There’s a crackle of energy in the air when this Durban North husband and wife team talk about their life’s journey. “There was no grand plan, it just kind of happened organically,” laughs Billy.
The “what happened” goes back to the late 90s when the couple were involved in ocean surfski paddling races, as both competitors and organisers.
“We started making paddling shorts with sponsors’ branding as gifts,” says Billy, explaining that it was Tracy who came up with the original design, tweaking it as she went along.
“Compared to what was available then, our pants were fully lined, long lasting and very comfortable. Then Tracy decided to break away from plain colours to also make them in colourful prints, which had also never been done before.”
Before long everyone was asking for “Tracy’s funky pants” and so a new brand of paddling shorts was born.
Fast forward a few years to when the Harkers added running to their repertoire and realised that the “paddling” pants were just as good for running.
“They don’t chaff or ride up and they dry really quickly,” says Tracy. The more running events – including trail running – they did, the more people began asking for Funky Pants.
“As organisers of padding and running events, the pants were only ever going to be a side-line thing,” says Billy, who is now – rather proudly – eating his words.
Because of their paddling series business, the couple were living half the year in Durban and the other half in Cape Town.
“Then along came our kids and we had to pick a city to live in and a more stable career,” says Billy. “We picked Durban because of the warmer sea, better weather and also because our family was here.”
They then opened two Thule sports gear shops and began visiting various trade shows, where they promoted Funky Pants on the side.
Adding cycling to their sporting skills saw them buying the Cadence Cycling studio in Durban North with friends, which then had them branching out into organising sporty family holidays.
“With four kids of our own (now aged between four and nine) we realised how difficult it was to train, so we began organising holiday tours where parents had time for their various sports while the kids were entertained,” says Tracy.
Two years ago, they decided to make Funky Pants their main focus, using their connections in the surfski paddling world to take their brand global.
“When we were involved South Africa was leading the charge in world surfski paddling so we hosted a lot of international paddlers,” says Billy. “Through those connections we have been able to take our Funky Pants around the world.”
Currently you can find this proudly-Durban brand in countries from Australasia and Europe to Asia and the Americas.
“Not only are we selling our existing range of activewear products, but there has been a big demand for personalised kit, whether it be for race teams, clubs or schools,” says Tracy.
After 16 years of “tweaking, changing and adjusting”, Tracy says all their products are proudly made in Durban with imported fabric.
“We now offer pants for running, paddling, gym, cycling and swimming in various lengths and in a variety of colours from plain to patterned, as well as race vests, peaks and headbands.”
For this energetic couple who proclaim that “we do everything together”, creating a business which fits so well into their lifestyle has been an incredible amount of fun. They still organise various events, such as the Funky Full Moon Run, to market their products and visit expos around the world.
“We’re very competitive and right now I’m beating Billy at the running,” laughs Tracy. “But seriously, our next big challenge is to exhibit at the New York Marathon in November this year. With 55 000 runners it’s the biggest marathon in the world and we hope to fly the Durban flag high!”Tags: fashion, small business