Montclair Designer and Former Gymnast on Founding Activewear Brand

by Julia Valenti
Nancy Rose Performace

If there is one thing New Jersey’s Nancy Rose should be known for, it’s her versatility. While Rose was growing up, she dreamed of flipping her way to Olympic glory. However, when a shoulder injury effectively ended her elite gymnast career, she didn’t throw in the towel. Instead, she immediately transitioned from one passion to the next, drawing on her childhood years spent in the garment industry for inspiration. After receiving a fashion degree from Parsons with little time to waste, she was already well on her way to beginning her future company, Nancy Rose Performance 

Recognizing a void in the activewear industry, Nancy Rose set out to bring style and femininity to the male-centric fitness world. No stranger to the hustle and bustle of daily life, Rose aimed to create a clothing line that could comfortably shift from one environment to the next. In doing so, she hoped to empower women in all that they achieve. Made from only the best high-performance materials with an emphasis on New York street style, Rose applies her gymnast perfectionism to every item she creates. 

Now in their twelfth year, Nancy Rose Performance is still making waves, proving the brand’s message that there is no obstacle they can’t overcome. The athleisure company has additionally become a staple and active participant in the Montclair community, where they relocated in recent years. I spoke with the eponymous founder to learn more about her vision, design process, plans for the future, and more.

How did the idea for Nancy Rose Performance come about? What was the inspiration?

My start in fashion began at a really young age. My family had a denim business, so growing up I was always around fabric swatches, garment samples, wash panels, dress forms and tape measures. After graduating from Penn State and Parsons, I launched my fashion career designing special occasion dresses. Creating gowns that made women look and feel beautiful was really fun and I learned so much about fit and fabrics. But most women only get to wear a gown once or twice a year, if they’re lucky, and so I started thinking, “What would give every woman the chance to feel confident and unique every day?” 

Having spent a good part of my life in the gym training, I recognized there was an absence of feminine, fashionable, high-quality activewear. Selfishly, I wanted pieces that could transition from day to night and everything in between, so I set out to create an activewear line that could look good and withstand whatever the day throws at you. My goal was to design distinctive, high-quality pieces with a superior fit that will last. 

To do that, I took the design and construction concepts that I would use to create dresses and applied them to activewear.  I wanted everything we created to feel like designer clothing. Our customers say that our pants feel like they’re made for them. Of course, we don’t make custom garments, but we put a lot of time into ensuring our pieces fit and mold to the body in the most flattering way possible; each piece features thoughtful and innovative styling details to give a woman a bit of lift (exactly where they need it).

Nancy Rose Performance

MicroLux and PowerLux leggings from Nancy Rose Performance l Image Courtesy of Nancy Rose Performance

As a former elite gymnast, how would you say your Olympic training prepared you for your transition to working in fashion? 

Training as an elite gymnast was tough, but it taught me so much and it’s crazy how much it has helped in the fashion industry. With gymnastics, you see something, and it looks effortless, but when you give it a try, you quickly realize it is much harder than it looks. It takes a lot of practice, and you are going to fall a lot before you nail it. 

With fashion, and designing high-quality activewear and denim, it looks like it should be easy, but it takes a lot of fabric testing, pattern changes and careful stitching to make it all come together. And in the face of the pandemic, even more than ever, gymnastics reminded me that even when you think you’ve nailed it, you will be challenged every step of the way. Through years of training, I learned to stay positive and focused so that I could continue to push through to the end.

What is your goal in creating activewear?

As a former gymnast, I know how important technical performance is in activewear. When your gear is not right, it’s distracting and impedes performance. Because of my experiences, quality is the most important thing for us. I don’t care how beautifully designed a piece is, if we can’t get it to perform well in our rigorous testing, we drop it. Part of that process is wear-testing each piece to ensure it lives up to my incredibly high standards. Plus, we have a team individually measuring and inspecting each garment before packaging.  The fabrics feature our trademarked compression component designed to make you feel slim, trimmed and toned—even before you get to the gym!

And beyond the fit and feel of our fabrics, we invest in innovations that can protect against, odor, sun exposure, moisture and more. Many of our fabrics are antibacterial so they protect from germs that lurk in the gym; have moisture-wicking properties to keep bodies cool and dry; and with a high UPF rating, even offer powerful sun protection.

Can you tell me a bit more about the technical fabrics that you use and have created?

We have created our signature PowerLux®, a high compression fabric made of Nylon and Lycra technically designed to define, contour and shape. Advanced performance fibers deliver anti-microbial properties, moisture management, and a high UPF rating. PowerLux’s therapeutic grade compression not only lifts, tones and tucks but yields maximum performance from the barre to the bar. PowerLux gives you the freedom to jump higher, run faster, lift heavier, and kick more ass. Once you experience it, every other performance fabric will feel like a third-rate imitation of the real thing.

IndoLux Denim is our ultimate stretch denim that has the comfort of leggings but feels like jeans. With enhanced elasticity, it offers ultimate stretch, recovery and shape retention for maximum mobility and versatility. Through its technical design, the comfortable compression also defines, slenderizes and shapes. Advanced performance fibers deliver a softer, smooth hand-feel. 

We use Pima Cotton in all our tops. The cotton grown in the coastal regions of northern Peru is simply softer, silkier and more durable. Harvested exclusively by hand, Peruvian Pima cotton is among the finest in the world, prized for its sustainable growing and harvesting practices. It also happens to take dyes better than typical cotton resulting in rich, vibrant colors.

Our newest innovation in our Pima is adding Smartcel® fiber to the blend. Smartcel® fiber promotes skin vitality and wellness, protects against germs and bacteria, anti-odor, UV resistant, sustainable and biodegradable.

Photo of models

Fashion meets function l Image Courtesy of Nancy Rose Performance

Since launching in 2012, how has your business evolved?

It’s wild to think about how much we have evolved, and how the industry has changed over the last nine years. For starters, when we started creating performance activewear, there were very few players. Women’s gear was just men’s styles re-sized. Very few brands considered how a woman worked out, her specific needs and how she wanted to look while doing it. Bringing the detail and femininity of dressing up to comfortable, versatile activewear was one of our first missions. And just as boutique fitness was coming to life, so too were our looks that fit that lifestyle. 

Over time, more and more players became aware of this booming industry and there is much more competition. Today you can find activewear and athleisure from luxury designer brands that cost thousands of dollars, or you can ‘add to cart’ random, pop-up, social sellers, marketing disposable fashion under $10. The range is significant, and with social selling, we are all subjected to a great filter and the science of algorithms, but it’s really hard to tell the quality of a product while scrolling your feed. 

Another shift in our business was introducing denim in 2018. Similarly to noticing there was a need in women’s activewear when I’d switch from leggings to denim, I felt like something was missing. I loved denim, but my jeans did not move the way I did and while I liked pulling on a great pair of jeans, it usually was a relief to peel them off at the end of the day. I wanted to change that, so our team went to work fusing decades of denim knowledge with superior technical knowledge of soft, durable fabrics that stretch and we created IndoLux denim. Once most people try our jeans, they can’t wear anything else.

Did you endure any challenges during the pandemic?

Like every business, we faced our fair share of challenges. Fortunately, leggings and sweats stepped center stage with the world staying home. However, this introduced even more players because brands who focused on work or weekend wear shifted into athleisure to survive. Additionally, to ensure the safety of our workers, we followed various shutdown regulations and remote working, while also contending with other operational challenges a worldwide pandemic can cause. To our credit, we were already set up to function successfully as an e-commerce business and had a comfort in mind for our consumers.

Photo of model

Model in tree pose wearing the Cosmic Pant l Photo courtesy of Nancy Rose Performance

What has it been like working with the Montclair, New Jersey community?  

In short, it’s been amazing! Like many New Yorkers, our family agonized over leaving the city. We loved everything about living in NYC. But, with three boys under four years old, we were busting out and something had to give. Montclair was an easy choice for us once we decided to make the move. With its short commute, vibrant cultural scene and artistic vibe, we never even considered another town to call home. 

At first, like so many in the community, I’d grab my latte and ride NJ Transit to my design studio and showroom from the Garment District in Midtown Manhattan. But, as more and more business became virtual and technology enabled us to work anywhere, relocating my office to the center of Upper Montclair became an easy choice. It gave me the opportunity to be closer to my family and devote more energy to my business. I also enjoyed being able to become more deeply embedded in the community and enjoying the commerce and community of Montclair every day.  

As a brand, we are proud to be part of our community and always looking for ways to contribute, support and give back to our local community. This is part of Nancy Rose Performance’s DNA and we have a long history of supporting various organizations that inspire confidence, strength and courage. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was important to us to raise funds for our local Human Needs Pantry. And more recently, we kicked off a partnership with Covenant House to donate a pair of leggings for every pair sold on our website in celebration of Women’s History Month.

What are your goals for Nancy Rose Performance in the future?

Like so many at the start of 2020, we had claimed some significant goals for ourselves. The pandemic may have shifted our perspective and changed our timeline, but not our vision. Nancy Rose Performance wants to continue to stand for excellence in all that we do. That means aligning ourselves with organizations that support women’s issues like World Without Exploitation, Covenant House and Connected Warriors. It also means continuing to lock arms with our factory team to explore and produce garments in sustainable, eco-friendly means, optimizing recycling practices and reducing waste in the fashion industry. We are also always looking for natural extensions of our brand and creating items that serve and service our community. It was why we began producing denim a few years ago, and why you can be sure we will develop into other areas.

Interested in learning more about Nancy Rose Performance? Make sure to check out their Instagram and website.

Main image of founder Nancy Rose

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