The Kari Traa brand started with a single knit hat and has grown to support a community of female athletes across the world.
If you’ve never heard of Kari Traa, that’s probably because you live in North America. If you have heard of it, there’s a good chance you’re in Europe, where it’s one of the continent’s fastest-growing women’s activewear brands.
Or maybe you know the brand’s namesake — Norwegian Olympic mogul skier Kari Traa. So how did Traa go from skiing bumps to running an international business that’s been going strong for 18 years?
We sat down with her to learn how it all began.
Kari Traa: The Beginning
Kari Traa stood at the top of the starting gate at the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics in 2002 and took a deep breath. She flung herself down the course, blonde ponytail flying. With a score of 25.94, she won the gold. It was only the third year the Olympics even included the discipline.
“Back when I was competing, I was on a mixed team, and we always got unisex styles, so I was always cutting and sewing other stuff onto what I wore,” said Traa. She would even knit her own beanies and then sew on her sponsors’ labels. “My sponsors knew that, and they told me I could make it a business.”
In the summer of 2002, shortly after her Olympic win, Kari Tara founded the brand. “At that time, the sport industry was very masculine, so we decided to make the brand about female athletes to be different,” said Traa.
Her goal for the apparel was all about femininity, distinctiveness, and fun colors. Skiing is a tough sport, and as a woman, Traa wanted to succeed but also wanted to look and feel good. The brand started out making hats and T-shirts, and in 2005, Kari Traa released its first base layer.
Now, the brand has a collection of over 30 designs, from base layers to parkas and even winter shoes. Its motto, “by girls, for girls,” clearly spells out its market and goals. And with that, it’s grown to become the top-selling base layer in Scandinavia.
From Norway to the United States
In 2008, Kari Traa released the Rose design, inspired by a traditional Norwegian tapestry. It was a tapestry Traa’s mother kept at their family farmhouse up in the mountains outside Voss, Norway. When she launched the design, Traa thought it would be a successful trend that would eventually die.
It’s been 12 years, and the design is still its most popular. “I think that probably 90% of the women in Norway own the Rose pattern layer,” said Traa. A few more years went by, and after permeating the women’s apparel market in Norway and Europe, Kari Traa came to the United States.
“If I wouldn’t have been a mogul skier, this wouldn’t be a brand,” said Traa. “It’s how we got started.”
Watching and listening to Traa talk about the brand, you wouldn’t know she’s the most decorated female Olympic mogul skier of all time. She’s excited, bubbly, and proud. “It’s exciting going into a shop and seeing it, it’s exciting to see people wearing it,” Traa said. “It’s that same feeling I had when we first started.”
And to think it all started with a single hand-knit beanie.