The size-small men’s polos golfers Dianne Celuch and Tami Fujii have received in corporate retreat swag bags over the years have often felt more like consolation prizes: Thanks for playing, ladies, but there’s nothing here for you.
“We would always tell ourselves that, when we were almost done with working,” Fujii says, “we should start a women’s golf apparel brand.” It’s a thought that might cross any fashionable athlete’s mind as she enters a pro shop only to find a single T-stand righted in honor of advertising’s infamous shrink-it-and-pink-it philosophy.
Few would be as poised to make that dream a reality as these two close friends, avid golfers, and former Eddie Bauer product managers.
When Bellevue-based Fujii and Los Angeles–based Celuch founded Kinona in 2017 with a small, PNW-centered staff, they joined a burgeoning tradition. From Oiselle in 2007 to Girlfriend Collective in 2016, women-run activewear companies have taken the Pacific Northwest by storm. Their success proves that our region is rife with women accomplished in athletics and entrepreneurship—and with consumers eager to support ethically run businesses with a mission.
Kinona’s: to help women feel confident on the green; to design beautiful, comfortable, versatile pieces that fit a working person’s packed-schedule lifestyle (rather than a country club pipe dream); and to “poke the bear,” as Fujii puts it, that is the male-dominated golf industry.
Women made up about 25 percent of all golfers in 2021, according to the National Golf Foundation. Believe it or not, that’s a huge improvement, boosted in part by the pandemic-driven need to socialize outside. But golf can still feel, quite literally, like a boys club. As USA Today columnist Christine Brennan told Golf Digest in 2021, “Certainly 50 years ago, but even up until 10 years ago, there was this neon red stop sign just blaring out to the world: ‘Do not play golf, women. Do not play golf, girls.’” Private, men-only institutions, though they’ve become relatively secretive, still thrive—even in the Pacific Northwest, Celuch says.
More common than exclusionary practices, though, are subtle actions and policies that hint at prejudice. Even some courses that ostensibly allow women have abysmal participation numbers: Kinona’s founders recall approaching a club about carrying their products and learning that it counted 20 women among its members. Not 20 percent, as they initially assumed. Twenty, total.
“A lot of women feel like they get really marginalized and are very intimidated to walk up to that first tee,” Fujii says. Though many courses have dress codes, they’re often particularly restrictive for women. Skirts and shorts must be a certain length. Sleeveless tops must have collars.
Kinona answers the call with mock-neck houndstooth tank tops, brightly colored skorts, even sweat suits designed for more casual golf courses, all in a super high-quality Italian fabric and silhouettes that cater to the changing bodies of its core, 50-plus-year-old consumer. Providing fashionable, flattering takes on otherwise stifling regulations goes a long way toward making women feel like they belong on the course.
But Celuch and Fujii won’t settle for fitting into golf as it stands—they’re here to change the sport for the better. “We kind of tend to be a little on the edge. We’re gonna abide by those [rules],” Celuch says, “but we’re gonna push the limits.”