Updated: May 3, 2022
In Georgetown, Texas, back in 2002, college student Rachel Cooke went for a jog during a winter break visit to her parents’ home just north of Austin. She was near the end of her regular four-mile run and was last seen just 200 yards from her family’s house. To this day nobody knows what happened after that, because Cooke was never seen or heard from again.
In another part of Texas just outside Dallas, avid runner Amy Robbins never really used to worry much about harassment or worse when she was out training, despite reports of female runners being victimized as Cooke surely was. “I saw that this was happening, but it never really got my attention,” she said. “The stories of women being attacked and murdered were always on the back page. I’d heard some stories but I always felt completely safe.”
Then one day she was out training for a marathon when something did happen to her. A pickup truck full of guys went past her, then turned around and returned. She had a few moments of terror, but she was more fortunate than many others. “I was lucky,” she said. “I was harassed and catcalled and followed, but nothing worse.” While physical attacks and murders of women runners are rare, they obviously do happen—there’s about one such murder per year on average. But disappearances and lesser attacks are difficult to find numbers for. Meanwhile, fully 43% of women report some form of harassment while running, according to Runner’s World.
“I love talking about the challenges, because they’re the kinds of things every business owner has,” she said. “We had a U.S. manufacturer steal our money and not deliver our product, and we had to scramble to find a new supplier.
Robbins decided to do something about it. In 2017, she launched Alexo Athletica, her active-wear startup focused on producing women’s workout garments designed specifically for carrying self-defense tools, including concealed-carry handguns. “It was hard to get backing, because we’re disrupting a few different industries,” she said. “So my husband and I put our own money into funding it.”
It’s a bet that’s paid off so far. “We sold out our initial shipment in pre-orders,” said Robbins. “Year on year, we’ve seen double- and triple-digit growth. Last year we had 200% growth even though we were only in production for seven months because of the pandemic.” Alexo remains a bootstrapped operation today, although Robbins says she’d consider outside investment for the right kind of growth opportunity.
Her first product was leggings catering to runners and walkers. She focused on keeping them fashionable and functional, with a specially-designed wide and heavily elasticized waistband with multiple built-in pockets for secure carry. She’s since expanded her line with shorts, skirts and joggers, as well as specially-designed tops and jackets to help with concealed carry.
Along the way, Robbins has had to overcome some serious business difficulties. “I love talking about the challenges, because they’re the kinds of things every business owner has,” she said. “We had a U.S. manufacturer steal our money and not deliver our product, and we had to scramble to find a new supplier. We’ve had to deal with defective product—you can send that back, but then you can’t get replacements right away. We beat back a trademark threat from a big-dollar corporation. But I’m glad we faced those things. It forced us to pivot, and it built our confidence when we overcame them. I encourage other business owners not to give up!”
Alexo’s offerings have proven extremely popular, and not just for working out. “80% of my customers wear them whether they’re working out or not, to help with concealed carry,” Robbins explained. Functionality is clearly the main driver there. Karen Hunter, a firearms instructor, Range Safety Officer, and writer for a variety of firearms magazines such as Personal Defense World and Ballistic, is an enthusiastic Alexo customer for that reason. “I love them because when I’m carrying, they don’t move,” she explained. “My gun stays put. And I have room for extra magazines. I’m a big proponent of on-body carry, because otherwise an attacker can take your gun away from you. These keep it at your core, in the safest spot, where you can always get to it. And Alexo products last—I got my first pair three or four years ago and they’re still in great shape.”
For Robbins, it goes beyond concealed carry. “When I started the company, I realized it wasn’t just about resources for clothing,” she explained. “I wanted to help people on this journey to self-reliance, and give them resources for three pillars: mind sharp, body strong, and armor.” She makes it clear for that last point that while concealed firearm carry is right for some women, others may prefer to carry non-lethal protection like pepper spray or a taser.
She has other big things planned. The first is her launch of a men’s line this year, which offered its own challenges. “You guys are tough to design for!” she said. “You carry heavier weapons, and you want a lot more flexibility with where and how you carry them.” The second is a partnership with Springfield Armory, the iconic and popular producer of pistols and sporting rifles, to begin work on a collaborative clothing collection this fall. “Inspiring both new and existing gun owners is something we strive to do every day,” said Stefany Reese Toomer, Apparel Design and Merchandising Manager at Springfield Armory. “Through our partnership with Alexo Athletica, we hope to encourage a self-reliant lifestyle for everyone.” Added Robbins, “It’s an honor to partner with a company that has recognized the new direction and demographics of gun ownership, and we are launching our first collaboration this fall with a full men’s and women’s line.”
The demographics element is something Robbins sees as one of Alexo’s biggest strengths. “We’ve been super-fortunate,” she says. “Concealed carry is up 500% since 2007 for women. There are eight million new firearm owners in the U.S. in the past year, and 40% of them are women. I want to make sure we reach that new market segment.”
She’s had some help along the way. “Being a female founder in a very male-dominated industry has always been intriguing,” said Robbins. “Men are very supportive, but they want to see me do the hard work and prove myself. When I do, that makes collaborating with them easier. I’ve worked with so many amazing men, and many of them have become my mentors. They’ve been so helpful with what I want to do, which is to give back and help other women in this space.”