Mary Korlin-Downs was in college when she looked around and realized the athletic tape used on Minnesota athletes didn’t match everyone’s skin. A few years later—as a college graduate who now had the time and resources to invest in her ideas—she decided to do something about it, and in late 2021, Our Colour Wrap was born.
Korlin-Downs is a Gopher gymnastics alumna. A five-year member of the team—with her freshman year spent at Iowa State—she is an All-American on beam and was a fan favorite. Korlin-Downs graduated from Minnesota with a Bachelor’s degree in product design and followed it up with a Master’s in Human Factors and Ergonomics in 2021. She always wanted to work in the medical device field and found herself in its epicenter in Minneapolis, where she had the opportunity to intern in the field during college.
With a background in both college gymnastics and medical devices, Korlin-Downs was uniquely positioned to affect change in the space where those interests intersect: athletic tape.
In a mid-2021 conversation with her athletic trainer, who mentioned that Band-Aid only introduced a range of skin tone shades recently, Korlin-Downs learned that the athletic tape colleges use only came in one shade. It wasn’t that colleges were only ordering white, but rather that white was the only color that existed.
“I felt it was unfair that my skin tone has been represented my entire life. I could go on the competition floor, wrap my knees and feel totally fine,” she said. “Gymnasts that are competing that are people of color, they might not feel as secure with that one skin color that does not represent them.”
Our Colour Wrap—”colour” is spelled the British way, with a u, because Korlin-Downs wanted to reinforce the inclusivity in the three letters of “our”, plus the symmetry of “our colour” being pleasing in a design sense—currently offers four shades of tape: light, medium, medium deep and deep.
Initially, Korlin-Downs struggled with the notion that she, as a white person, was stepping in to address a perceived problem. She wasn’t sure she had the right to create a product like Our Colour. After talking it over with her athletic trainer and some former teammates, Korlin-Downs ultimately decided that her unique expertise and the long overdue nature of the project made her the right person for the job.
The process of building a business and sourcing and creating the product has been largely new to Korlin-Downs, and it is difficult. Ongoing supply chain shortages have affected Our Colour’s availability, as has Korlin-Downs’ attention to detail. She went through a lengthy process to find the right source for the tape and has had to design the colors herself, since no suppliers offered a range of skin tones.
Marketing, though, has come easily. The company found its first customers on Instagram. When Korlin-Downs created the page, athletes and parents—including parents of young gymnasts—immediately began reaching out to her to inquire about the product. She also reached out to many universities directly.
Elexis Edwards, a sophomore at Ohio State, was one of the first people to reach out.
“Not only was the logo captivating, but then I read about what Our Colour was about and I was like, wow, it’s about time, this is amazing!” Edwards said. She recognized Korlin-Downs from Big Ten competition and was excited to get in touch.
Our Colour sent Edwards samples, which she brought to her athletic trainer who was impressed with the quality. Edwards says the tape is lighter in weight than the tape she had been using and is comfortable to wear. Edwards and Ohio State then made the decision to purchase the wrap for the entire team; the Buckeyes were the first team in the country to do so.
Korlin-Downs heavily encourages athletes who want to use the product to first request free samples so they can find the correct color, something that is possible due to new Name, Image and Likeness rules. She wants them to be confident in the quality of the product and the color before investing any money. Korlin-Downs encourages athletes to ask their schools to purchase the wrap: She doesn’t want the financial burden of a tape that matches an athlete’s skin to be on a student.
“We have a lot of great conversations on our team. We have a very diverse group,” head coach Meredith Paulicivic said of her Buckeyes. “I think everybody feels better in something that matches their skin tone.”
Gymnastics, Paulicivic pointed out, is ultimately about aesthetics. That it took until 2022 for the tape so many gymnasts wear on ankles, knees and wrists to match their skin and enhance lines rather than cut them off is, in her words, “odd.”
Edwards appreciates the aesthetics, too. “Gymnastics is a very artistic sport, and I think having tape that matches my skin tone takes away the eyesore of white tape or a tape that’s lighter. Now on TV you can’t even tell I’m wearing tape,” she said.
For Gabrielle Stephen, a freshman at Michigan State, this change has been a long time coming.
“It was a problem I found myself running into even in J.O. When I went to get taped up I thought, ‘I don’t want to have literally only the typical white tape,'” Stephen said. It always annoyed her that tape stood out, and she would choose to compete without it rather than wearing white tape.
Both Edwards and Stephen said they have not experienced racism in gymnastics. At the same time, they have both long been aware that while it is easy to find products that match white skin, it is much harder or impossible to find anything that matches deeper skin tones. Edwards mentioned that she has struggled to find an appropriate shade of nude undergarments. The Code of Points stipulates that to avoid a deduction, undergarments must either match a gymnast’s leotard or be nude.
When choosing a school, Stephen specifically looked for a team with a diverse roster. Not only is Michigan State diverse currently, its recruiting continues to add women of color to future classes, something that signals to her that the program is committed to inclusivity.
“Gymnastics is predominantly a white sport, so it’s cool to have a little community,” Stephen said. “They understood how excited I was to have tape that matched my skin color, which might not seem like a big deal to other people.”
Edwards, on the other hand, was a little nervous coming into a team not only in a new state, but also where she would be the only Black gymnast. She quickly found that her teammates, including a number of other non-white women on the roster, were respectful and like a family.
While Stephen and Edwards have had positive experiences, it has been clear especially in recent weeks that that’s not universal across gymnastics, as stories about racism and its mishandling at UCLA have circulated online.
Certainly, inclusive athletic tape won’t heal centuries of racism and mistreatment for athletes of color. What Korlin-Downs does hope Our Colour will do, though, is make those athletes feel comfortable and confident in their own skin.
“I want to protect these athletes, not only physically but also mentally, to know that they are seen and they are heard,” Korlin-Downs said. “I want them to feel like they’re represented. I want them to go on the competition floor and feel as confident as they can be in their own skin tone. They should not be representing anything besides that.”
So far, Korlin-Downs is hitting the mark. “It feels special to me. It feels like someone is doing something for us and for me,” Stephen said.
Paulicivic hopes Our Colour is part of a cascade of inclusivity in products. She pointed out that it was also only recently that leotard mesh was made to match diverse skin. Korlin-Downs, too, wants to see more products embrace diversity.
Our Colour is currently represented across all college divisions and in sports from gymnastics to basketball. As of today, all four shades of Our Colour are available for pre-order on the company’s website. Korlin-Downs is thrilled with the outpouring of excitement around the product and asks for patience as she tries to get fulfill orders in as quick a manner as supply chain issues allow.
You can follow Our Colour on Twitter and Instagram. Interested athletes can apply to be an Our Colour Athlete here.
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Article by Emily Minehart
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