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Ahlilah Longmire decided to take her love of sports to the next level when she founded Ascot Manor, a tennis apparel and footwear company with a socially-conscious business model.
After Longmire fell in love with the game of tennis in her early thirties and was embraced by the competitive tennis community in Harlem, the founder and CEO of Ascot Manor started to think about how she could level the playing field for young athletes. With a background in sports, music and fashion, Longmire decided to leave her self-started PR company, the Telsa Group, which she ran for over a decade, to start Ascot Manor. She launched the brand in 2019, after observing how skilled junior players she met through the local competitive circuit stopped showing up to the courts.
“It was always the same excuse — it was always money,” said Longmire.
Longmire started talking to coaches and retired tennis pros to find out how she could support young people in the sport. Families of junior players are expected to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket annually for travel, tournament fees clothing and equipment if their children (or relatives) are not sponsored.
“You have more kids than you do resources or that are allowed into [sponsorship] programs so it makes it really difficult,” Longmire explained.
So she came up with a plan to help young athletes stay in the game when their personal finances dictated otherwise: She launched Ascot Manor as a footwear and apparel brand with a three-level sponsorship program to support junior tennis players.
The brand’s “Lower The Net” initiative reinvests a portion of its apparel and shoe sales back into the business so it can cover a range of costs for players such as tournament fees, transportation and clothing. Currently, the program supports seven top national juniors and eight international players.
Up until now, Ascot Manor has been self-funded but, as it works to expand, the brand is ready for an outside investor to help it reach the next phase of growth.
“I’m looking for other investors to get involved because during COVID we’ve realized the idea has become bigger than the initial concept,” said Longmire. “We have the ability to really compete with brands such as Nike and Adidas because we have a different foundation in what we do.”
Despite their unexpected downtime borne of the pandemic, Longmire and the Ascot Manor team have kept busy, recently rolling out the New Horizons Collection, featuring new styles of clothing and sneakers for the summer.
Among Ascot Manor’s key offerings are trendy off-court sneakers. Right now, Ascot Manor carries a few models which include its signature Umpire Classics, a slip-on and a high-top sneaker available in both men’s and women’s sizes. Longmire and the executive designer of the brand, Kareen Borgella, collaborate on the designs for each collection.
“We’re still just trying to embody everything tennis but these are all really meant to keep that style off the court,” said Longmire, a self-proclaimed sneaker fanatic.
Ascot Manor will continue to roll out new styles into the fall, she said, as COVID-19’s wide-ranging impact has been felt to a lesser extent on the game of tennis.
“It’s one of the few sports they’re allowing to play right now,” Longmire said.