Imagine a campfire in the middle of the woods: glowing embers give way to a roaring fire. Heat emanates from the flames as a burst of light brightens the surrounding darkness. Seemingly boundless energy shoots off in glimmering sparks, yet the fire persists. This is the image upon which SparkFire Active was built, and it continues to be the company’s guiding light as it attempts to ignite a fire within girls of all ages.
A performance activewear brand designed exclusively for teen girls, founder Samantha Hodgkins says the company is born out of her love for all things nature.
“I love hiking, I love backcountry skiing, I love kayaking, I love camping,” she said. “And that image of being out in nature, being active and physical and in a natural setting — either alone or with a group of people — the conversation, the exhilaration, the physical work that goes into it and then culminating at the end of the day, coming together around a campfire, sharing stories, talking about those highlights of the day, relaxing, basking in the light of the those fire embers is a real core image to me of what SparkFire is about.”
But SparkFire Active isn’t just an activewear brand. It’s designed to fulfill a real need for teenage girls around the country — and even around the world. Inspired by her two daughters, Hodgkins not only sees in them hope, strength and courage, she also sees in them the current struggles and demands facing girls of all ages.
“I see what a significant change there is between those idealistic, happy pre-teen years and the jump to those demanding high-school adolescent years,” she said, “and how the world is still far from an even-playing field for men and women, which my own daughters were starting to notice and comment on.”
Also in these adolescent years, Hodgkins noticed that girls are often plagued with self-doubt, insecurity and body-image concerns. “They are bombarded by media influences of unrealistic, unattainable images of ‘perfection,’” she shared, detailing one potential source of plummeting self-esteem. Such declining self-worth, she said, can dissuade girls from participating in the sports they once enjoyed.
With research from the Women’s Sports Foundation finding that girls drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys by the time they reach age 14, Hodgkins’ suggestion is certainly not unfounded.
Survey data from feminine hygiene product company Always further bolsters her point, showing that 51 percent of girls will quit sports by the age of 17 — the age by which most girls have completed puberty.
Coupling this knowledge with her own experience, Hodgkins officially launched SparkFire Active on Aug. 20, with the aim of helping girls recognize their physical and mental strength in order to become confident young women today that will become the leaders of tomorrow.
Designed specifically for teen girls who are “no longer little girls wearing youth sizes, but not yet fully adult, grown women,” Hodgkins explained that each piece that makes up the seven-piece collection is created to “fit and flatter [teens’] developing bodies so that they can feel strong and move freely and just get out there and do what they love to do.”
“Girls have been so fascinating in telling me how, when they work out, or they exercise or they go for a run, they don’t want to be looked at. They don’t want to be stared at or on display,” she said. “They want to be able to move freely and feel comfortable and just have their body feel strong. And there are so few options out there that are designed for that.”
Although Hodgkins admits that she is starting with a relatively small collection of “core items,” she said that she is focusing more on the brand’s mission of empowering girls than building a robust product line.
“Compared to traditional and incumbent fashion and apparel brands, SparkFire is really so much more about our brand passion and commitment to ‘igniting the spark’ and confidence and passion in teen girls, and supporting girls everywhere, believing that strong girls equals a strong world,” she said.
Keeping in line with this goal, all apparel items in the SparkFire Active collection feature bright colors and prints, as well as curved hemlines that won’t raise up when girls lift their arms while working out or playing sports. Raglan sleeves allow for a full range of motion, while the semi-fitted silhouette provides a tailored, yet comfortable fit. To ensure proper fit, Hodgkins said hundreds of teenage girls were measured through several rounds of product development, all in an effort to design garments specifically tailored to the changing bodies and fluctuating measurements of adolescent girls. Even the product names offer a spark of inspiration, with items deemed “bold,” “fierce” or “free-spirit” and sizes referred to as “XS & Exceptional” or “L & Luminous” to be reflective of the essence of teen girls.
However, SparkFire Active doesn’t just aim to inspire confidence and strength in girls — it aims do so in an environmentally-friendly way. Designed and developed in the United States and hand-made in the Dominican Republic, all SparkFire items use eco-friendly, sustainable materials made from 100 percent recycled PET plastic bottle fibers that are blended with spandex to create a durable, yet soft performance athletic fabric called REPREVE®. Although made from recycled plastics, the fabric — made by a mill in North Carolina — provides four-way stretch, as well as moisture-wicking, odor-resistant and quick-drying technologies that rival those of big-name athleticwear brands.
Billed as a “for-profit, for-good social mission,” the company expands its goal of serving young girls far beyond its Atlanta, Georgia headquarters — and even beyond the borders of the United States. Wanting her brand to have an impact far beyond commercial appeal, Hodgkins teamed up with Sacred Valley Project — a non-profit organization based in the Sacred Valley of Peru that seeks to provide “boarding and supplementary education for young women from low income families in remote areas of the Andes so that they can continue and complete their secondary education” — in order to ensure that girls struggling to attain an education can realize their full potential.
After learning of Sacred Valley Project through She’s The First, which “provides scholarships to girls in low-income countries, fostering first-generation graduates,” Hodgkins had the opportunity to travel to Peru to meet the Sacred Valley Project team and spend time with girls enrolled in their program.
“It was so heart filling to walk in and have the girls introduce themselves in English by name, by age, by hometown, by how long they had been at the school, and by what they wanted to study and do when they were finished with school,” she said. “It was such evidence of the character that was being built, the confidence and the self-worth that was growing through this experience.”
But after considering several other organizations, Hodgkins said her heart instantly gravitated to working with Sacred Valley Project as their initial partner. And SparkFire’s involvement with Sacred Valley Project has tangible results: at least 5 percent of every individual purchase made contributes to the cause, and for every 500 garments sold, Hodgkins explained that one girl in the program will receive a full-year scholarship, as well as additional financial support for her education, textbooks and room and board.
“These are girls who are coming from rural, remote villages,” she said of the girls impacted by the program. “They are first-generation students. Nobody in their family has gone to school before. And they are girls of such strength and courage, and they’re finding such camaraderie amongst themselves as they take these steps forward. So the impact for SparkFire is very real. Every girl who is buying and wearing a SparkFire shirt can really be a small spark lighting a great fire.”
In addition to serving the girls of Sacred Valley Project, Hodgkins’ SparkFire also impacts girls locally, allowing high school and college-aged girls to share their voices as “SparkFire Igniter” bloggers on the brand’s site, while also letting them star in all photos for the brand’s products.
“It’s so exciting to me to look at the wall above my desk and see pictures of real girls’ faces with real names who the spark is being lit in, who are contributing, speaking up, using their talents and skills and for whom opportunities are being created,” she said.
With SparkFire’s recently unveiled product line, its eco-friendly textiles and philanthropic mission, Hodgkins said that her main focus will always be about serving girls both her backyard and those around the world.
“For me, it’s very much about the girls themselves, giving them opportunity and inviting them in to use their voices and to let their light shine so that whatever they play hard at, they can dream big at it and build that confidence and that internal strength to then go take it out into the world.”