DC: What’s your names, majors, minors, and graduation years?
Rickerby: Imani Rickerby, Co-founder & COO, Public Health Science major, 2017 graduation year; Sydney Parker, Co-founder & CMO, Communications major, Women’s Studies certificate, 2018 graduation year; Jasmine Snead, Co-founder & CFO, Government & Politics major, African American Studies certificate, 2017 graduation year; Masters in Public Policy/Masters in Business Administration, 2021 graduation year
DC: Which Dingman Center programs have you been involved with?
Rickerby: Dingman Jumpstart, Ladies First, Dingman Fridays, New Venture Practicum, Terp Startup Accelerator, Pitch Dingman Competition, and Terp Startup Fellows.
DC: In two to three sentences, how would you describe your startup?
Rickerby: Aurora Tights is the #1 most inclusive athletic hosiery and apparel brand. We make tights for dancers and ice skaters in five shades and seven sizes, from Child Small to Adult 3X. Since its inception, Aurora has empowered performers to bring their own dynamic color and light to the stage. Aurora creates an inclusive space for all athletes to #performincolor.
DC: At what point did you know you wanted to create your own startup?
Rickerby: The Aurora team is composed of a figure skater, synchronized ice skater, and a competitive dancer with over 60 years of performing experience combined. Imani Rickerby, Jasmine Snead, and Sydney Parker attended the University of Maryland, College Park, and are sisters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Jasmine, a figure skater of over 20 years, used to dye her tights in a bathtub before every competition, and the process was time-consuming, messy, experimental, and expensive. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Imani, a lifetime synchronized ice skater, grew up skating in tights that were too pale for her complexion. While they had different experiences, they were unified in feeling marginalized, unheard, and unseen in the sport they loved.
While coaching a team of young synchronized ice skaters, Jasmine and Imani noticed that many of their students, particularly those of color, were reliving their experiences of isolation. Due to the lack of diverse skating gear, their students were lacking confidence, loneliness, and identity issues. Many times, athletes of color draw away from the sport – not because of a lack of talent – but due to the lack of community. Inspired by their students, the duo both quickly realized that there was an unmet need and shared their stories with Sydney, their best friend and lifetime competitive dancer.
Sydney had a similar experience while dancing, with the added pressure of being a dark-skinned woman in a predominately white sport. The hair products, makeup, and especially the apparel never fit her appearance. Sydney’s feelings of isolation rose so high she avoided even looking in the mirror. It was only after finding her community on her collegiate team of predominantly black women that Sydney started to have confidence in not only her skills, but also her appearance. She understood then what it meant to have a support channel to turn to in times of need. Together the three decided to be the catalysts to end the destructive cycle of monoculturalism within performance sports and instead build a community of empowerment.
DC: What or who is your biggest influence for your startup?
Rickerby: While we are a for-profit company, our social impact mission is directly baked into our business model. Supporting and empowering minority athletes to say involved in their passions is the fundamental driver of Aurora. We strive to make sure all athletes feel comfortable in their skin, excel at their athletic passions, and have a long-lasting tenure in their sport.
DC: Can you describe/outline your typical day as a business owner?
Rickerby: Our typical day includes brainstorming strategies, solving day-to-day issues, responding to customers, monitoring our social media, and A LOT of meetings.
DC: How have the effects of the pandemic changed your company’s focus or ideas?
Rickerby: Before COVID-19, Aurora Tights had a lot of momentum. However, with social distancing policies, large events and team sports practices were canceled, and sports complexes and gyms were closed. As a result, there has been a substantial decline in tight sales, and several large accounts were postponed until teams can practice safely. As entrepreneurs, we looked for the silver lining. We launched our line of at-home workout apparel which kept Aurora alive while we all stayed safe in the home. Now with everything opening up, our large accounts are coming back into focus and our tights are set to be featured in the newest Shondaland show, “Inventing Anna,” and the Broadway show “SIX”!
DC: What updates or significant accomplishments can you share with us about your company from the last six months?
Rickerby: There have been a lot milestones within the last six months! We were accepted in the Desai Accelerator, which has been a huge driver for growth. Also, we hosted our third cohort of the Aurora Tights Internship, added 11 teams to our Aurora Teams program, refreshed brand, and rolled out our newest product – shimmery tights!
DC: As a young business owner, what motivates you?
Rickerby: Well, both ice skating and dance are diversifying rapidly, which is a huge motivator! To best support this inclusive environment, we need to change the definition of beauty in performance sports. To do this, the first step is ensuring that all performers have apparel in their unique skin tone. Currently, there is a whole population of performers who do not have tights that match their skin color or do not like the shades that are available to them. We strive to make sure adults and children, just like us, feel comfortable in their skin and excel at their athletic passions.
DC: If you could give advice to any aspiring entrepreneurs, what would it be?
Rickerby: So many times as young people, we feel unqualified to go after our vision. We are so hard on ourselves and feel as if we must first become experts at something before execution. Yet many people do not put those same pressures on themselves and instead exude a confidence that is needed for the entrepreneurship world. I encourage young people to work every day on building that same level of confidence in themselves and to not be afraid to just do it. There is so much magic in our ideas and the world would be made better for it!
For more information about Aurora, please visit the website here.