A New Approach to Athleisure: Play Henry

Ellie Jamison and Grace Collins are the founders of Play Henry, an apparel brand creating elevated activewear and accessories for pickleball players. Inspired by the social and athletic aspects of pickleball, they create pieces that seamlessly transition from active to social play, or as they call it, from court to cocktail. Their first product, the pickleball dress is designed as a shift dress, with a built-in bra for support and unattached, matching biker shorts to prevent the material from riding up. The dress is both technical and flattering so it can be worn for exercise, running errands, or grabbing a drink with friends.

The pair are revolutionizing the athletic apparel industry, taking advantage of the current gap in the market for pickleball clothing, given the recent surge in the sport’s popularity. The two met at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business in 2022. In their first month, they turned to pickleball as a way to be active, socialize and decompress from school. After engaging with the pickleball community, they started to recognize a trend. Women loved grabbing drinks post-play but didn’t love doing so in their leggings or shorts. This sparked an idea… what if classic, flattering silhouettes were made with technical fabrics so women could feel comfortable and stylish both on and off the court. 

And thus, Play Henry was born. The name being an ode to their families (“Henry” is a family name for both Ellie and Grace), Play Henry is defined as a playful take on something classic. Ellie and Grace faced many challenges in initially creating and finding their brand voice. From these challenges, they learned that creating a successful, meaningful brand takes time, patience, and commitment. They are currently focused on launching a pre-order for their pickleball paddle and going into production with the manufacturer of their pickleball dress this month. The dress will be produced in the United States and available for purchase soon. You can join the waitlist today at playhenry.com.

The two credit leadership within the Darden community, especially Damon Devito, for the encouragement to move forward with Play Henry. Ellie and Grace would advise aspiring entrepreneurs to ask as many questions as possible, and to not be afraid of asking for favors. They have learned that there are more people excited, willing and able to help than initially thought, and encourage others to take advantage of this support. In reflecting on their current experience with entrepreneurship, they see that perfection is the enemy of progress. It is important for them to produce high-quality products that add value to consumers while constantly iterating and improving.