OU women's gymnastics: From doodle to dazzle, K.J. Kindler takes a hands-on approach to leotard design
NORMAN — When Olivia Trautman saw the jeweled crimson and white leotard laid out Tuesday at the Sam Viersen Gymnastics Center, the memories came flooding back.
Wearing that outfit early last season, the OU gymnast was dominant in the top-ranked Sooners’ win over then-No. 2 Florida.
So Trautman was comfortable when the team voted to wear the leotards for another showdown. OU, once again No. 1, faces No. 25 Stanford at 6:45 p.m. Friday in the Perfect 10 Challenge at Oklahoma City’s Cox Convention Center.
Even though the Sooners got to decide what they'll be wearing Friday, OU coach K.J. Kindler takes a very hands-on approach in designing the outfits her gymnasts wear. She started doing so shortly after she came to OU in 2006 and became dissatisfied with the choices available for leotards.
“They have catalogs you can pick a style and change the colors but they all seemed kind of ordinary,” Kindler said. “And I don’t consider our program ordinary.
“So I just felt like we had to step it up a notch.”
The genesis for Friday’s leotards stemmed from the 2018 Golden Globe Awards and a dress Allison Janney wore as she won for best supporting actress in “I, Tonya.” Janney’s black and white gown featured plenty of cutouts and some mesh in a striking butterfly design.
Kindler always keeps an eye out for inspiration, watching award shows, concerts and figure skating to feed her imagination.
- Related to this story
- Article: Stanford vs. OU women's gymnastics: Start time, how to watch, three things to know
Once Kindler has an idea, she’ll first sketch it out by hand.
“I should really invest in an iPad and be way more tech savvy,” Kindler said. “But instead I do it the old-fashioned way.”
She then sends the design to GK Elite Sportswear representative Calli Campo.
GK Elite outfits more than 75% of Division I programs.
Campo and GK Elite design a “virtual leotard,” an electronic file showing how the design will look, along with a price estimate. Sometimes, designs have to be altered because of price considerations — leotard prices can quickly escalate hundreds of dollars each with the addition of crystals and other accents.
Kindler makes tweaks and sends the revisions for GK to design a prototype. After examining it for look and fit, Kindler gives the green light to produce a design for the Sooners.
Almost all of the leotards Kindler orders are adult smalls, with changes made to torso length and other measurements to custom fit the leotards to the gymnasts.
“There’s nothing worse than getting a wedgie in a gymnastics meet because that’s distracting to the athlete because they’re thinking about that,” Kindler said. “We don’t want that. We want them to fit as good as we can.”
Designs usually take four to six months to go from concept to delivery.
Kindler names the creations.
The one the team will wear Friday is known as “butterfly.” Others in recent years have included leotards named after Beyonce, Jennifer Lopez and Carrie Underwood for their inspirations.
Kindler will sometimes incorporate an inside message to her team in the design.
Two years ago, the Sooners debuted a leotard with “yes” in script on the sleeves, a nod to the team’s internal motto, “The Year of Yes.”
The design is still in OU’s rotation.
Kindler will sometimes add meaningful symbols as well.
One of the new leotards she designed for the upcoming NCAA Championships, based on an elaborate dress design that caught her eye, features an “X” coming together in a circle on the front of the chest — alluding to the target that is on the Sooners as defending champions.
For some meets, Kindler will pick out the leotard herself. For instance, she will make the call which of the three new designs she recently submitted will be worn on the final night of the NCAA Championships in April.
“Whichever one I think is the most beautiful or the most impactful or, for whatever reason, different will be last,” Kindler said.
Other times, like Tuesday, she’ll set out several options and let the team vote.
After the choices are laid out, things can get intense.
“We all get kind of mad at each other if they don’t pick the right leo,” Anastasia Webb said. “If it looks slimming. It’s just a girl thing I guess.”
Everyone has their own opinions.
“I love a ton of jewels,” Maggie Nichols said. “I also like when there’s an open back or something with a big OU or Oklahoma. I think that’s just really something special.
“Standout things that are like, ‘Wow.’”
The votes themselves are private. The gymnasts are supposed to close their eyes while Kindler asks for a show of hands for each choice.
Trautman insists she plays by the rules.
Some do not.
“I tend to look around,” Webb said. “I sometimes get yelled at.”
The designs aren’t just critiqued internally. College Gym News, a website devoted to covering the sport, has weekly rankings of the new leotards debuted each week across women’s college gymnastics with multiple writers offering their opinions.
Reviews, which rate the looks based on design, fabric and sparkle, school spirit and overall appearance, for the “butterfly” were mixed.
“There’s just something about it that’s throwing me off,” one reviewer wrote last year after the look debuted. “The top is too busy for me.”
Another reviewer said it was her favorite of the eight new looks that week.
“I’m not entirely sure what the design is on the top,” she wrote. “But it comes across very well. It’s different, but it works.”
Kindler would love to expand her design repertoire.
“I’d love to do our basketball or football uniforms,” Kindler said. “No one’s ever asked me.”
No. 1 OU vs. No. 25 Stanford
When: 6:45 p.m. Friday
Where: Cox Convention Center, Oklahoma City