Back in the days when her daughter was a young gymnast performing gravity-defying acrobatics, resourceful mom Sylvia Pichler borrowed a friend’s sewing machine and created a bespoke leotard for her offspring. Fast-forward 21 years, and the Austrian-born entrepreneur now heads up the phenomenally successful Sylvia P Sportswear, Australia’s largest manufacturer of gymnastics team wear, and her daughter is a pivotal member of the business: “All three of my children hold key roles within the company, and in years to come they will continue what I have started.”
So how did a simple love of sewing ignite into a massively successful business? “It wasn’t my intention,” says Sylvia. “Parents of fellow gymnasts soon showed interest in the leotards, so I began making custom orders.” Going from not being able to speak English (she was born in Austria and only arrived in Australia in her 30s) and sewing from her garage, Sylvia’s story is all about guts, graft and patience. “As an unemployed immigrant, I saw the gap in the market for high-quality, elegant leotards and the business grew from there.”
We’ve come a long way since Nadia Comaneci broke ranks with the plain leotard and featured the three stripes of the Romanian flag at the 1976 Olympics. Sylvia P is now globally renowned for its signature sparkling garments that give the wearer a glamorous, glittering edge. In fact, their Midnight Pavé Leotard (created to celebrate Sylvia P’s 21st birthday) is the most crystallized leotard in the world.
“Our product designers incorporate crystal designs in unique ways,” she explains. “The team works closely with customers in the design process—they can opt for a Sylvia P design, or we will create a one-off outfit based on their choice of fabrics, colors and crystals to make a literally unique, handmade garment.”
Some Sylvia P leotards glitter with over 3,000 crystals—this is the limit before a garment becomes impractical. “We also only use Swarovski Xilion Rose round crystals—anything larger or pointier can be uncomfortable for the athlete.”
As well as looking beautiful, sparkles enhance and highlight acrobatic feats, plus the light refractions add a dazzling magic to floor work. “Each athlete is looking for any advantage over their competitors,” says Sylvia. “The leotard is part of the overall performance and can help the athlete stand out. The more sparkle, the better!”
As gymnastics is a highly physical, ultra-demanding sport, garments have to be stress-tested for suitability. “It’s vital that each piece goes through rigorous quality checks at different stages on the production line, as well as a final inspection.”
For the future, we can look out for Sylvia P’s new cheerleading designs, and the outcome of their investment in fabric printing machines, which allow for unlimited thrilling design options. She’s sure come a long way from the days of running up designs for friends in her garage. Inspirational!