Donna Burke encourages women to get confident through activewear
Words by Nicole Letts
When Donna Burke shuttered her fitness studio in 2020, she never thought it would be for good. After all, she had spent years building an inclusive fitness studio for women of all shapes, sizes, and workout backgrounds—myself included. Three years later, Donna has taken the same inclusivity mindset to create an Atlanta-based online activewear company, High Street Sporte. The goal? To supply confidence through her athletic wear. That involves encouraging women to stand out and offering size-inclusive options. She is building an online shop and community where one size definitely doesn't fit all.
Entrepreneurship is in Donna’s blood. Her parents are Irish immigrants and own a commercial construction company where two of her siblings work. Her sister owns and operates an Irish dance studio in Atlanta. Being raised in that environment, it was only natural for Donna to develop a desire to work for herself too. After a stint as a pre-med major at Florida State University, and a few retail jobs at luxury brands, Donna took a leap of faith to join her sister, Danielle, in launching one of Atlanta’s first boutiques devoted to exercise apparel, Atlanta Activewear.
“It was 2008, and we were in the peak of the recession. Women were looking for wardrobe versatility. We started showing clients how to wear activewear, like black leggings, in more ways than one. Once people realized the multipurpose of these products, they started trusting that this was more than a trend. I think that's really what kicked athleisure into where it is today,” she says.
Even big box stores such as lululemon caught on to Atlanta Activewear’s vision. “At one time, those chain retailers were coming into a locally owned store like us scouting what was on the cutting edge of independent lines. It was wild.” However, as retail continued to change with online sales emerging and foot traffic slowing down, the Burke sisters’ boutique took a turn. Donna started offering workout classes in the space to drive traffic to the shop. Soon enough, those classes became too crowded for the store, and another business was formed, FORME Studios. FORME thrived until another uncontrollable event, the pandemic, forced Donna to close a second business.
She went back to working for someone else, developing the only supplement line that was formulated for women called PRTCL (particle). Predictably, Donna never quite shook the entrepreneurship bug, and she began thinking about retail again. “I longed to go back into an industry that I'd missed for seven years and decided to open an activewear store.”
This time around, Donna found that there was a hole in the market. “In the time I worked for corporate America, I gained almost a hundred pounds and realized that I could no longer shop like I used to as a size-six person,” she says. “I could walk into any store and purchase anything then, but as a size 16–18 person, I could not walk into a single store and buy anything because no one stocked those extended sizes.”
High Street Sporte, Donna’s online and mobile activewear shop, was born. “The goal is that we become big enough to push the smaller independent brands to expand to size-inclusive and extended sizing,” she explains. To Donna, that mission goes beyond simply offering a variety of sizes. “In the activewear market, you don't see plus-size people in the clothing because society doesn't deem it as attractive, so customers don’t see themselves represented in the clothes,” she says. Through her social media and website, Donna hopes to showcase real women, including herself, in her items.
She also hopes to reimagine traditional activewear. In the activewear space, there’s a tendency for brands to gravitate toward plain or neutral colors, especially in the extended sizing range. Donna pushes herself, her brand, and her clients, to embrace color, funky designs, crop tops, and cut outs. “I can watch people as they try our things on, and I can see their confidence and their mindset switch,” she explains. “It's one of my favorite parts of retail. You get them in one single outfit that looks fantastic, and it changes their entire mindset for the day, for the week, or for the year. It's really amazing what you can do for someone's confidence level by putting them in an outfit that fits well and that they feel confident in.”
And for Donna, that confidence translates to encouraging women to want to move and be active too. “I actually got a text this morning from someone who bought a leopard print outfit last night, and she was wearing it as she worked from home today. Then she said, ‘I need to book a workout because I feel so good in this, and I can't put it to waste. I want people to see it.’” What might start as a work from home outfit becomes a running errands outfit becomes a workout outfit. “That mindset switch allows you to have that confidence to book the class that you didn't think you wanted to go to today,” says Donna.
As for where the business is headed, Donna hopes to take her shop on the road. “I’m calling it brick-and-mortar adjacent,” she laughs. “I want to be a mobile boutique with a fleet of High Street buses that will be able to pop up nationwide.” With a shop on wheels and determination in her soul, there’s no stopping her.