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Art for sport’s sake: Bronco grad’s thriving sportswear company

A woman wears a homemade running jacket in the woods
Sarah Vander Neut wearing one of her original creations, photo Matt Vander Neut.

Sarah Vander Neut, owner of the Colorado custom athletic apparel business Vander Jacket, spent two years in Texas studying fashion design and art before deciding she needed a change and moved to Boise State.

The diverse skills and perspectives of the art faculty created a solid foundation for Vander Neut.
“The technical experience they brought to their craft, the knowledge of materials and the knowledge of technique, it was traditional and taught me the fundamentals of art. But at the same time, the philosophy
of the art department was current with what is happening in art now. It was the best of both worlds,” she

Much of the coursework Vander Neut completed at Boise State serves her today in her apparel business.

An avid runner, Vander Neut needed a jacket to wear during workouts while pregnant in 2011. Unable to find a jacket that fit, she designed her own, laying the groundwork for Vander Jacket. After her daughter was born and she no longer needed the pieces she’d made, she sold her creations at a local flea market. Demand from fellow athletes was immediate.

Nearly 10 years later, Vander Neut has produced more than 1,000 custom jackets and vests for men and women, all sold through her website. A small team in Colorado produces her pieces using as many materials sourced in the U.S. as possible.

Lindsey DeBolt, president of Colorado Cut & Sew, has worked with Vander Neut for years.

“Sarah always rolls up her sleeves and jumps right in. She brings her scissors and helps us hand trim pattern pieces or load huge fabric rolls onto pallets,” DeBolt said. “She is always open to new ideas to help the manufacturing process. We, in turn, understand that her jackets are not just jackets. They are art pieces.”

Vander Neut has placed her designs in running and outdoor stores in the Rocky Mountain area. Thomas Morgan is a buyer for FootZone Bend, an Oregon athletic wear store that carries Vander Jacket.

“Sarah is not afraid to live on the fringe. Most apparel makers think they need a safe design in order
to justify risky prints but her bold and innovative ideas are what our customer craves,” Morgan said. “I wish someone would give her a million dollars so she could execute everything in her head.”

Athletics have been a cornerstone for Vander Neut’s family. Her father ran professionally in the 1980s, her sister competed in college track and her brother played basketball in Europe. Vander Neut sees the parallels between art and athletics in their competitive nature, the vulnerability of athletes and artists, and the range of emotions experienced.

Though her main creative outlet is through her clothing business, Vander Neut still turns to visual arts as a restorative practice to avoid burnout.

“I’ll get to a point where I’ve been sewing and designing like crazy and the way, for me, to heal from that is to draw or paint again,” she said. “Again, just like athletes have to have an offseason, it’s
a good balance to go between the two. It’s a very healing and meditative thing for me to create art.”