It was 2006, and Lacie Whyte loved to run, but during the Grandma's Marathon in Minnesota that year, she was hurting. The Chicago executive recruiter had agreed to run with her dad's younger brother during a family visit. She found out her uncle was fast...really fast. After three consecutive 7:30 minute miles in 100% humidity, Whyte recalls, "I looked at my watch and I thought, what am I doing?"
She was in pain. She had no choice but to slow her pace down, letting her uncle run ahead. "Whatever a runner can do to take their mind off the pain of the race," she says, "is what I was doing." And so oddly enough, she focused on what people were wearing. Up until now, she had never noticed the boxy, dull-colored cotton worn by other runners. "There was nothing really fun about the apparel," Whyte says. She finished the race and headed home to Chicago inspired: functional and fashionable running gear for women.
Whyte did not always love to run. Back in high school, she dreaded her basketball team's annual timed mile test as most high-schoolers do in sports. And in a weird twist, Whyte's love with running did not happen until she was recovering from a knee injury just before college. Her love for the sport came from what it did for her when she ran. "It really clears my head," she says. "If I don't go for a run for one or two days, I can just tell the difference. No one's throwing your schedule at you, no phone calls or email...It's just my time. I think I'm a better parent, spouse, and businessperson for it."
Whyte turned her passion for running and her mid-race inspiration into Swirlgear, a designer women's running apparel. She uses moisture-wicking fabric, flattering cuts and spray-dyed colors that inspired its name. "Looking back, I realize made so many mistakes," she says. "But through that process, I learned the business forward to back. Tariffs, overseas shipping, working with our manufacturer, learning about the whole process of design and choosing fabrics. It was a long journey and at times I felt that it was a David and Goliath type feat of getting the brand off the ground. Luckily, with hard work and sheer passion we made it happen." Today, that inspiration has turned Swirlgear into a growing company, with its apparel in thirty independent running stores across the country.
Part of what Whyte enjoys most about her job is traveling to races nationwide and meeting other fellow women runners. "Women open up to you," she says. "They say, I'm nervous about this race, or I have a stress fracture I'm coming back from, or sometimes it's really difficult to get out to train when I'm taking my kids everywhere." As a mother herself, Whyte can relate, "I'm in the same boat. Trying to balance family, crazy schedules and career, and also get my run in."
Whyte also knows that no matter how busy they are, women care about how they present themselves. "I don't have the time to look perfect," she says. "I love the fact that I can throw on our cute running shirt, some running capris, and my favorite running shoes and feel better knowing I'm put together." She designs Swirlgear for women's everyday lives as well as their workouts. "It's cut so they're comfortable, and the coverage is enough so they can take it from work to a run, back to work, pick up the kids, or wherever their day takes them. We all have to juggle many things in our lives and make sacrifices, but at least you can now wear something comfortable and cute while doing it."
With her busy schedule of raising a young daughter, being a wife to a Chicago police officer, and a growing business, Whyte still always makes time to do what inspired her in the first place, run. On most days, you will find her on her favorite route in Chicago: from Soldier Field up to the Navy Pier along Chicago's lakefront. "The coolest thing for me," she says, "is when I happen to spot someone in our gear." Knowing the value of an undisturbed run, Whyte doesn't interrupt her customers. The most she'll say? "Hey, cute shirt."
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