company in January 2018.

The Female Athlete T-shirt notably remains a staple to the Playa Society brand, crossing out "Female" with a subtitle that reads "Judged by Achievements Not By Gender."

The company name plays on masculine stereotypes, Wallace said, as a subtle nod towards urban culture.

Wallace has converted her basement into an office, Playa Society's headquarters in Dorchester.

In her basement piled with over 500 t-shirts, Wallace wakes up at 4 a.m. to fulfill, fold, package, and ship orders before stuffing her compact Kia Soul for the hand-delivery. Milton's post office clerks know Wallace as well as any regular, she said.

Her fully functioning e-commerce website takes invoices domestically and globally, shipping overseas. Wallace's clientele surprisingly comes from California and Texas with a steady number from Australia.

"That's really special to realize how far reaching my designs are," said Wallace.

Most notably, Wallace said that she received an order for 300 T-shirts for an all-girls school in Connecticut last year. A student's mother then notified her friend in the Women's National Basketball Association office. Shortly after, Wallace received a call from retired WNBA player Jayne Appel-Marinelli to place an order.

Wallace said that Playa Society's message has universal appeal, and is not strictly worn by women. Once, a man from Sweden tweeted about her campaign, and she said that she was just appreciative of the support to raise awareness for gender equality.

Playa Society captures the female experience, calling attention to the lack of portrayal in celebrity culture, said Wallace.

Wallace said that her business relies primarily on spreading the word by mouth and social networks.

Multiple factors deter girls from playing sports and the discouraging environment can be intimidating for youth just starting out in their athletic careers, said Wallace. Be an advocate and invest in the community's youth, she advises.

"We must inspire the next generation to follow in our footsteps," said Wallace.
This is her story, "one version of the female narrative," said Wallace. "Build your brand."

As Wallace continues to encourage women everywhere with her athletic clothing as fashion forward as her message, she said that her one-person management team will need to keep with the growing business to sustain its expansion.

Nevertheless, Wallace said that the initiative exists and will always be aimed at building a community of strong women.

"Girls who play, become women who lead," said Wallace.

Mia Cathell is a student journalist in Boston University's JO304 Multimedia class #jo304.

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