When Natalie Ross’ daughter Ava couldn’t find anything ‘cool’ to wear to display her love of hockey, she did what any mom would do — she searched for a way to make her happy.
And, in doing so, she became an entrepreneur.
Ross, who grew up in Brooklyn, resides in Cheverie with her husband, Jeff, and children Ava, Nova and Rhett. Ross said she wanted to design something that would inspire and empower Ava as she pursued her favourite sport in a male-dominated environment.
“She’s the only girl on her team right now,” said Ross.
Her daughter plays with the West Hants Warriors on a boys’ team. Ross said the nearest all-girls’ team is the Valley Wild, and it’s “way too far” from their rural countryside home.
“We went out shopping and she wanted to get something hockey-related. We went into a few stores; I couldn’t find anything for her. She was kind of discouraged. She had nothing to wear.”
Most of the clothing they were finding was geared toward boys, or was pretty generic.
“She’s excited about what she does, her passion, but (there’s) nothing really to say ‘hey, this is what I do,’” Ross added.
So, Ross began brainstorming and, about a year and a half ago, Hockey Gurl Custom Apparel was born.
“I own the logo, the brand — and it took a couple of months for me to actually say, ‘OK, this is cool; this is good,’ and then I just started putting it on sweaters,” she said.
The clothing line features everything from sports bras and hoodies to ball caps and leggings. And the cost is kept affordable, Ross said, so that everyone can enjoy the clothing. Youth t-shirts, for example, cost $15.
Ross, who works at a dental office, accessed the CBDC business program to launch her side business and, largely via word of mouth, she began to see sales.
When she presented her daughter with clothing, she said Ava’s face lit right up.
“She was like, ‘that’s cool,’” recalled Ross.
“She’s not into the sparkles, the pretties, the pinks,” said Ross, noting that she’s made the clothing line to appeal to a wide range of likes.
“She doesn’t realize that she’s what inspired me (to launch Hockey Gurl Custom Apparel). It’s your love for your child.”
Empowering girls to be themselves
Ross said Hockey Gurl Custom Apparel isn’t just about trendy clothes — it’s about empowering girls to showcase who they are and be proud of it.
“The message behind it is ‘empower the movement,’” said Ross.
“When they put the clothes on, it’s not really about the clothes. It’s how they feel when they wear it.”
She wants girls to feel proud to be hockey players and when they see other girls wearing the clothing, know that they’re kindred spirits.
“I want to emphasize how this clothing makes the girls feel,” she said.
“I want them to support each other and I want them to share the passion for the sport and I want them to help grow the sport. I want them to instantly have a connection when they see someone else wearing it.”
Zoey Rafuse, an Avon View High School athlete, owns both a Hockey Gurl Custom Apparel hat and a t-shirt. She said it’s “pretty cool” to have clothing designed specifically for female hockey players.
“I really like her clothing and her logo,” said Rafuse, noting several of her teammates also wear the brand.
“Hockey is kind of (centered) around boys but this is not,” noted Rafuse, who has been playing hockey for about eight years and is currently leading the high school team in points.
“It’s just kind of something to make girls feel special, specifically, because it’s for them.”
Avon View girls’ hockey team head coach Rob Davies first met Ross’ family when he was coaching Ava. He says he is supportive of Hockey Gurl Custom Apparel, and said anything that promotes girls getting involved in hockey is something he can get behind.
“I think the big thing is she’s local. It’s a big risk to come up with something like this and then take it out for sale. She’s done a really good job with that, in my opinion,” said Davies.
“She’s trying to grow a business but at the same time, she’s very supportive of females and female hockey players, especially when it comes to giving back. She’s been really, really great with supporting auctions with prizes,” he added.
Ross will be setting up a merchandise table at the upcoming Avon View girls’ hockey tournament at the GFL Newport Recreation Centre Feb. 22-23. Both Ross and Davies say they hope people will come out to not only support the team and the clothing line, but be interested in watching some quality competition on the ice.
“If you look at female hockey over the last decade, it’s really grown and the skill level of the players has improved exponentially,” said Davies.
“Where it’s female hockey and I have a bit of a role at the high school, any support we can give her, the better. We’d like to see her be successful.”
Looking to the future
Ross, who grew up playing “tough sports” like rugby and snowboarding, said she knew what her daughter was going through when trying to find an outfit that fit her personality and body.
She said her clothing line currently appeals to youth ages 12-18 years, but she hopes to eventually broaden that demographic.
“I haven’t really been able to reach to the younger markets. So far, it’s been word of mouth,” said Ross.
But word of mouth has been working. A friend of the family spotted someone wearing a Hockey Gurl sweater at the Edmonton International Airport, and Ross says she’s received some orders from Cape Breton and Halifax.
“My hope is that this brand reaches across Canada and that it’s recognized amongst all female hockey players and hockey teams,” said Ross.
That’s something Rafuse hopes will happen as well.
“If her Hockey Gurl clothes got really big, I think that would be really cool. Not in Nova Scotia, but in Canada and US — like all over the world so hockey girls can share this clothing, have something special,” said Rafuse.
Ross said she’s pleasantly surprised by the reaction that her customers have when they discover her clothing line and choose an item.
“What inspires me is the reaction of the people who buy it and wear it because I see how it makes them feel,” she said.
“I want them to feel passionate about being a female, playing hockey and joining this whole movement,” she added.
“It’s super powerful to realize that ‘I’m good enough to play with the boys.’”
To learn more about Hockey Gurl, visit Natalie Ross’ Facebook page.
Did you know?
The Avon View girls’ hockey team is hosting an eight-team invitational tournament Feb. 22-23 at the GFL Newport Recreation Centre.
Competing teams will be Avon View, Lockview, East Hants, and C.P. Allen in the Sportwheels Division; Halifax West, Auburn, Sir John A. MacDonald, and West Kings in the Hockey Gurl Division.
Hockey Gurl Custom Apparel will be set up at the arena to sell merchandise.
The following is the tournament schedule.
9 a.m. — Halifax West versus Auburn
10:30 a.m. — Avon View vs. East Hants
Noon — West Kings vs. Sir John A.
1:30 p.m. — C.P. Allen vs. Lockview
3 p.m. — Sir John A. vs. Halifax West
4:30 p.m. — Auburn vs. West Kings
6 p.m. — East Hants vs. C.P. Allen
7:30 p.m. — Lockview vs. Avon View
9:00 a.m. — West Kings versus Halifax West
10:30 a.m. — Avon View vs. C.P. Allen
Noon — Auburn vs. Sir John A.
1:30 p.m. — Lockview vs. East Hants
3 p.m. — First Sportwheels finisher vs. second Hockeygurl finisher
4:30 p.m. — First Hockeygurl finisher vs. second Sportwheels finisher
7 p.m. — Championship game