Discover how Sarah Vander Neut turned a passion into a project
In the early dawn, Sarah Vander Neut’s headlamp shines bright on the Spillway Trail in Aurora, Colorado. Vander Neut, the creator and owner of Vander Jacket, has spent many morning miles pondering the best design, shape, and fit of her custom outerwear – and it’s paid off.
The Vander Jacket, a hand-designed athletic jacket, is unlike anything on the market. A bonus? Every jacket is made from a repurposed polyester-blend fabric in the metro-area market. Vander Neut is on track to complete her 1,000th jacket in April of this year. Here’s her story about a combined passion for art, running, design, and comfort.
Growing up in Eugene, Oregon, running made its way into Vander Neut’s life at an early age. Her father, John Lodwick, was a professional runner on Nike’s Athletics West Team in the 1980s. After his retirement, Nike continued to send him products and apparel for testing, of which Vander Neut began to take notice. “I grew up around innovative athletic gear, and my mom taught me how to sew,” she said.
While earning a degree in Fine Art from Boise State University, a degree in Art Education from the University of Denver and a Masters of Arts at the Denver Seminary, Vander Neut continued to stay in touch with her creative side. “I’ve always loved clothes and costume design – it was always just in me,” she said.
Her first pregnancy in 2011 sent her into the garment game. “I was running through the winter while pregnant in my husband’s oversized hoody, and it didn’t make me feel fast,” explained Vander Neut. “So, I decided to make a few running jackets for myself from fabric found at local thrift stores.” Soon, people caught wind Vander Neut was making fitted running jackets, and the concept for Vander Jacket was born.
“The lightbulb went on,” said Vander Neut “Jackets in Colorado are functional pieces and fashionable pieces, this is something I can do.”
Starting small, Vander Neut harvested polyester-blend fabric from nearly every thrift store in the metro area. As she explained, polyester, known for its fit and stretch, is designed to be indestructible. However, poorly made clothing and fast fashion have made garment waste the third-largest polluter.
“The solution is to take the product that is here and make it into something that is going to last a lot longer,” explained Vander Neut. “We really do reduce; we grab what’s already around!” Vander Jacket is one of the few companies working to build a bridge between industries.
Every stitch of the Vander Jacket is well-designed. Large c-shaped pockets on the front of the jacket make for secure phone storage, without having to mess with a zipper. The fitted hood and thumbholes act as gloves and a hat during early morning runs. The watch cutouts make tracking your pace easier and can be rolled back if you want more freedom. Reflective stitching makes runners more visible during dusk and dawn.
“The beauty of running is having your whole run to think designs through,” explained Vander Neut. “I would go for a run and think that I need that pocket bigger and then come back and get designing.”
After many revisions, the Vander Jacket took its final form – a multi-sport jacket built for athletes. Vander Neut primarily sells her jackets at area flea markets and road races, although she now does some online orders. And every once in a while, she spots them on fellow runners.
“It has to be a runner hot spot, like a road race. I saw someone wearing a Vander Jacket at the starting line, and I did introduce myself,” explained Vander Neut. “In a lot of cases, I can still remember when I sold it to them.”
As a lifelong runner, Vander Neut spends time exploring the trails around her neighbor in Aurora. Spillway Trail, Olympic Trial, and inside Cherry Creek State Park are just a few of her common routes. Vander Neut explained running in Aurora has made her appreciate the city’s growth in a new era.
“Aurora really is on the rise, and it’s a beautiful place to live,” she said. “We’ve seen a huge amount of growth in culture, art, and artists.”
Vander Neut went on to explain even on her runs; she notices the positive changes in the city not only in terms of commercial construction but residential neighborhoods too. “The Aurora Reservoir is a well-kept secret; it’s just beautiful.”
In addition to the Vander Jacket ($215), Vander Neut also sells windbreakers and rain jackets. You can catch her selling at the Colfax Sports Expo in May.
Header photo courtesy: Zak Kloet