In high-profile running races, a pacesetter—or “rabbit”—leads with a quick pace on the first section of the course to ensure an overall faster race time for everyone. “They sacrifice their own race for the good of others,” says 47-year-old Monica Devreese. “Their selflessness helps all the racers.”
It’s a poignant concept but one that Devreese took to heart when she co-launched the running apparel brand rabbit with her business partner, Jill Deering, in 2016. At its core, rabbit is one thing: a brand by runners and for runners.
As is often the case with fledgling businesses, the idea for rabbit came out of frustration with the existing product offering. Not only are Deering and Devreese both avid runners, but Devreese is a lifelong running industry expert with nearly 20 years of experience at brands like adidas and Deckers Outdoor Corporation (the parent company to shoe brands Teva and HOKA ONE ONE.) In 2015, she co-owned a running specialty shop with her husband in Santa Barbara, California. That’s where she observed a disconnect between the product coming into her store and what she saw her running friends wearing on race day.
“At the time, everything was moving toward athleisure, so running cuts disappeared and were replaced with tanks that went down to my knees or with a billion straps that looked cute but I was like, ‘How do you even get into this thing?!’” Devreese remembers. Running apparel was focused on fashion; not function. But the runners in her shop wanted useful clothes that felt good and looked good while they were moving.
At the time, Deering had wrapped up her Division I cross-country racing career and joined the eight-woman elite road racing team that Devreese spearheaded through her store. Deering was noticing the same things as Devreese. “Everything was over-designed and overbuilt. Nothing focused on the athlete, and Jill noticed it when she lined up at the starting line,” Devreese says. Then one day, Deering shot Devreese an email: Let’s start our own company. What do you think? Devreese didn’t have to think twice. “I was 100% in from the beginning,” she says. “Let’s go.”
Armed with Devreese’s knowledge of what it takes to get a product built, the duo had several Los Angeles-based factories lined up by the middle of 2015. While the brand has since expanded to international manufacturing, product was entirely American made in the early days so that Devreese didn’t have to deal with extended international travel that separated her from her two young sons at home. This also made it easier for the pair to drill down on the best design elements for their apparel, easily commuting 90 minutes to Los Angeles for in-person meetings and hands-on sessions. “We could go back and forth, get things done quickly, and spend the extra time focusing only on what runners actually needed—without the frills,” Devreese says.
rabbit launched in April 2016 as an apparel brand with five products for men (two tops and three inseams of shorts) and five products for women (three tops and two inseams of shorts). Thanks to a successful Kickstarter that raised more than $45,000 from 322 backers the previous year, the brand was an immediate hit with runners all over the country.
“Runners are gear junkies,” Devreese laughs. “They want the latest and greatest and they love supporting new ideas, especially in a space where most of the players have been around forever.”
Gear junkies or not, rabbit continued to grow thanks to the brand’s hyper focus on runners’ needs—and their knack for listening to their community.
The original three men’s shorts—Fully Loaded, Quadzilla, and Daisy Dukes—all featured a small key pocket in the back of the liner briefs. During one production round, rabbit decided to cut the pocket from the shorts. “We got greedy,” Devreese admits. “We tried to save a little money. Bad idea!”
The uproar was immediate with runners all over the country writing in to tell rabbit how upset they were with the decision. At barely an inch in width, the key pocket was tiny, but the repercussions were massive. Fortunately, rabbit heard their community—loud and clear. Thanks to the team’s small size and willingness to course correct, rabbit quickly pivoted based on consumer feedback. They replaced the key pocket on subsequent production rounds.
rabbit’s deep connection with the running community combined with their willingness to listen continues to set them apart. Not only are Deering and Devreese still runners, but so is their entire production team. When potential products are introduced, they turn to their sponsored athletes (like Anna Frost and Jordan Marie Daniel), grassroots RADrabbit team and production members alike to help with research and development. They also continue to seek product ideas from rabbit’s customer base. “That’s how we can continue to make products that runners actually need and want,” Devreese says.
It’s these decisions that make rabbit a household favorite in the running world. Ilana Jesse, a 38-year-old runner based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, swears by rabbit’s Leggy shorts, even now that she’s nearly 20 weeks pregnant. “There is so much function in their design,” she says. “Their fabric isn’t overbuilt so it’s just what I need without anything I don’t.”
And rabbit is about to bring even more to the market to help all runners wear apparel that performs well when the rubber hits the road. Launching June 1, the Love All capsule features Pride-inspired running tanks, tees and shorts for men and women. The motto—“Love for All. Pride for All. Respect for All. Support for All. Inclusivity for All. Spread the Love.”—is appropriate as rabbit will be donating 10% of sales to the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ rights.
No matter how many new designs or products rabbit introduces into their line, their ethos remains the same: by runners and for all runners.
“Runners are weird, you know?” Devreese says. “But we all have that same weird thread that connects, so we understand each other. That’s our community.”
To learn about more brands making an impact, visit our Good Gear series.