Photo by Deone Jahnke
Ralph Lauren designed the United States’ Opening Ceremony outfits for the 2012 Summer Olympics, and Nike provided the gear worn by medal recipients. But it was Milwaukee’s own Eliza Audley who created the red, white and blue tank tops and skirts worn by U.S. tennis Olympians Varvara Lepchenko and Lisa Raymond.
Carried in more than 115 pro shops and country clubs in the U.S., Audley’s clothes are produced right here in a West Allis factory. In late 2011, they caught Raymond’s eye, and she sought out Audley to design an outfit for the Olympics. The result, made from Audley’s signature blend of 90 percent micro-polyester and 10 percent spandex, met with both aesthetic and athletic success: Raymond paired with Mike Bryan to win a mixed-doubles bronze medal, only her latest accomplishment. A tennis legend in doubles play, Raymond has 11 Grand Slam doubles titles. At age 38, she became the oldest woman to hold a No. 1 doubles ranking, surpassing the previous bar set by a 36-year-old named Billie Jean King.
Since 2006, Audley has designed and produced an eponymous collection of women’s tennis apparel to be worn both on and off the court. The Pewaukee Lake native and Mount Mary College grad got into the business after moving back to Milwaukee from Los Angeles, where she spent almost a decade designing knits and sportswear for luxury fashion house St. John Knits.
Her tennis designs include a smooth charcoal wrap dress; a coral, scalloped skirt; and a red and black form-fitting minidress with inch-thick white lines cutting diagonally across its length. This spring’s collection features Audley’s standard blacks and whites but also cheerful “basics” (skirts, tanks and pants) and a horizontally slitted skirt that’s eye-catching with just the right amount of edge.
Audley herself was wearing a puffy black coat this fall when she stepped into a bustling Third Ward café for coffee, months after the Olympics ended. Despite frigid weather, underneath that coat was one of her designs, a black tennis skirt (accompanied by yoga leggings). A conventional outfit for a country club’s court in summer, but just plain chic in November.
Her biannual collections are relatively small (that’s what she intends), while her market penetration is sizable. The Eliza Audley line is sold in stores from California to Pennsylvania, including three in the Milwaukee area.
The West Allis factory opened in 2011 and employs five workers plus contractors. They’re “basically all women, except for my husband and my son,” she says. “He sweeps a little bit.”