There’s an ancient proverb in Cambodia that translates loosely to Men are like gold: When they’re dirty, they can be shined up like new. Women are like white linen: When they’re dirty, they’re ruined.
Erin Roddy, of Over-the-Rhine, learned of the proverb back in 2017 when she spent two weeks in Cambodia with Destiny Rescue, a nonprofit that works to save girls from human trafficking and sexual exploitation.
The experience made Roddy look at her life and acknowledge that she was unfulfilled. It was the impetus for MEAS Active, Roddy’s activewear brand for women. The word meas—pronounced like me—is Cambodian for gold. The connection, of course, is that the Cambodian proverb is dead wrong.
“Women,” Roddy says, “are gold.”
Roddy grew up in Cincinnati and attended the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) program. After graduation, she moved to New York City to work in corporate design for companies including Express, American Eagle, and Juicy Couture for Kohl’s.
The long hours didn’t leave much time to run, which is how Roddy de-stresses and cares for her mental health, and her focus on fast fashion left her feeling unfulfilled.
“I love designing clothes. I love fashion,” she says. “[But] I felt like there had to be more. I had to give back in a bigger way.”
Enter the trip to Cambodia. Roddy helped build and clean sites for Destiny Rescue and interacted with the girls helped by the organization, which focuses on rescuing girls and teaching them how to re-enter society. The women learn skills to work in factories, for example, or as hairdressers.
Then she got back home.
“I went into work the following Monday,” she says, and she thought, “If I have one more person yell at me because the T-shirt I designed didn’t hit, I’m going to scream.”
In 2019, two years after the trip to Cambodia, Roddy launched MEAS Active. When the pandemic hit last year and she was laid off from her corporate fashion job, she and her husband decided to move back home to Over-the-Rhine where she would focus on MEAS full-time.
MEAS boasts a few details that women especially love. For one, there are pockets everywhere.
“Anytime you put a pocket in something, women are like, ‘Gotta have it,’ ” she says. And it’s true—even if they don’t necessarily use that pocket. But Roddy has experienced it, too. “My wedding dress had these massive pockets in it, and I was like, ‘I could put my dog in here.’ ”
Another one of Roddy’s favorite details is the fabric. In her corporate fashion experience, if a mass-produced item does particularly well, it’s because of the fabric: The softer, the more buttery, the better. And then there’s the shine. A company named after gold has to incorporate metallics into its clothing. The detail fits the MEAS consumer, too.
“The runners, the ones who love to perform, they love the shine,” Roddy says. “I think we like to stand out when we’re performing. A lot of women like to make a statement. If you’re gonna go run a marathon, you may as well go big or go home.”
Roddy estimates that about 80 percent of her products are certified as ethically sourced, meaning the product was made using responsible, sustainable methods, like paying workers a certain wage and not using child labor. By the time the next line drops, Roddy plans for the other 20 percent to be ethically sourced, too. A portion of all sales benefit a nonprofit, including Go Red for Women, Girls on the Run, and Esther Marie Hatton Center for Women.
MEAS is an online brand that partners with some gyms and studios around the city. Roddy also attends events, including October’s Flying Pig Expo. In the long term, Roddy hopes that when women think of running apparel, MEAS comes to mind.
“I want her to think of it as a brand that she knows when she buys it, it’s going to be amazing quality and make her look good and feel good,” she says. “I want to be the go-to women’s active apparel brand that does good all around.”