She's the athlete who treats the track like a red carpet. US 800m runner Maggie Vessey talks to SPIKES about her journey of self-discovery through fashion.
Don’t mistake her flamboyance for pomp. Maggie Vessey’s unique style was born out of heartbreak after she was dropped by her previous sponsor.
"People have asked me about my track uniforms and I guess it all started when my relationship with a previous sponsor ended last year," she says.
"They had been very supportive of me, and it was hard to take. I cried briefly, but came to the realisation that there is no point in being sad about it."
The loss of her sponsor came after an injury-hit 2013. But rather than be defeated, Vessey flipped her misfortune on its head and made a fresh start.
"I knew I wasn’t done with the sport," she says defiantly. "Without a sponsor I had the freedom to explore something different. Fashion for me was a natural way to do that.
"I’ve always been someone who has been very conscious of fashion. I'm someone who could be described as a flashy dresser. I’ve always liked to express myself, so I thought: ‘how can I translate that interest in fashion into my life on the track?’"
"I'm someone who could be described as a flashy dresser"
A conversation with a fashion stylist friend resulted in Vessey, a native Californian, hooking up with LA-based fashion designer Merlin Castell. Together they began turning Vessey’s vision in to reality.
"My designs are inspired by the world around me," she says. "I'm really open and curious about everything. I give the colour combinations and shapes some thought and then sketch out the design and colours.
"Next I have a meeting with Merlin and he offers his design input on what is going to work from a construction point of view. Then we’ll discuss the hardware of the design before I make the final choice.
"He then brings along a final sample and I try it on. We'll then work on a few things before creating the final product. The whole process might only take five days from beginning to end."
Rocking the Miami look at this year's US champs in Sacramento
One of Vessey’s most talked about designs is the blue and yellow number – complete with sunglasses – that she wore at the US nationals.
"In terms of the design, I'd seen something really similar in a dress," she says. "The sunglasses were because it was a really sunny day and I wanted to cut down on the glare. I wanted that cool, Miami look."
A this year's Prefontaine Classic, Vessey finished second in her 800m event. And aside from her performance, her outfit that day also got people talking.
"I've always been fascinated by Native American history and I really wanted to do a navajo print outfit," she says.
"I also wanted the red, white and blue look, but wanted a way of incorporating the two away from the obvious and that is why I went for the long sleeves. I also knew as I was competing in Oregon at night I could be quite cold!”
A sensible choice for a cold night in TrackTown
Fashion conscious AND practical: that’s the sort of apparel SPIKES is all about. And we’re not the only ones; Vessey has had great praise for her designs and the positive impact they have had on the sport she loves.
"People have been incredibly positive towards my outfits," she says. "Some have thanked me for helping raise the profile of the sport, which is so touching and means everything to me.
"The whole process feels like a personal expression. Hopefully it has helped inspire others to discover their purpose. I would encourage that discovery for anyone whether it is in fashion or another field."