Women Behind the Gear: Oiselle Founder Sally Bergesen

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Studying migration patterns, scientists have found that just one bird can urge an entire flock to change directions. Sally Bergesen is that bird.

She wanted to create a different kind of company—one run by and for women—so she founded Oiselle, a running apparel startup. With a small staff working above a country music bar in Seattle, she learned garment design in real time—and she’s doubled her growth every year.

Sally’s strength is in creating identity. In her previous life she was a brand strategist with a penchant for naming. (Her claim to fame: she named the emergency contraception pill “Plan B.”)

Oiselle is the French word for “bird,” an allusion to the weightless, soaring feeling of the runner’s high. The brand has attracted a cult following in the form of the Volée (French for “flock”), a global team of women runners with diverse backgrounds and competitive goals. They gather at summer retreats called Bird Camps, share stats and photos on social media, and cheer each other on at races.

“You need to know that you are worthy of advocating for your rights, even when the power dynamics are not in your favor.”

“Community is everything,” Sally says. “Running is beautiful that way—people all over the world come together to share it. I like the fact that the brand has been a catalyst for people connecting to one another, but honestly if Oiselle went away, and there were thousands of new connections among women around the world, like, job done.”

Oiselle is also the only women-led company that sponsors professional track & field athletes—the Haute Volée—and Sally makes it a point to value the whole athlete, not just their results. Champions like Lauren Fleshman and Olympian Kara Goucher have left lucrative contracts to join Oiselle for that reason—they’re free to be themselves, and they feel they’re part of a family.

“Something I think about is, how do you create an inside without creating an outside?” Sally says. “Our goal with the Oiselle community is to have a community of diverse women that have different opinions, and have a model for how you respectfully talk to each other about those differences.”

“Something I think about is, how do you create an inside without creating an outside?”

Sally herself is known for rattling the status quo, and fully embodies her brand’s ethos of “feminine fierce.” She recently launched a Speak Out campaign as “a call to conversations big and small that are important for women, the sport, and the world.” She encourages her followers—including her teenage daughters—to stand up for issues that matter. “It’s always going to be scary, but you need to know that you are worthy of advocating for your rights as a woman, even when the power dynamics are not in your favor,” she says.

For this perspective, she credits her father, a former civil rights lawyer. “He’s always been my mentor in terms of taking a stand,” she says. “It’s just kind of how I’m wired.”

All things considered, the Oiselle brand identity has evolved into an outspoken sisterhood of committed runners, and its growth shows no signs of slowing. “I have big goals, but I want to grow thoughtfully,” Sally says.

 “Community is everything. Running is beautiful that way—people all over the world come together to share it.”

Her next step is expanding the flock—and not just to women at their peak. “We see that there are valleys in every woman’s life, and we want to play a role there,” she says. “One of them is getting your first sports bra. Girls will often decide whether or not to stay engaged in sports based on that moment.”

In response, Oiselle is launching a new sports bra donation program for middle school girls in need. When those girls grow up and reach another valley after high school or college, when there’s no longer a school team to ground them in community, the Volée will be waiting to embrace them.

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