Small Oak Bay design studio protects athletes worldwide

Barbara Mervin, CEO Aptoella Apparel, creates protective gear and athletic wear for women rugby players

Barbara Mervin

Barbara Mervin

A small Oak Bay design house with an international reach creates comfort and safety in a tidy 100-year-old Oak Bay home.

Barbara Mervin, CEO Aptoella Apparel, is already a household name for her prowess on the pitch. A standout national 7s player, the Westshore Valkyries veteran remains on the roster for the world No. 2-ranked senior women’s 15s. In December, Canada’s 15s played three matches in an eight-day stretch in Great Britain, with matches in Ireland against No. 1-ranked New Zealand, and the host country, plus a match in London against England. The women defeated Ireland, played to a narrow loss to the Kiwis and lost to England, who Canada had beaten earlier this season.

Rugby is a catalyst for confidence, Mervin says.

“To play a contact sport as a woman is so empowering,” she says. “We’re taught not to be aggressive.”

Rugby requires it. Beyond that release, and knowing a team has your back and you have theirs, the sport inspires female fortitude.

“That’s truly a gift rugby gives to us,” Mervin said.

Mervin graduated from the University of Western Ontario with a bachelor’s degree in art history. She separated a shoulder with her university rugby team in 2006. From there the idea grew in the back of her mind, as she scoured for a secure set of shoulder pads.

“I couldn’t find shoulder pads that fit and protected me properly,” she said. “Then I was on the hunt.”

Her sport took her, and the search, around the world. By 2012 she decided, with a diploma in fashion design at Pacific Design Academy in Victoria in hand, to start building the Attack-Her protective gear.

“In Canada there’s a certain idea that rugby isn’t a safe sport,” Mervin said. It is an aggressive sport, and injuries do happen, but the shoulder pads designed by an athlete for athletes, can help decrease occurrence and severity. Shoulder pad use is more and more common, and with the Attack-Her design, rarely noticed under a jersey.

“Some people might not want to play rugby forever like me,” she says with a laugh. “They might want to be intact after.”

They focus on the local clientele, supporting rugby clubs and players on the Island and beyond with gear that fits the female form.

Though much like her early search, those around the globe search for shoulder pads that fit and protect properly, linking back to exactly why Mervin started creating the gear in the first place.

Aptoella Rugby Apparel now sews gear and clothing for clients in 15 countries.

Their goal is to fit the female form of any shape, tall or short, thin or not, “creating a clothing line that inspires girls to stay in sport longer,” Mervin said. “If we can make jerseys they feel comfortable in and confident in, hopefully they can stay in sport longer and develop their own ideas of what’s good.”

She sums it up in one quick, but full message the Aptoella team often shares with young athletes.

“If the shorts don’t fit your quads there’s nothing wrong with your quads. There’s something wrong with the shorts,” Mervin said.

The early days meant sewing a set of shoulder pads in a week, for teammates and friends who ordered. Now she has the help of a handful of staff, many on the national women’s rugby roster as well, to supply padding and apparel for teams across Canada and special orders around the world. Though packages still go out worldwide, the focus this year is on the team sales, taking care of the clients and “really feeling good about what we do,” Mervin says.

In the region, Oak Bay-based Castaway Wanderers club, her own Westshore RFC, Glenlyon Norfolk, Brentwood and Shawnigan schools, Edward Milne Community School (Sooke) and Glenlyon Norfolk School all use Aptoella clothing and gear.

“We’re proud to be Canadian and were proud to offer Canadian-made clothing for Canadians,” Mervin said.

Visit for a taste of the gear and a link to the Inspire Her blog filled with stories and tips from top female athletes.

Did you know:

Westshore Valkyrie Barbara Mervin won the Rugby Canada Gillian Florence Award for 2016.

Aptoella staff includes: one mom, one student and three national team members.

• Apto is Latin meaning to fit, adapt, adjust, “which you do on the field to be successful and what we’re doing at Aptoella,” Mervin says.




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