Varlo Apparel founder Soj Jibowu is deeply curious. Growing up in athletics and outdoor physical activity, he learned quickly that his curiosity could take him anywhere. 

In 2015, he fell in love with multi-sport races in Chicago. 60 races later, his love and appreciation for the sport led him to found Varlo Apparel, a high-performance apparel company focused on providing the best in class without ever sacrificing quality. The company name was inspired and derived by the word “valor,” which means having the courage to face the unknown and to discover your strengths in the process. 

This month, we sat with Soj to discuss starting a company in 2020, the importance of mentorship, and — of course — his newest collection of BOCO hats.

Read the Full Video Transcript Below

Don Reichelt:

Hey, this is Don Reichelt with BOCO Gear and I am here with Soj. Soj, good to see you. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Soj Jibowu:

Awesome, much pleasure, thanks for having me. My name is Soj Jibowu, I’m the founder, one of the owners of VARLO Apparel, triathlon cycling multi-sport apparel brand.

Don Reichelt:

Love it. Well, tell us a little bit more about VARLO. How long have you been around, where are you based? Just a little bit of everything.

Soj Jibowu:

Yeah, absolutely. VARLO, we officially hit the market with sales in September 2020, so that was a year of COVID. We started the brand well before that and we pivoted to launch at a later date in a year due to everything with the pandemic and whatnot.

 

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Soj Jibowu:

But as a brand, we strive to empower athletes to conquer the goals of tomorrow. We work with age-group athletes, professional athletes, just to make sure that we’re providing value to the athletes and that they are getting something in return, but then also that we’re providing value to the sport. 

So that way, the sport is in an upward trajectory of growth, bringing people to it, and helping best as possible with any type of barrier to entry and whatnot.

Don Reichelt:

Got it. Well, you picked a heck of a timeline to launch a brand. The outdoor industry has famously had a lot of challenges during the pandemic. Tell us about some of the challenges that you faced, and maybe some of the ways that you overcame them?

Soj Jibowu:

Yeah. It was a really interesting time. I had a number of people that said, “Wow, why are you starting a company during the pandemic? What are you thinking?” And quite honestly, it was like the perfect time, because while we pivoted from launching in January, I remember it was January of 2020 — I remember it vividly because there was news, the tragic death, the passing of Kobe Bryant. 

COVID was just starting to make its way around. And in our minds, we were preparing to launch the company and we said, “Okay, we can’t do this because we don’t think people are going to be racing the first half of the year.” And so we kind of stepped back, but one of the things that we kind of kept a pulse of on was bicycle sales, outdoor activity. 

There was this huge, robust influx of people who were still wanting to be active, still wanting to be outside. So we kind of changed some directions a little bit and focused some of our efforts in some other ways that aligned us to come out into the marketplace at a good pace.

Don Reichelt:

Yeah. Well, you’ve obviously made it considerably far against a lot of odds. So who around you has been there to support you, to inspire you, and to help you to get where you are today?

Soj Jibowu:

Yeah, you hit the nail on the head with that one, right? Because I don’t have all the answers, but fortunately enough I have a really good network of mentors, people that I look up to.

 

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Soj Jibowu:

Kind of in my previous world where, in the medical device space or the big pharma space, hospital space, I have a number of mentors that I’ve just been able to talk to, relationships that go 17 years. Mentors that have…they’re in the real estate market, they’re in the public health market. 

They help immensely when it comes to some of the decisions that go into starting a business, that go into some of the troubleshooting regarding the decisions that you make managing risk. And so it’s been very, very helpful. 

But also athletes — like the athletes in the space are just — hands down some the best that you can get information from regarding product development, and so on and so forth.

Don Reichelt:

Awesome. So let’s transition a little bit and talk about your relationship with BOCO Gear. What made you choose BOCO Gear to help with your hats, and tell us a little bit about that process from start to where you are today with that beautiful VARLO hat on your head.

Soj Jibowu:

Yeah. So we actually … I remember talking to Hillary Matthews with BOCO. Gosh, it was months, maybe a year before we even launched. I remember getting some samples in because we were looking for accessories to have for the product line, and the quality of the product, just hands down, was amazing. Hillary was just so easygoing to talk to and just made the process very, very seamless. And that right there, it struck me and I gravitated to towards it. 

I remember we launched our first couple of hats, it was the Peaks performance hat, the journey hat. They did pretty good in sales, but everyone raved on the quality of the hats, the material used, the inside liner that kind of rests on the forehead. People just raved on it. So from there, when we started to develop new products, new hats, new accessories to come out with, again, the design process, everything has just been so seamless.

When you’re trying to get products out, you really want that process to be as quick and as seamless as possible. And so, Hillary’s just been awesome to work with over there.

Don Reichelt:

Love to hear it. What’s next for you and VARLO? What does the future look like?

Soj Jibowu:

Yeah, I really think that the brand… well one of our missions is to tell the story of the athlete, tell the story of multi-sport in a way that’s new, that’s unique. I think that’s one of the new things that we’re always going to try to curate and come up with new ways and new techniques to tell the story of the athlete in a very intrinsic manner.

But I think the next thing is also just value, making sure that we’re bringing value to the athletes, making sure we’re bringing value to the sport. And if I look at Q3 of this year alone, we have a couple of initiatives that we’re really excited to kind of dig deep into, on all of those fronts. So, just some things to definitely look out for.

Don Reichelt:

Love it. So, best question of the day, how do people find you, how do they get ahold of you and VARLO? Give us all the good details of getting ahold of you.

Soj Jibowu:

Absolutely. Always you can visit our website, varlosports.com. You can also visit us on Instagram @varlo_apparel. And please, definitely subscribe on our website. You can hit the subscribe link right when you go to the website at varlosports.com to get the latest updates, news, VIP access to all the new products that we’re going to be coming out with, all the new initiatives that we’re coming out with.

But then also, some of the onsite location things that we’re going to be doing in the year. So, if you’re at a race and you’re kind of curious if VARLO’s going to be at that race, in some type of expo manner, you definitely want to subscribe and stay tuned for all that information.

Don Reichelt:

Wonderful. Soj, Thank you so much for taking the time today. Best of luck to you now and in the future, and we’ll talk again soon.

Soj Jibowu:

Awesome. Thank you so much, really appreciate it.

Read More Endurance Runner Interviews

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