TURNING STRUGGLE INTO STRENGTH
The Founder's Story (Brittney Hogan): Written by Jenna Evans
The rhythmic cadence of sneakers connecting with damp San Diego pavement is what starts Brittney Hogan’s morning; the neighborhood is quiet and chilly, a dewy mist clinging to the windshield of cars, and the occasional kitchen window glows warm, beckoning Brittney to abandon her run. But, she doesn’t. She pushes on, toward the tough hill in her neighborhood that looks down at her, challenging and mocking and as she starts working her way up the hill, muscles burning, she reminds herself, “Run for your life.”
Challenges are not something Brittney runs away from. She runs toward them, charging forward with a rich energy that exudes vitality and strength of heart and soul; a vitality that finds itself rooted in the very depths of sadness, tragedy and overwhelming loss. At age 20, Brittney met, fell in love with, and married Hunter Hogan, a young United States Marine with a mile wide smile and sense of humor that made your ribs hurt. They moved from San Diego to North Carolina where Hunter was stationed, and began to build their family. At 21, Brittney suffered a miscarriage just hours after Hunter deployed to Afghanistan, and 5 months later she was handed a folded flag at her husband’s funeral. Lance Cpl. Hunter Hogan was killed in action on June 23, 2012 in the Helmand Provence of Afghanistan. At 22, Brittney was a widow with a drinking problem and bad attitude toward life. “After Hunter died, I kind of felt like I lost myself. I didn't know who I was anymore without him. I had no identity.”
She spent nearly a year on a path of self-destruction; nights out drinking, starting arguments in bars, getting sick on the side of the road and sleeping the whole day only to begin again when the sun went down. Then one day, she stopped; her grief had become a soul sucking monster and it had taken a toll. Brittney picked herself up, dusted herself off and moved back to San Diego to start over.
“I don’t really remember why I started running, probably because it was inexpensive and I needed something to do, I needed something that I could work towards, goals that I could accomplish. There is only so much decorating and organizing you can do to a one bedroom apartment before that makes you sad too. I never considered myself to be athletic, I had so much anger built up in me that I needed to do something manual that took every last bit of energy out of me; running was exhilarating and it didn’t take much, just motivation and a pair of running shoes.” More importantly, it gave Brittney attainable goals; with every stride, her body grew stronger and she found immense sense of accomplishment. Running was empowering, rewarding and healing. “The more I ran, the healthier I wanted my body to be, and the more I focused on that, the healthier I became emotionally.” Brittney began to explore different avenues of fitness; yoga, hiking, Pilates, rock climbing, and discovered there is truly no better therapy. “I remember the first time I went to Yoga, the instructor said ‘everything you are holding in right now... just let it go.’ And I literally started bawling. Tears were running down my face onto the yoga mat. I don't think anyone noticed, but it felt so good to just let it all out.” Brittney realized that she couldn’t be the only person that used fitness as a coping mechanism, and once she helped herself, Brittney became determined to help other people; “I want to help people see the value in their fitness journey, not just the goal of a sexy body or a smaller dress size. Those things come along with physical fitness of course, but the richest reward is in discovering your capabilities, and how far they can surpass what you might have originally imagined, and I want my brand to represent the tools for that journey.”
In 2014, Brittney started Virago Fitness – a San Diego based nonprofit activewear brand. “I knew that if I wanted to continue down the path of healthy living, I had to make it my day job. Since I had never really been into fitness, I had to buy all new workout clothes, and during my several shopping sprees I realized that I wasn’t impressed by any women’s athletic wear currently on the market. So that’s when it hit me – I have to make a line of clothes that I would wear. I can’t be the only woman who doesn’t prefer bright pink tie-dyed tank tops.” Virago’s products, however, are just a small part of what makes them great. They see them more as the vehicle that gets their mission across. Virago raises money through their merchandise sales, programs, campaigns and event to fund their main program, The F.I.T. Project, which stands for “Fitness Is Therapy”. Through the F.I.T. Project, they partner with local fitness instructors to provide free fitness classes and tools for those struggling with life’s obstacles.
Virago’s motto is ‘Turn Your Struggle Into Strength’, and if nothing else, that’s what Brittney hopes others take away from her story. Her hope is that Virago will serve as an outlet for others to use fitness as a way of dealing with life’s obstacles and inspire post-traumatic growth.
Growing up in a house of four women gave Brittney a strong sense of ‘Girl Power’ and emphasis on the importance of being a strong woman. Virago, as defined in ancient literature, means a woman of great stature, strength, and courage. A female warrior. That description could not more perfectly encompass Brittney and her company. When asked about her fears pertaining to the trials of a small business, her answer was strong, confident and unapologetic.
“Is it weird that I don't have any fears in relation to Virago? It's simple: We are going to be the next global athletic brand. There's no doubt in my mind that this will be successful. I guess what I have learned recently is that it's not going to happen overnight. I need to be patient, and in God's timing and our hard work, it will all unfold exactly how it is supposed to. In the short time Virago has been alive it has already evolved into something I never imagined it would. I love the direction we are going with it, and I'm excited for the future.”
Her big ideas don’t end there. Long term, Brittney wants to build an apparel factory here in the states that will produce all of Virago’s clothing and accessories, and she intends to hire Military Veterans and their families. In a world where most entrepreneurs are thinking about their bottom line, Brittney is thinking about not only how to get to the top, but how to help and empower as many people as possible on her way. “I want to produce 100% American made products, and create jobs for our Veterans. I am super excited about that aspect of it. We should be supporting those that support this country. If Virago can create that positive cycle of support, that would make me feel very successful.”
Author: Jenna Evans