Kristin Mayer is the chief Betty of Betty Designs – ‘Betty’ being slang for a good looking woman, a hot chick. Betty is also a triathlete’s or a cyclist’s nickname for the flashy race kits offered by sportswear designer Mayer’s Betty Designs established in 2010 and run as an online store from her Encinitas, California base.
Mayer, who was a star on a Massachusetts Little League boys’ baseball team in her teens, an alpine ski racer while in college at the University of Southern California, and a regular presence in age group podiums in triathlon since 1995, applies her well trained designer’s eye for the striking look and her experience as an athlete for the very best fit and function for the 21st century woman attracted to swim-bike-run events.
Since starting as a freelance graphic designer in the endurance sports industry in 1996, she has worked for an impressive number of media and consumer companies in logo design, advertising, magazine design, catalogs, corporate branding campaigns, and especially some very flashy sportswear. Clients and partner companies have included Her Sports + Fitness Magazine, Triathlete Magazine, Kestrel, K-Swiss, Zoot Sports, AVIA, and Zipp.
Some of her highlights include designing the race kits for Lori Bowden and Michellie Jones during some Kona-winning seasons. Since 2010, she has kept up with surfing and triathlon but her most passionate devotion is directed to raising her 10-year-old son Gavyn.
Slowtwitch: Growing up in Boston, what sports did you take part in?
My parents threw me into sports at a young age. I was snow skiing & waterskiing at age 6. Then as I grew older, I played soccer, baseball and tennis. I thought softball was too girly and wanted to play with the boys. From age 10 to 13, I played in the boys Little League and I was one of two girls who took our team to the local World Series. Getting into high school, I found it wasn’t so cool to play on the boy’s team any more and stuck to soccer and tennis.
ST: What sports were you good at?
Kristin: Growing up I would say that I became solid in both tennis and downhill skiing. They seemed to be the two that I enjoyed the most.
ST: What athletes did you admire?
Kristin: I loved watching baseball so Johnny Bench, Fred Lynn, Nolan Ryan, Pete Rose.
ST: Are you a Red Sox fan?
Kristin: I sure was growing up. I would go to games at Fenway Park with my Dad. The most memorable was the 1975 World Series 6th Game between the Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds. It went into extra innings and I sat in the stands with my Dad with my glove on hoping to catch a ball.
ST: Growing up in Boston, were you a fan of the Boston Marathon?
Kristin: We grew up in a small town outside of Boston and honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to either running or the marathon. I was actually not a fan of running at all until my mid-20s.
ST: Growing up, did you draw or paint or sketch? If so what were your favorite subjects?
Kristin: I was drawing & painting as far back as I can remember. I made homemade cards and projects for gifts all the time and loved spending time drawing. In school I always loved both art and math. Interesting combo, isn’t it?
ST: Why did you choose USC?
Kristin: I actually applied a little bit as a joke. Growing up on the East Coast I had a fascination with California from the movies and television. When I met with my guidance counselor to choose which schools to apply to, they asked if there were any states I would be interested in attending college in. Cali was it. They had a decent Fine Arts program and I applied to USC as my backup school.
ST: What things did living in Southern California and going to USC open up to you? What did you love about Southern California?
Kristin: Well, at first it was a bit of a shock. I came from a very small town and was so intimidated at first by how beautiful everyone and everything was. I fell in love with the palm trees, beach and weather. The cleaner lines of the architecture and bright colors appealed to me.
ST: You studied Fine Arts at USC – what courses inspired you? What artists did you encounter in your courses inspired you?
Kristin: Honestly the Fine Arts program was a bit boring for me. I can’t stand Art History and was always trying to turn my projects into something commercial. It wasn’t very well received. For sophomore sculpture we were given a 4’ x 6’ piece of plywood and asked to make something. Everyone in the class did an abstract sculpture that looked like a pile of trash while I decided to do a billboard for Calvin Klein underwear. Pretty sure I got a C on that one. The school was more about digging into your psyche as opposed to creating for the commercial world. My piece caused an uproar in the school courtyard.
ST: While studying art history, did you take courses in painting, drawing, sculpture or graphic design?
Kristin: They did not have a graphic design focus at all. I did all the traditional drawing, painting, clay sculpture, woodwork and welding. I spent the first year sketching and painting nudes in every medium available.
ST: When did you start to design with computers? What about the control of computer design drew you in – as opposed to sketching, painting and drawing by hand?
Kristin: At USC computers were not available to us. Once I graduated, I got exposed to them a little bit with my job at LA Gear drawing footwear, but I eventually went back to school when I moved to San Diego specifically to learn the Mac. I attended Platt College and learned how to use all the software for graphic design.
ST: While at USC, what sports did you engage in? What were you good at?
Kristin: At USC, I did not play competitive sports. I always wanted to stay in shape and that time it was the aerobics boom. I went to hard core aerobics classes 7 days a week. I also skied on the Alpine ski team. Being in Southern California didn’t give us a lot of time on the snow, but it allowed me to do some racing that I had loved as a kid.
ST: I imagine your interest in designing sportswear came gradually. How did action sportswear pique your interest?
Kristin: My career started designing footwear for LA Gear. I was fortunate enough to intern there during my last semester of school and then they hired me in the ad department full time. About 6 months later, I transferred to the Footwear Design Division. We drew all the footwear by hand. My experience at LA Gear exposed me to trends in the sports industry. We had to keep up-to-date with relevant colors, etc.
ST: Did you get interested in sportswear partly because you – as an active athlete in various sports - became aware of what was lacking at the time?
Kristin: That is for sure. While working at LA Gear I started running, then met a few guys who got me into triathlon. When I started racing there wasn’t really much in the way of clothing. We raced in swimsuits!
ST: What aspects of running wear and tri-wear specifically for women did you see as needing more comfort, fit and function improvement?
Kristin: As the trends of tri clothing evolved, women started wearing tri suits and tri shorts. I kept racing in my bikini because I felt like I looked so masculine in the tri suits and tri shorts. When they first came out, the inseam on the shorts was much too long and that was unflattering. Also, clothing only came in solid colors and in general they were just not very feminine.
ST: What are the key differences between swim suits designed specifically for swimmers and swimwear designed for triathletes?
Kristin: The swimsuits are pretty similar. You want less drag so one pieces in non-wetsuit swims are best. When training you can wear anything.
ST: On the other side of the coin, what inspired you in the sportswear at the time – late 1980s early 1990s? Not sure of the year, but perhaps the incorporation of superheroes like Spiderman in skiing outfits? Skulls and fire in motocross racing and skateboarding outfits?
Kristin: I really didn’t start designing for triathletes until the mid-to-late 90s. Some of the female pros were looking to make their race kits more feminine. Sublimation was just starting to happen in apparel, but it was hard to come by and quite expensive. The only sportswear that really stood out to me were the downhill suits in alpine ski racing. They always had bold colors and.
ST: When did you start surfing? Where were your favorite surf spots? What modes in in surfing wear inspired you?
I decided to take a Surf Diva surf class back in the winter of 2000. I have a fear of surf, but the lifestyle, boards, swimsuit and wetsuit styles appealed to me and I wanted to give it a try. I’m still not really a “surfer.” I play in the whitewater. I can stand up but rarely paddle out and if I do I chicken out to catch a real wave.
ST: Why do you call your fear of big surf irrational? Where does your fear of big surf stem from?
Kristin: I call it irrational because I never had a bad experience in the water. I grew up spending summers on a lake and I am a competent swimmer and know how to navigate going in and out of the surf. But something about a wave coming toward me just paralyzes me and makes my heart rate skyrocket. I’m always afraid of being held under too long and drowning.
ST: It seems as if you place an importance on overcoming your fears – and finding it linked with your love of beauty - as witnessed by your skull and butterfly logo. Why are they linked?
Kristin: Doing things that scare me and facing my fears makes me feel alive and helps me to push myself to new levels. I think that in order to continue to improve you have to overcome fear and obstacles to have more confidence. My logo stems more from the fact that women can be both strong and beautiful. Just because we push ourselves and get dirty, we are still feminine. I love it when a world class athlete kicks butt in competition then can clean up and look like a lady.
ST: I have been a fan of the early and later designs from Zoot. I know your involvement with Zoot has not been a major one in your career, but I was curious to hear what you think of their history. Zoot athletic wear started in 1983 with Christal Nylin, who lived in Kona. She noticed that Ironman athletes needed something more functional to race in and began sewing pads into run shorts, experimenting with fabrics, attaching run singlets to bike shorts and created two-piece race suits. She also established Zoot’s look - distinctive flower patterns as well as brightly colored Lycra fabrics. What do you think of Christal’s original design impulses?
Kristin: Christal was definitely ahead of her time. She took the concept of making a functional garment and paired with graphics inspired from Hawaii. She brought a bit of that surf culture into triathlon. She also saw that there was a need in the market and went after filling a void. The reason I launched Betty Designs was to create something different than what was out in the market. I wanted to bring bright, bold, fun graphics into triathlon and cycling.
ST: I see in your blog that one of the Vogue France covers inspired you. Looking at the typography, I notice the fancy, rounded typefaces as well as the way they are mixed with photos is also favored by Vanity Fair. When you were designing at Triathlete, what if anything from Vogue did you incorporate?
Kristin: Triathlete was predominantly for a male market. The only opportunity to bring in touches of fashion and flair were in the Swimsuit Issue or if we did a feature profile story on a female athlete. Publication design has always been a passion of mine and I would say that I used more influence from Vogue during my time spent at Her Sports + Fitness. I love combining clean, sporty fonts with more feminine typography.
ST: In your first design job at LA Gear, how important was the wide variety of tasks and freedom you had to develop your design skills?
Kristin: It was very important. As a footwear designer we got creative briefs from the marketing team before we started designing each season. We studied trends, shopped abroad and in the inner city to develop mood boards for the season. From there we started designing. I was also fortunate enough to travel to Asia for product development so I got to see how the shoes were manufactured and meet with various textile companies.
ST: How hard is it to develop a “leading edge design concept” when there are millions of competitors in high fashion, sports and various women’s wear products?
Kristin: I don’t think of it that way. I evaluate what is in the market, think about what I would like to wear and if it’s missing, try to do it. I love designing to get a reaction. I don’t expect everyone to love my style and if someone hates it and won’t buy it, that is OK with me. I want to evoke a reaction. If someone is neutral about my designs then that says to me I haven’t pushed the envelope enough.
ST: What if anything is the coolest fashion that struck your fancy from long ago?
Kristin: My mom was super stylish. She could rock the 60’s go-go look. She wore all the simple graphic prints of the era. Hands down I have always loved Pucci. His use of color has always been beautiful. He also plays with geometrics and flowing lines, both which appeal to me.
ST: When did you start triathlon?
Kristin: Did my first spring race in the fall of 1994 and got completely hooked. I had no idea I could physically push myself in that way.
ST: What led you into triathlon?
Kristin: I was running and a couple of my guy friends suggested I give it a try. They helped me get a bike and encouraged me to swim. I guess you could say it was trying to play with the boys that got me again!
ST: I saw one of your finish line shots from a half Ironman with a time in the 4:40s. Very good! What are some of your PRs? What are your best competitive results in triathlon?
Kristin: Thanks. I don’t really keep track of my triathlon PRs. My goal is always to give 100% on the day and see where that puts me. I would say that my strength has been my consistency in age group triathlon results. I typically finish on the podium in my age group. My current goal is to hit a new PR at 45 years old in the marathon.
ST: With so many freelance clients, what led you to form your own online design company?
Kristin: It was a combination of things. My clients have always encouraged me, but it was a life change that made me take the leap. My husband and I split up in 2010 and I needed to earn some extra money. I didn’t want to miss out on raising my son Gavyn by taking a job outside of the home. I launched my online store with the goal to sell one item a day to make some extra cash.
ST: How important has your business degree been in making Betty Designs work?
Kristin: Specific skills not so much, but I minored in business because I always had a bit of an entrepreneurial mind. Even though I’m creative, I’m insanely organized which I think helps me to manage all the aspects of the business.
ST: Logos seem like a mystery to most of us – although the average person knows what they like. Logos must be simple but powerful – sort of like a haiku or a sonnet. What is the process of designing a successful logo?
Kristin: For me I chat with the client, then let it roll around in my head for a few days. I ask the client their likes, dislikes of what they’ve seen in the marketplace. I believe a logo has to be strong and simple enough to stand in black & white. I try to bring out the personality of the client when I work on the first round of comps. I also try to do give a variety of styles so I can get a feel for what resonates with them. At the end of the day, a logo is very personal to them.
ST: Tell us how you were called to design race kits for Lori Bowden and Michellie Jones. I have seen Michellie’s and Lori’s race kits from way back. What went into your choices for them?
Kristin: Back in 1996 I met Murphy Reinschreiber who was representing Lori Bowden, Paula Newby-Fraser, Heather Fuhr, Peter Reid and others. Lori and Heather wanted race kits/suits that were more feminine. Lori loved orange and yellow and Heather was pretty easygoing so we played with Hawaiian flowers. I had met Michellie a few years back. What I loved about her was she was the first one who really wanted to do a complete pro look from head-to-toe. Everything from her bike, to helmet, to race it matched perfectly. This happened to be a designer’s dream! She was great to work with because she always had ideas of what color combos she wanted to go with for every season. I was lucky enough to begin working with her in 2006, the year she won Ironman. It was pretty cool to see her come across that line in something I designed. Now she has her own team and I’ve been doing the design for that for the last few years.
ST: Wattie Ink [Sean Watkins’ company which represents Heather Jackson and Ben Hoffman among others] has a strong design identity. What do you bring to their race wear when you worked with them in 2012 [Wattie Ink has since done all their designs in house]?
Kristin: That was the great part about Wattie. When you are given a client with a clear identity, it makes the process much more fun. He and I chatted because he could see that I had an edgy side to my designs and he clearly wanted that for his brand. The basis for the Wattie Ink team design came from the different tattoos of Heather Jackson. I didn’t have the original art, so we did similar versions of them and I collaged them together to make a watermark in the background of the kits. The goal was to do a kit that from far away looked simple with a pop of bold color and then when you got up close you could see the details of the design.
ST: How many people are involved with you in Betty Designs?
Kristin: So far it’s just me in terms of paid employees. I am extremely fortunate to have some great mentors in the industry to whom I can turn for advice and to bounce ideas around. There has been one driving force who unconditionally believed in me since the day I launched my online store. He’s somewhat of a “freak” in terms of knowing how to launch a business and the little things that need to be done day-to-day to make it successful.
ST: How much has Betty Designs grown since you started?
Kristin: I had a modest goal of selling one item a day. In 2010 the store went up with just a handful of items. In 2011 I put together more of my first collection with three cycle kits, a couple of swimsuits and casual pieces. In 2012 I went for it and invested in more product and I have really begun to see a loyal following that grows day by day.
ST: You look as good as many top models. How much modeling did you do, do you do now?
Kristin: (blushing, big time) Thank you. I used to do some sports modeling here and there. The coolest experience was having the opportunity to model in Triathlete’s Annual Swimsuit Issue in 2003. The shoot took place 11 months after my son was born. Since then I’ve done a couple of things, but not much. It’s never been a focus.
ST: When you oversee a shoot, how do you guide athletes who may not have much modeling experience? How do you talk to them to evolve from awkward or exaggerated to natural and graceful poses?
Kristin: I have done a lot of this. Back in the days at Her Sports + Fitness we didn’t have big budgets to hire models from agencies so I would scout and pluck talent that I saw in the community or at the races. Typically, if an athlete has never modeled, the best thing to do is to get them in their element by having them perform their sport. This takes the pressure off having them stare into the camera and pose which can be very intimidating.
ST: What do you think of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? Do you try to get any of your designs in it?
Kristin: Usually I love the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. I buy it the day it comes out. I love looking at the suits, the jewelry, and the locations. This year I was a bit disappointed. I felt like the focus was much more on skin than showcasing suits. I guess the main audience is for men, but typically I find a handful of suits I’d like to purchase. This year there may have been one. I have never tried to get one of my suits in the issue, but with the introduction of the Brazilian bikini in metallic snakeskin or emerald maybe I have a shot?! (laughing) Do you have any connections? I always send Triathlete magazine a box of suits for consideration for their issue and this year was no different. I was fortunate to get one of my bikinis on the cover last June.
ST: How much do you design for men? What is different about the men’s look?
Kristin: I would say my men’s market is about 1-2% of sales. Men are typically a bit more conservative in terms of what they will wear on a bike or in a tri. I have sold mostly to younger men who love the bold graphics and colors. My best seller is a simple, black T that has my logo very small on the upper chest in a tonal color that is not obvious. I tell the guys they can wear this as their “date night T”. This year I’m going to cut the line back a bit on men’s and just end up keeping one cycle and maybe one tri kit for sale. In terms of my freelance business, I design for men and men’s teams all the time.
ST: Can you name some women athletes who are the best and most natural models?
Kristin: My favorites are Lindsey Vonn, Lolo Jones and Gabrielle Reece. All three of them possess a unique beauty and their bodies are perfectly honed to fit their sport. They also seem to have style when they need to step onto the red carpet.