When I say tutus, what’s the first thing you think of?
The obvious answer would be ballet costumes used in performances or classes.
What you probably didn’t think of, is that it is being worn as running costumewear, and is something of a trend among runners.
Yes, people do enjoy wearing brightly-coloured tutus flapping wildly as you make your way to the finish line.
I’m not sure when this trend started but Lily Sim first stumbled upon their existence in a run she participated in.
“My first exposure to running costumes was during the 2014 Malaysia Women’s Marathon. I took photos of runners dressed in tutus and it was the first time I’ve seen them dressed like that.”
Costumewear at runs definitely wasn’t something Malaysians were accustomed to just yet, so it was no surprise that the runners had sourced theirs overseas or made it themselves. But this offered Lily a realisation that there was a gap.
Summersault Activewear started as a online activewear brand in December 2014 to promote fashionable wear.
Sadly it wasn’t a very successful venture back then as there was a lack of trendsetters for it and was still fairly new.
In an attempt to build the culture, she attended running events to scout for the very few runners that were dressed fashionably enough for her to photograph and share.
Shortly after, the company had an opportunity to work with The Marathon Company on their Onesie Runsie Run. They were generous enough to provide a booth for Summersault during the race-kit collection where they had the opportunity to sell their own costumes.
They knew that runners would want something light and comfortable to run in and took advantage of that knowledge by providing short-sleeved onesies.
Sure enough, those proved to be a hit.
Summersault then changed their focus to running costumewear, though their mission remains the same: to inspire fitness among Malaysians with fun and fashionable activewear.
This can be seen on their online store with costumes such as The Flash, Batman, Green Lantern and Spiderman, to name a few.
Others include animal onesies and statement shirts.
The superhero costumes consist of a cape, mask and… (take a wild guess) a tutu, which is colour-coordinated according to the theme of the costume. So, if I bought a Captain America costume set, then the tutu would be blue to match the overall scheme of it.
They do sell the costume parts individually, though, so if you’re not ready to go out boldly running in a brightly coloured superhero costumes, have no fear—you may just don a mask. Or cat tails, as they have those too.
The unconventional combination may surprise you, but the tutus are the best-sellers in their deliveries.
An experienced runner herself, Lily only sells costumes she knows she would wear to runs—lightweight, breathable, and climate-friendly.
For example, the superhero capes are made of polyester satin so that runners will not be hindered by the weight.
What originally began as a rarity at Malaysia’s Women Marathon has extended into a fun movement for runners and is something Summersault hopes to build into a cultural norm soon.
“Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to work with like-minded organisers and influential runner bloggers (like Missyblurkit) to make dressing up a norm for fun runs.”
“Runners are slowly learning to laugh at themselves by dressing up in the silliest costumes. The reason it caught on is because running costumes has the fun and social factor—runners usually get their friends to dress up with them, that in turn makes running a fun affair.”
What’s more, they even have their own runs to set the pace going for beginners and non-runners. They achieve this through a program they co-organise called the #YOLOpacers.
“Our focus is on building a community of aspiring runners which support each other. There are many running groups out there but what we’re trying to do differently is to target beginner runners as we find most of them are reluctant to join running groups out of the fear of being left behind or holding people back.”
RM10 is charged to cover operational costs and costume customisation. The race organisers then benefit from having these runners participate at their events.
Despite the hype, not everyone sees eye-to-eye on it as some race organisers do not align themselves with Summersault’s vision.
“We overcame this challenge by working with like-minded race organisers. These were the organisers who saw the value in encouraging their runners to dress up in a theme run. They didn’t settle with a t-shirt and medal but also wanted to provide a unique running experience to runners.”
They have sold approximately 1,300 costumes and intend to expand their product range soon by offering runners a wider range of costume selections.
If you’ve wondered how one could sustain themselves through such unusual means, the trick is that this is actually not their main source of income.
Lily herself holds a full-time job at an accounting firm. She mostly manages Summersault on weeknights and weekends to prevent clashes in schedule between both jobs.
“I try not to sacrifice one for the other because I feel my work reflects my character. So I try my best to make sure my full-time work responsibilities are met.”
Ironically, she admits that she sacrifices her “exercise time” to focus on Summersault’s activities. She even had to set aside catching up with friends and alone time, for her business.
According to her, the Malaysian mindset is still stuck in the “occasional exercise” stage. Because we work long hours and are reluctant to train alone, we usually put off exercise until we “feel like it”.
“So I really believe external environment is a very important factor—work-life balance, supportive community, and a conducive environment to exercise. We are heading towards that direction, and I would say these are pretty exciting times to grow in.”
Feature Image Credit: Summersault