Back in October 1977, Boston realtor Sally Hurlbut was playing tennis at Longwood Cricket Club when her opponent tossed a teasing comment cross-court about her baggy warmup suit. "He meant to be amusing," she recalls, "but I yelled back, if you guys would make something that fit women, we'd look better.' "
In almost every sport, women have been obliged to dress in and play with products that are actually made for men. Why not persuade sporting goods manufacturers to design equipment proportioned to fit a woman's body? Hurlbut organized a dozen of her friends, and together they launched a campaign. "We found most of the major manufacturers receptive to our idea," she says. "They realized that the women's sports market is probably five times larger than the men's market. After all, it's the women who go out and buy."
Seven months later, Hurlbut and her associates opened the Women's Sports Center in Wellesley, Mass., one of the few stores in the country offering a complete line of equipment and clothes specifically designed for women. Here, even the six-foot sportswoman can find a warmup suit proportioned to her figure, and the 100-pound tennis player can buy a lightweight racket with a small grip to fit her hand.
The Center stocks gear and apparel for just about every sport: cross-country ski boots, tennis and running shoes, ice-hockey skates made on a narrower last for the female foot, lacrosse sticks, curling brooms and tennis and squash racquets. Hurlbut, who plays almost every sport but jai alai, says that her own tennis game has improved now that her shoes really fit.
Despite scant advertising, the Women's Sports Center has gained a large clientele by word of mouth, attracting customers from as far away as Italy and Ethiopia. The store specializes in made-to-order items and supplies team uniforms to schools such as Boston University and Wellesley College.
By the end of this year Hurlbut plans to offer a nationwide mail-order service. In the meantime, she will accept special orders and ship anywhere. If you would like to get on the catalog mailing list or place a special order, write the Women's Sports Center, 555 Washington Street, Wellesley, Mass. 02181.