Fusing Fashion & Sport

Linda Hipp didn’t like the outfits she had to wear when playing golf, so she designed her own. Now, through LIJA, she is helping women to “play beautifully.”

“I don’t put much thought into being a female CEO. I’m used to being around other women who run businesses. Regardless of being a man or a woman, everyone’s got opportunities these days, and if you have a passion, just follow it and you’ll be successful.” —Linda Hipp

Linda Hipp comes from a family of golfers and took up the sport herself at age 25. But as she was dressing for the course, she found the apparel at her disposal conservative and limiting. Through research, she discovered that young women were the fastest-growing demographic taking up the sport, yet the clothing lines catered to older women. “That’s when the idea hit me,” she says. “I thought there must be thousands of young women like me who want their golf fashion to cater to their sense of personal style. I had a marketing degree and some business experience, and I jumped into the fashion industry.”

She quit her job and worked out of a small home office, using the basement for warehousing. Her days were spent sketching rough design ideas. “Our colour stories set us apart, as well as the detail we put into the product,” she says. “We wanted to inspire women to play beautifully, and we pushed those boundaries by fusing fashion and sport.”

For her spring 1998 inaugural season, she started with 12 styles. A friend who distributed golf shoes gave Hipp a four-by-four-foot corner of his booth at an October 1997 Vancouver trade show, and she officially introduced Hyp Golf—a play on both her name and the market she was trying to attract.

“My first customer was Arrowsmith Golf and Country Club, on Vancouver Island,” she says. “They took a chance on me when most buyers want to see you grow for a few years first. I was so grateful to have them. Then others began to recognize the market shift and found that we had what they were looking for. That’s how sales grew.”

For the first two years, it was just Hipp and an office assistant working out of the house. Hipp functioned as a jill-of-all-trades, while the assistant handled sales and service. “Back then, I had a lot of energy,” she says. “I was so passionate about the business, and I was excited to learn every facet.”

By 2000, professionals began wearing Hyp Golf apparel on the LPGA tour, and that took the line to a whole new level of success.

For the spring 2005 season, Hipp wanted to change the name of the company to exemplify the growth of the brand. They chose LIJA, a play on the word “leisure.” “Although sales were growing, we found that people were misconstruing us as a junior line, and we felt it was deterring sales a bit,” Hipp recalls. “We also knew that we wanted to expand beyond golf and wanted to leave ourselves open, in case we decided to grow into other categories of active apparel. So all of that combined made the timing right for a name change.” Following the rebranding, LIJA was named one of Canada’s Fastest Growing Companies by Profit magazine, and has since been named five times.

In spring 2008, LIJA launched a leisure collection, and in spring 2009, its tennis and activewear collection. Activewear now makes up slightly more than half of sales.

Today, LIJA has 16 employees in its Richmond, British Columbia, office. North America is still the company’s biggest market, representing 80 percent of sales, but LIJA has branched out into the United Kingdom and six European Union markets, as well as Dubai and South Africa. The company does half of its manufacturing overseas and half in Vancouver.

And the accolades have continued. In summer 2010, the firm was chosen as an official provider of merchandise for the 2010 Open Championship in Scotland. In addition, Hipp has received recognition as a Business in Vancouver Top 40 Under 40 winner, one of Canada’s Top Women Entrepreneurs, and a prestigious APEX award. LIJA has been named one of British Columbia’s 50 Fastest Growing Companies twice by Business in Vancouver, and Canadian Company of the Year by SCOREGolf magazine twice. She is a member of the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs and works as a mentor with other women starting up in the fashion business.

“I really feel like we’re making an impact in the industry,” Hipp says. “We’ve changed the way women wear golf apparel, and I sense we’re starting to do the same in tennis and activewear. Other brands are starting to look to us, to see what we’re doing and what makes us a success. I’m really proud of that. LIJA inspires women to play beautifully. I had a meeting at a tennis club a few months ago and I saw women wearing our product. When I see women wearing LIJA, it’s my proudest and most satisfying moment.”  _a