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USWNT and Thorns player Tobin Heath on equal pay, what she loves about Portland

Several soccer stars, including Heath, launched a company called Re-Inc, which aims to promote more women into investor and business-owner roles.
Credit: Portland Business Journal
Tobin Heath

In the past year, the U.S. Women's Soccer Team has become a face for equal pay on the field and in the workplace. Twenty-eight of the players are suing the U.S. Soccer Federation for gender discrimination.

Players have worked for equality in more ways than one. Four former and current players — Portland Thorns Tobin Heath and Meghan Klingenberg, along with fellow stars Megan Rapinoe and Christen Press — recently launched a company called Re-Inc, which aims to promote more women into investor and business-owner roles.

The company released its first product, a shirt, on June 7. It plans to release more streetwear products this fall, and eventually expand the business into beauty, wellness and tech products.

We asked Heath about the company and what she loves about Portland, among other topics. While our full exclusive interview with her is here, Heath gave us a few more nuggets about her life, career and aspirations.

Jill Ellis announced recently that she is retiring from coaching the U.S. women’s team. What was unique about working with Jill? I think obviously like Jill's record speaks volumes — she’s a two time World Cup champion. Her legacy will forever kind of speak for itself. I think she always created teams that were very unpredictable to play against and created a will and desire that we had no choice but to win.

The U.S. women's team has become the face for equal pay in many ways. Are you surprised that "equal pay" has become a part of the fans regular chants here? I'm not surprised. I think for people that have supported the women's game for a long time, I think they understand the struggles that we have continually faced and that we've continually fought back against. I think they're probably just as tired as us and they have seen our struggles and it's a really powerful thing when a community gets behind a purpose because I think that's where change happens, when people are able to get behind other people's struggles. I think we're seeing that happen and I hope it continues.

Where did the idea of Re-Inc come from? Back in 2015, after we won the World Cup, Kling (Meghan Klingenberg) saw a big opportunity or a lot of value that was kind of being left on the table. She actually presented to the team the way that we could create a company as a team. At the time I think it wasn't really received in the way that it would probably be now because I think there was so much scarcity in the sport, so anything that we got from winning that World Cup, we weren't even thinking about giving it away or sharing it because for us. We were only given so much. And that's not just momentarily, that's in opportunity as well. So I think at that time we weren't necessarily ready for it. 

And then we didn't want to let another World Cup go by without seizing the opportunity to not leave opportunity and revenue on the table and to stop asking people, "Oh, why doesn't this company do this?" and just being the bosses and doing what we want and proving that we could be successful and valuable. I think that's what's been so special and cool about is cause we started this company before we won the World Cup, which is pretty awesome, and actually that allowed us like an incredible platform to be able to use the company in a really special way.

There's nothing better than being your own boss, especially after when you play soccer, you're just controlled by so many different forces. So owning your own company and being your own bosses, it’s so liberating and freeing and you get to finally make decisions for yourself, which I think is really powerful.

Your first product is a shirt that says in French "liberty, equality, defend" — which is a play off of the French motto "liberty, equality, fraternity." What was the inspiration behind that product? We wanted to create a non-gendered shirt. All of our products will be not specific for any gender, it’ll be for whoever wants it, however they want to wear things. We saw a unique opportunity to make the specifications what we wanted for anyone to be able to wear the shirt, but then more so picking out the colors. We wanted to reimagine the colors, red, white, and blue in a society today. What does it mean to be patriotic? We wanted to ask that question with the shirt.

How has the response been so far? It's been absolutely incredible. The learning experience has been so fun. I think that's probably one of my favorite things -- learning and creating incredible relationships and making mistakes and being responsible for that. And I think our community has been so active and in their voices and in their energy of how they kind of see the company and how they're relating to it and we've been trying to engage our community as much as possible.

We want to not only create products for our community, but we are starting in high fashion because that's an area that needs to be disturbed, an industry that needs to be disturbed. And we saw a great opportunity for us, especially in streetwear, which is so male-dominant that we were a female-founded, female-run company coming into this space to not create it for one specific type of individual, but for everyone. And we thought that would be a great disruption and a place to enter because it's also authentic to us as people. So I would say I'm excited for the community to not just be heard and seen, but also for them to have wearables that they can then identify with other people on the street that they belonged to a big community with a really great philosophy.

Quite a few U.S. women’s soccer players have made their own brands and products recently. Alex Morgan, Kelley O’Hara and Allie Long made their own “USA beat everybody” shirts. Ashlyn Harris has her Umbro campaign. Do you think we’re entering an era of women athletes are going to go for starting their own thing over endorsements and sponsorships? Yeah, I think that for sure. I think people are recognizing their own powers, not only like their own individual brand powers, but their ability to actually be able to create things for themselves.

I think there's a very distinct difference though between making merchandise and building a company because when you're building a company, you own it, you're on the equity, and actually that's one space, like just by creating a company, it's a space that also needs to be reinvented and rethought. There aren't enough women-run businesses. And I think that that is also a strategy that people need to start taking more seriously.

You see Serena (Williams) and her VC (venture capital) fund, which is absolutely incredible. And I would say the hardest thing about owning a women's company that wants to support women is that actually making those decisions. Those are the hard decisions because it's easy taking, you know, money from X, Y and Z because that's the way everybody else does it. Paving your own path is always so much harder, but you're gonna make it easier for the person behind you. And I think that's something that we want to encourage more people to do is to take control of their own destinies in order to support people behind them and create a better way.

What do you love about the city of Portland? I'm from the East Coast, so before I came to Portland I didn't really know much about it. When I came, what I liked the most was the fact that it's very craft-oriented, it's very creative, it's very small business. I feel like everybody takes a lot of pride in what they do. It's very “Portland,” from the food scene to the businesses, it's very unique and definitely has a special vibe that I dig. I don't really think of Portland so much as a city. I see it more as kind of like a town because, you know, I'm used to New York City, so I feel like it's way more intimate and I feel it's more community based. I think they take a lot of pride and community which I really like.

Portland Business Journal is a KGW News partner.