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In 2016, Monica DeVreese’s friend and running partner Jill Deering came to her with a problem: she wanted high-performance running clothes that also looked great.
DeVreese was intrigued. Her husband Joe had founded the Santa Barbara Running Company, a local run store that serves a 50/50 trail-road split, and she loved her role working as the co-owner. But after 28 years in the running industry, doing everything from working at a local run store in Kansas City to technical sales with Adidas and working as Brand Manager for Simple Shoes at Deckers, DeVreese was interested in starting her own running apparel brand.
She and Deering jumped right in, combining their years of business and athletic experience to start rabbit and, over the past seven years, have worked passionately to grow it into one of the running industry’s best-known and well-loved brands
Ready, Set, GO!
Devreese ran collegiately for the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, and fell in love with distance running. She ran her first marathon in Chicago when she was a senior (majoring in business), working hard to eclipse the 4-hour mark with a 3:59:59.
After graduating, DeVreese moved to Kansas City and started working at a local run shop in the hopes of meeting other runners. She befriended the owner, who saw that DeVreese was clearly interested in the business side of running, and he pushed her to leave the run shop and dive even deeper into the running industry, putting her degree to use.
DeVreese landed in RaTs (Running and Technical Sales) at Adidas, tasked with selling to run specialty shops around Indianapolis, as well as managing marketing initiatives. She eventually transferred to the running hub of Portland, Oregon, where she worked with the footwear merchandising team, before moving into a more fashion-oriented side of the run industry.
Then, DeVreese moved out to California to pursue a job with Deckers (the company that owns Hoka) and to help her husband open the Santa Barbara Running Company in 2002. When she had her first child, she decided to leave Deckers to focus her attention on family and the run shop.
DeVreese loves numbers. Her happy place is deep in a spreadsheet, problem-solving and making predictions to help guide complex business decisions. She has a keen eye for patterns and always kept close tabs on what sold well in her run shop, and what wasn’t moving off the floor. That business smarts led her to understand that she, like many other small local run shop owners, was at the mercy of what giant running brands were making, apparel-wise. Mass-produced lines had to be developed and fabricated years in advance, rendering many styles functionally obsolete, and formally by the time they landed in her shop. DeVreese believed much of the apparel being produced by big-name brands was more of an afterthought than the prioritized shoe business, and realized it left a compelling market space wide open.
When Deering, an attorney and competitive age-group marathoner, came to her in search of running shorts that were optimized for performance, as well as cute enough to wear to brunch or the brewery after a run, DeVreese knew exactly where to channel her decades of experience.
The two friends originally launched their brand on Kickstarter, primarily as a marketing tactic to help garner attention for their nascent brand known simply as rabbit. (That’s right – just rabbit! No capitalizations, according to DeVreese, to convey the brand’s laid-back Cali vibes.)
“I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have spent many years in the industry, acquiring valuable tools and experiences that have prepared Jill and me for the journey we embarked upon,” says DeVreese “However, the one thing we weren’t quite prepared for was how quickly our brand would capture the hearts of runners and propel us into an incredible growth trajectory over the last six years.”.
“She always gets everything done and is a natural-born leader,” Deering says.“She’s kind, compassionate and profoundly loyal. She’s spirited and energetic and cares deeply for the people who work for her. Monica is a doer, a go-getter, and not a day goes by that I am not grateful to be in business with her.”
A major turning point came in early 2020 when rabbit forged a deal with REI to sell its apparel in stores and online. Fortuitously, this major opportunity came just before the COVID-19 pandemic set in, which was a major boon to direct-to-consumer brands like rabbit, and also for all things run, as more and more people took to the streets and trails following gym closures due to health concerns.
“The trickiest part of this explosive growth is the capital needed to sustain it, and with money often comes stress,” DeVreese says. “It’s difficult to predict how much capital you’ll need, and this can cast a shadow over even the most exciting ideas. Navigating these emotions and realities can still be a challenge today. Nonetheless, it’s truly humbling and inspiring to pursue a career fueled by my passion, and I consider myself fortunate to pinch myself every day for this incredible opportunity.”
It’s not easy running a major brand while being a mother to two sons, Levi, 13, and Cruz, 11.
“[Jill and I] like to call ourselves ‘mother runners,’ and at times, it can feel overwhelming
to juggle both personal and professional obligations,” DeVreese says. “Nonetheless, we’re committed to finding a balance that works for us and our families, while also ensuring that we meet our professional goals and aspirations.”
In addition to her role as CEO at rabbit, DeVreese is still a passionate runner, competing on the roads and the trails. She nabbed a marathon PR of 2:57 at the 2002 Chicago Marathon and has since finished multiple 100-mile races, including the Javelina 100, Rocky Racoon, and a 28-hour finish at the Western States Endurance Run, the country’s premier 100-mile event. She crossed the finish line on the historic Auburn track wearing a kit that she herself helped develop, just for that race.
DeVreese attributes her success to flexibility and asking for help in work and training.
“Flexibility is essential when balancing daily routines involving kids, work, and life,” she says “Prioritizing training and dream chasing is crucial to achieving the best version of myself, not just for my family and employees, but for my own well-being. I dedicate at least an hour every day to this non-negotiable priority.”
While she enjoys a fast marathon, she’s been loving learning from longer-distance events on the trails, too.
“The ultra distance is an apt metaphor for the mindset required to start, own, and run a business,” she says. “ It’s all about setting priorities, planning ahead, taking breaks, seeking support, and being flexible when necessary.”
The running community has fueled DeVreese’s passion for work since the beginning, and she always aims to create products that serve elite and everyday runners just like her, so that others can be transformed by the power of running.
“I am deeply passionate about the community and connections within this community that we are creating,” she says. “Our customers and athletes constantly inspire us, fueling our motivation to innovate and offer exceptional products in the running space. Every individual has a unique and inspiring story that shows the transformative power of running. We aim to share these stories and inspire everyone to embrace the joy of running and the positive impact it can have on one’s life.”
While the brand’s biggest struggle has been up-scaling fast enough to keep up with market demand, DeVreese also says she and her co-founder have also had to push back against stereotypes of women in the outdoor industry and business world.
“The biggest challenge we face is breaking free from the archetypal stereotypes and biases that have traditionally dominated the outdoor industry. Having been in this industry for a significant period, I’ve witnessed firsthand how these biases can manifest in different ways,” says DeVreese. “However, my past experiences have prepared me to overcome these obstacles. One common stereotype is that women are less knowledgeable or less capable leaders, but I’m proud of how Jill and I have remained resilient in standing up for ourselves.”
Deering agrees that it hasn’t been easy. “Honestly, it feels very challenging at times. I wish this wasn’t true, and I hope someday it isn’t, but for now, it motivates us to work harder, to keep doing what we are doing, and to keep our heads held high,” she says. “I am so incredibly proud of everything we have created, and being female-founded plays a huge role in that.”
DeVreese says her acuity with numbers and people skills have helped her overcome some negative perceptions. Confidence is key, she says, while setbacks are inevitable, and part of the process of learning and growing.
“Believing in yourself is essential to the success of any company. Despite the inevitable challenges and setbacks along the way, having unwavering faith in your vision is critical. Networking and building relationships are equally important in gaining guidance and support. Starting a company requires a significant amount of financial resources, so seeking funding opportunities early and often is a must,” says DeVreese. “Prepare yourself for failure, as it is an inevitable part of the journey. Above all, surround yourself with individuals who inspire, motivate, and push you to your fullest potential….and have fun!”
Zoë Rom is Editor In Chief of Trail Runner magazine, and Managing Editor of Women’s Running. When she’s not running, she’s writing, and when she’s not climbing she’s cooking or eating. Southern story-teller turned mountain-dweller, she starts every day with a cup of strong coffee and a good story. Her work has appeared in REI Co-op Journal, Discover, Rock & Ice, Trail Runner, Backpacker, and Threshold Podcast. She currently hosts and produces the DNF Podcast. She is co-author of the forthcoming book, Becoming a Sustainable Runner with Tina Muir.