There are a few ways to commemorate a running milestone. It’s tempting to wear a medal out and about (I’ve done it) but let’s be honest, it gets a little weird after the first day. Even Olympians put the medal away at some point. Race shirts are great, but not appropriate for every occasion. Tattoos are permanent and painful, not for everyone.
Maybe that why running-themed jewelry is so hot right now.
These days, it’s easy to turn to Etsy or Pinterest to find running-themed pieces. But eight years ago, when Clovis’ Sunny Arada came up with her business plan for a running-themed jewelry company as part of her MBA coursework at Fresno State, few — if any — were doing it.
Arada, who ran track for Buchanan High School and Fresno State, was working for a jeweler when she was asked to come up with a fictitious business plan for an entrepreneurship class. Combining her passion for running and her interest in jewelry, she soon had an idea that attracted the attention of some of her fellow students.
She and her group worked on the project — Endure — throughout the semester, which culminated in showing finished rings, necklaces, and earrings at the 2009 Two Cities marathon expo.
Not long after that, she says, “I quit my job and decided to pursue it full time.”
These days, Endure is a thriving small business specializing in running-themed jewelry and apparel. The company’s line of necklaces, rings, and bracelets help runners commemorate their achievements, whether they’ve completed a first half marathon or a specific race.
Some of her most popular designs are those that tie in with the Boston Marathon and Run Disney’s themed races in California and Florida. Unicorn rings and charms are popular with Boston runners (or new qualifiers), while the Disney designs tend to evoke the theme of a given event, whether it’s the Star Wars Half Marathon or Princess Half Marathon Weekend.
Arada designs each piece herself, sketching concepts on paper or using a computer program and writing out specifics such a dimensions and materials to be used. The actual pieces, made from silver or gold and often incorporating gemstones, are manufactured by a local jeweler.
Arada is also on the front line of sales. In addition to the Endure website, she sells her designs at race expos throughout the country. It allows her to connect with her customers on a personal level.
Many seek her out at different expos throughout the year, she says. But she particularly enjoys engaging with them outside of the expo setting. A few years ago she developed Finding Sunny, a scavenger hunt-type game she and her social media followers play in the Disney parks during Disney race weekends at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World. During the game, Arada posts clues as to her whereabouts on Endure’s social media accounts. The customer to find her first wins Endure product.
“People will actively be looking for us,” she says. “Sometimes it takes a while — one time it was raining like crazy in Florida — but we still had people playing. It’s really cool because I don’t get to interact this way with our customers in any other way. We’ll go on a ride with somebody and hang out with them for a bit. It’s really special, probably one of the best parts of Disney weekends.”
A few years ago, Endure branched out into apparel design. It was initially more of an afterthought, Arada admits. She’d started making shirts for her and her staff to wear at expos. The challenge was that in order to have shirts made for three or four people working the booth, she had to place a minimum order. The extra shirts got hung up in the expo booth “and people wanted to buy them. It kind of took off from there. People were really excited about it; almost as excited as about the jewelry, if not more.”
Arada’s “Run Smiley,” design which features a stylized happy face made from the word “run,” is a customer favorite. The original Run Smiley shirt has been joined by seasonal designs offered during various holidays: Santa and Elf-themed Smileys shirts during Christmas, a turkey for Thanksgiving, a bunny for Easter.
The design has been so popular, other apparel companies have taken notice. A few — notably Nike — have released shirts with a similar design. The Nike shirt, in particular, was strikingly similar. As a small business, she lacked the resources to fight the apparel giant. But she did leverage her social media standing, using Facebook and Instagram to alert her customers to the idea theft and encourage them to boycott Nike’s version of the design.
The Facebook post, she says, was shared “hundreds of times” — and brought new customers her way.
“After I put that out there, people started coming up to my [expo] booth because they recognized the shirt from the semi-viral post … I gained support from people I didn’t even know before.”
She adds that she didn’t expect to put Nike out of business with the post, she just wanted people to realize “it’s not okay to take something from a small business.”
A year out from the controversy, Endure continues to, well, endure. The company is in the process of launching its bridal line, inspired by friends and family who have asked Arada to design custom engagement rings.
While weddings and marathons might not appear to have much in common, it continues her tradition of designing “milestone pieces.” And the name, Endure, still applies: “It applies to runners, non-runners, people going through something. Endure was something I thought could be important to runners,” she explains, “but could also be part of everybody in a different way.”