Kristine Anigwe would always get asked about her height growing up.
At 6-foot-4, Anigwe stands above others, but she never wanted that to define her.
“They wouldn’t ask me what my name was. I didn’t feel like I was a real person,” she said.
Anigwe has used height to her advantage in her basketball career, including her current stint with the Phoenix Mercury, but there were some drawbacks in being a tall athlete. Clothing fits a certain mold and athletes like Anigwe have a tough time finding clothes they like that fit them.
“I used to wear the craziest things to school. I used to wear my dad’s clothes because it fit me,” Anigwe said. “That’s why I love oversized clothing and my dad always wore big pants. I’m wearing these huge pants to school. Everyone was like, what are you wearing? And I’m like, I thought it was cool?”
The young trendsetter went on to fix a problem she saw in women’s fashion, but it only happened after a critical point in her life.
While playing overseas in Turkey two years ago, Anigwe struggled with her mental health and needed an outlet outside of basketball. Upon reflecting on her life, she recalled memories of her mom’s European style that she brought over when her family moved from England to Phoenix when Kristine was younger.
“People meditate, people read, and I sketch or make mood boards. Different things work for different people,” Anigwe said.
Anigwe found her therapy through designing and later created KA Originals, a clothing brand which launched in March. Not only is the brand made for empowering people to be themselves, but it was also an ode to her mom.
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“This line was dedicated to my mom, so it’s been cool watching other people wear it because it’s my mom. All this, all these ideas, I was watching her dress growing up,” Anigwe said.
The items are handmade and tailored to fit all sizes, including those with taller and more athletic frames. Anigwe works with a team of people to bring her designs to life through a careful selection of fabrics and silhouettes for taller people.
“Being tall, you want to stand out and dress properly so when I started my brand, I was able to make clothes that fit me and find colors that make me happy,” ” Anigwe said. “I used a lot of neutral tones because it’s very calming and it’s very liberating. It allows you to understand how to ground yourself with neutral tones. I was able to express myself a lot and the brand is really my alter ego because there’s different versions of myself in this brand.”
Anigwe launched her brand just before she competed for a roster spot with the Mercury in training camp and eventually started in the season opener. She’s built a routine this season that incorporates both her passions.
“I have a lot of help right now. It’s very organized and I’m doing a lot of the designing. When I’m not practicing, I’ll go home and make some clothes and chill and then watch TV then make clothes and design. It’s really therapy for me, so it doesn’t feel like a job, it’s more so therapeutic,” Anigwe said.
Fashion has played an integral role in expression for WNBA players. The unique looks before games offer a window into their personalities, but can also be a vessel for causes they are passionate about. Many players around the league have worn clothing in support of Brittney Griner, who remains detained in Russia.
When Anigwe was preparing to feature her teammates in a photoshoot for her brand, she knew the Mercury organization would be supportive considering the team’s efforts to amplify its players’ voices.
“This brand means a lot to me because it’s all about empowering women and it’s also tying in really well with basketball right now because fashion is a big statement of who you are. Having my teammates wear my clothes and having my teammates support me is incredible,” Anigwe said.
Off days are few and far between for the Mercury, but Anigwe found an opening for Diamond DeShields, Megan Gustafson and Sam Thomas to be in a photoshoot with her in early June. The photos not only showed a different side of the players, but it gave them a better look at Anigwe’s other job.
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“She works so hard on and off the court. I just want to be there to support and try something new and get out of my comfort zone,” Gustafson said. “I love that she has clothing that works for people like me who are tall and athletic, but also want to look beautiful. I think that it’s cool that she had me come in and be in that shoot.”
Thomas is just starting her professional basketball career and recently earned her master’s degree at Arizona. She has time, but Anigwe’s photoshoot opened a possibility.
“Everyone was like, Sam, you should model more! I was like, I was so uncomfortable and awkward. I don’t think I could ever do that,” Thomas said. “Everyone is like, You couldn’t tell in the pictures. Diamond and Kristine helped me so much with the posing and to relax. It was a great experience.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 602-647-4122. Follow her on Twitter @jennarortiz.
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