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Contact us e-news signup JL Origins Interviews with Lou
 JL Origins
Interview by Lou Kinder and Erin Landy
You recall where we picked up in our last Origin Series segment- the tantalizing “…” preceding the delightful Mother’s Day glimpse into the First Family of rowing clothing with matriarch Joline Esparza. Now it is time to backtrack and elaborate upon that alluring ellipsis as Joline chats with us about the years between college graduation and the 1991 “Inc.-ing” of JL Design Inc.

We actually had to race in this!
We actually had to race in this stuff!

 Origins of the JL Unisuit

EL: So what about the logo—the one we see on everyone from novices to Olympians?

JLE: The company logo (not an arrow by the way, but a J and an L for Joline Lorraine) was actually developed when I was at one of Bob Ernst’s training camps for the US team in 1981.  Literally while sitting in the UW boathouse at the training table!  We all doodle with our initials, this simple graphic seemed perfect.  It was also one of the only "embroidery type" things my sewing machine could do.  So I put the machine on a tight zig zag setting and voila. A logo was born.

EL: How did you gather enough street (/river?) cred within the rowing community to get your logo onto the left leg of everyone from novice juniors to various nations’ national teams- not to mention the hallowed rowing demigods mentioned in Assault on Lake Casitas?

JLE: Well…rowing!  I was totally obsessed with rowing. Like generations of rowers before and after me I ate, slept and rowed rowing. My contemporaries brought (and bring) their backgrounds of engineering, woodworking, art to the sport; it seemed natural to me to combine what I knew about construction, fibers and machinery with what I was learning about movement, abrasion, weather; all water sport challenges. When rowing, I tested everything personally, also enlisting my training- and teammates, and later (younger) world class athletes to both confirm and break my theories about garments.  Training for the US team provides PLENTY of kilometers to refine designs!

EL: Training for the US national team, you say.  I hear they’re pretty decent at rowing.


Joline in bow, taking the pre-race jitters out on her rigger

JLE: I competed for the national team for two years, winning a silver medal in the W8 at the World Championships in Lucerne, 1982.  The next year my four finished 5th at the Duisburg World Championships.  My ‘84 Olympic dream ended with the final cuts at the Princeton camp- but through my international career I picked up a priceless understanding of how garments need to function for rowers of all skills and climates.
On the dock after the race

EL: - what were rowers wearing back then?

JLE: US crews were wearing everything from “Dolfin” running shorts (scullers mostly) to double knit polyester national team issued shorts; cotton tanks; baggy tee shirts; sweats and even wool cycling shorts sans chamois. How many times was the set of the boat compromised to a suffering, squirming rower? No one will ever know.


Joline and Annie Stanford days, Niiiiiice!Joline during her first World Championship trading frenzy.



EL: So what prompted you to leave the baggy, two piece wool rowing ensemble (along with the shoulder pads) in the 80s and move on to the one-piece wonder-suit we row in today?

JLE: The one-piece rowing suit (All-in one in Europe) existed on the continent years before I hit the international stage, but I seem to remember only the men had them. I vividly recall being emotioThis is retro!nally scarred by seeing some for the first time. The Italian men were on the medal dock at the ’82 Lucerne World Cup wearing ill-fitting, bright but thin blue nylon all-in-one suits. I remember the moment when the men’s pair w/cox (the famous Abbagnale brothers) accepted their golds- arms raised and sweaty-leaving nothing to the imagination.  Back home at my sewing machine, the idea of a uni made sense- but at the time leotards were the closest thing available.  I wanted to create something that felt as natural as second skin while rowing.  I had nailed trou, so all I needed to do was add a comfortable top.  Sounds simple?  I spent years designing, developing and redesigning this garment so that a rower can do what he/she needs to do without distraction.

EL: “All-in-one” is quite a mouthful for such sleek raiment! You streamlined this garment for the US market, how did you streamline the name?

JLE: Playing with words, really.  Free association; leotard, unitard, rowing suit, onsie (that was too babyish).  Unisuit.  It was short, simple and most described what this garment was! I had no idea that it would become part of the rowing vernacular around the world.  You know a word sticks when it has a Wikipedia entry ;)