Welcome to my “side hustle.” Her Pitch was born just about two years ago when your faithful correspondent was laid off from his marketing job. Instead of dwelling on a crummy situation, I decided to focus on the positive and start a new site focused on sharing stories about the women who play professional soccer. I also decided that I’d primarily stick to working on stories with players, rather than writing my thoughts about players.
What’s far more interesting to me, and hopefully to you, is getting a better sense of what life is like for the women involved with professional soccer, on and off the field. As I suspect you already know, it’s not all sunshine and roses and champagne and caviar. The financial realities of the current state of professional women’s soccer in the United States has undoubtedly robbed the world of many amazing careers and performances that a more just world would have permitted to flourish. Still, for the women who will earn a roster spot for one of the NWSL’s 10 teams, the sacrifices, in whatever form they take, are worth it to play at the highest level.
As the NWSL has remained stable, an increasing number of players have launched side hustles of their own to promote themselves as a brand, doing everything from establishing soccer training programs to producing quirky videos. Often enough, the players hope to generate some extra money through their side hustles. But sometimes, having a personal passion to focus on that is completely unrelated to boots, cones and soccer balls provides a way to unwind and protect against getting burned out.
After talking with Yael Averbuch when she launched Techne Futbol, I started paying closer attention to players running off-field businesses. There are some fun stories, and I hope I can do them justice in my occasional series: The Side Hustle. I plan to primarily let the players speak for themselves, in minimally edited interviews. Next up:
Christine Nairn and Caitlin Friend are Finding Euphoria
A video on Christine Nairn’s Instagram gave me vertigo last summer, and when I recovered, I wondered why (and how) she’d talked several of her Seattle Reign teammates into traipsing out onto a dilapidated railroad bridge only to film a would-be scene from Stand By Me with a drone. But something was off. Everyone in the video was wearing the same shirt. Or, rather, various versions of a shirt screen-printed with a simple circle and the words “Finding Euphoria."
Click to watch at your own risk:
These were the first shirts Nairn and her partner Caitlin Friend would offer to the world as part of their new endeavor, Finding Euphoria Threads. They’ve subsequently produced a few other shirts (I bought one), as well as some hats and other accessories. Truth be told, I’m currently wearing my XL crimson tee featuring a simple “FE” on the chest. It’s become one of my favorites for the soft hand, ample length and ‘90s overdyed look.
I’m fairly certain that this very hue was part of the color palette, together with a deep navy, a golden maize and something called “natural,” of the (not hemp) threads wrapped around a thin braided lock of hair on a certain long-hair hippie’s head during his/my ‘90s college days. So, I’m feeling the euphoria already. I’m certainly feeling something.
However, as I quickly learned, shirts aren’t the point. When I caught up with Christine as she drove around on a rainy Seattle morning, she knew exactly what sparked Finding Euphoria into existence, and how a simple question opened a door to self discovery.
Christine Nairn / Finding Euphoria: CN
Kevin Hunt / Her Pitch: KH
CN: I’ve always been a soccer player; I have have always been identified as that. I’ve always missed a lot of things because of that, and most of the time I’d call it a full time job, but I think that at the end of the day, the girl who is running the company with me—I met her in Australia—and she said to me, “If you take it all—take all the soccer away—who are you? Explain to me who you are as a person.”
And I was just completely dumfounded. I had no idea what to say.
She was like, “what do you like to do?” and I thought, “Well, it just all revolves around soccer.”
And she kept trying to get it from me. “What makes you happy? What do you do outside of, you know, when you’re talking with your family and friends?”
And I thought, “You know, not much.”
As simple as that is, I don’t really do that much, and she really has challenged me—her name is Caitlin Friend—she’s really challenged me to try to answer that question and challenge myself and put myself out there and do things that I normally wouldn’t. Whether that’s trying a new hike, or volunteering at an animal shelter or trying to learn a new language—as people we’re usually so stuck in being one-dimensional “Oh, you’re an engineer, you’re a teacher,” with all those things—but at the end of the day, what makes you happy and what can you do personally every day that prioritizes your happiness?
I think as a brand, that’s our goal: to promote people, as well as to personally be on a journey myself to find that euphoria, to find that happiness. I think that’s such a good message to promote because if you can prioritize your own happiness, you can find out more about yourself, find out what makes you tick, challenge yourself and get outside of your comfort zone. I think if you do those things, you’ll be happier and you’ll have a more fulfilling life and be better to those around you.
KH: That sounds un-American, Christine.
CN: Right? Yeah. We’re trying, we’re trying. Give us time.
KH: So you’re doing the shirts first and concentrating on apparel?
CN: In the short term, it will be some clothing in our line to get out there and promote the message. With each purchase, they get a little card with a message like “go do something that scares you” or something along those lines.
Eventually I’d like to get into something like one-on-one sessions with people so I can spread the word as well and just tell them my story and that I struggle with this as well. I’m supposed to be this soccer player who has everything figured out, but I’m 26 turning 27, so yes, I’m pretty young and I’m still figuring myself out at this point as well. We just want to be an outlet to people and be available to people to challenge them to, as corny as it might sound, find their euphoria.
KH: The connection to individuals is unique—
CN: I think that the more you can relate to people—and it doesn’t matter if you’re 18 years old and trying to figure out where you’re going to college or you’re a 26 year old soccer player or you’re a normal business owner who works a typical 9 to 5—it applies to everyone.
KH: The growth that comes out of that process is beneficial no matter where you are.
KH: You hope.
CN: Yeah, fingers crossed.
KH: Unless you really like doing dumb and bad things, in which case, don’t find that.
CN: Exactly. Don’t wear our shirt if you do that.
KH: So Caitlin Friend is also helping with the company. Are there others? I saw a lot of Reign players on your Instagram posts. Are they also involved?
CN: So, Caitlin is pretty much co-owner with me, and all the Reign players you saw are helping as models and they’ve helped us out with lots of little things here and there. Again, it’s kind of something cool for us to work on, and it’s completely different from soccer. It gets us doing the same thing at the same time.
KH: Because the rest of the time you don’t spend any time together at all.
KH: That’s interesting to me, because there are 200 of you (players) in the league at any one time, and there are going to be things that you understand intuitively that nobody else does—if you say you need some time right now, or you’re going to be sitting in an ice bucket for the next hour—that’s not like a business meeting you can have with many other people.
CN: Right, “while we’re here…”
KH: So the desire to help people find this thing, this euphoria. For you, what do you think is the most connected way that it ties into the clothing—how the shirts tell the story of what your brand intends. I think maybe “Finding Euphoria” gives people a bit of latitude with how to interpret it, so I’m interested in how you’ll be working to be sure that your story connects with people through the storytelling you’ll be doing with it.
CN: I think that our plan is to promote action. To promote getting outside of your comfort zone, going for a hike, volunteering more for me helped get started—I’m trying to think of some other things.
KH: Going out on a bridge where a train might come along and kill you all?
CN: Exactly. It was an abandoned bridge. But yeah, just to try something. Even if you come away from it saying, “Hey, I hated that.” Well, now that’s something that you can cross off your list and say, “Well, you know what, I know that doesn’t make me happy, so now I’m going to try this.”
Pretty much it’s just finding out what makes you tick and finding out more about yourself. And I don’t even know what that is for me!
So it’s the idea of our total company working together to promote people to prioritize their happiness and if they can do that, as corny as this sounds, it will make this world a better place.
If we can really get people to find their inner happiness—I feel like a lot of people put that aside because they have to work their normal 9 to 5; they have to do this; they have to do that. But if you can prioritize a little part of each and every day to yourself, I think it will go a long way.
KH: So, I was a philosophy major in college, and all of these kinds of things—the personal development things—resonate strongly with me, but I come across a lot of people who don’t seem to grasp what seems to me to be the obviousness of that point—that it's really important to know yourself if you’re expecting to find something positive out there when interacting with the rest of the world. It’s not something that I think comes easily or naturally to people all the time, so I think it’s a great mission to try to help people start to think about that and take the time to make it part of their daily lives.
It sounds like you’re trying to let people define what “Finding Euphoria” means to them, on their own terms, which I think can be more powerful—it requires really thinking about what makes them happy.
KH: How did the launch go?
CN: It went really well, I think. It’s nothing we’re expecting to get big overnight. It’s something we want to work on, and it’s fun for Caitlin and me to work on it together. Like I said, that gets my mind off of soccer, because we all know that this league is wild and very hard on the body and the mind and the emotions, so for me to have something else that I’m excited to work on is huge for me. I think that sales will come, and we’re just having fun with it.
Now, talking about it, I’m realizing that I’m finding my happiness in this company. It’s giving me an outlet—it’s giving me something to work towards that’s completely different than soccer. I don’t have a business degree; I have a communications degree, so I think my parents and Penn State will be happy to see me putting my degree to work a little bit by communicating with others.
I think the next step for this brand is to find out what people are doing as consumers, and if, for example, we find out that a lot of people are going on hikes, we might change the logo, and a percentage of the proceeds will go to a non-profit that benefits Seattle-area forestry or something like that.
Something that is very important to me is animal rights and animal cruelty, so a portion of our proceeds will definitely be going to animal shelters and local businesses because I think that’s so important and it’s really important in Seattle to support small and local businesses like that.
KH: Do you think you’ll stay online, or do you think you’ll try to work with some of those small businesses around Seattle to help tell your story in retail locations?
CN: I think we’re open to it for sure. I know a big thing for us is little coffee shops. If we were to get a little spot and a couple of tee shirts in a coffee shop it would help us grow. Usually what Caitlin and I do, after training, is meet up in a coffee shop and just go to work. Coffee is always something people can think over, and if we can mold that and work it into our business a little bit I think it will be huge—and maybe save us some money on our coffee.
KH: That’s a substantial expense.
CN: Yeah—the way we drink coffee, absolutely! Caitlin and I have talked about it a lot, whether coffee should be a key part of this brand. Maybe if we’re doing that we should also be thinking about opening up our own coffee shop.
KH: Because there is no competition for that in Seattle.
CN: I know! Well, we could do it in Australia where she is from. I think we might have some time to figure that out.
KH: Is Caitlin in Seattle with you now?
CN: Yeah, she’s staying here for the off-season. I approached her way back when, a whole 2-3 months ago and said, “hey, I think I could start my own brand—I think I could really do something.”
And she said, “well why don’t you stop talking about it and go do it?”
And I thought, “well shit, all right!”
She’s like the mastermind of it all; I’m the idea person and she gets things done A to Z. So, the whole thing is a total team effort, but I can say that she owns a little bit more than I do and should get credit more than I do, but we’re just having fun with this and we’ll see where it goes.
Maybe that means doing some 1-on-1 consulting, hearing people’s stories, or maybe it’s opening our own coffee shop and putting everything we love under one roof.
I feel if we can capitalize on things we enjoy doing, we’ll never work a day in our lives. So that’s super important and super unique. We want people to chase their dreams no matter how big or small your bank account is—everyone knows we’re not millionaires making the big bucks in women’s soccer, but we’re helping people—and that message is rich in itself.
We’re having a lot of fun with it. If this ends up being a flop, we can always say, “Hey, we started a business and whether it was successful or not, we had fun.” The beauty of the brand is that it’s not limited. It’s not just a clothing line. It can be whatever we believe is helping us find our happiness as well.
The reception we’ve gotten from everyone who’ve bought the shirts, whether it’s been strangers we don’t know or players—lots of the girls on Seattle have bought shirts—you just see them wearing the shirts and you see them going on hikes in their shirts.
One of the girls, Bev Yanez, went to Montana with her husband because they wanted to do something cool and her husband wore the shirt and I thought, well, if we’re promoting that and can plant that seed early, we’re really doing something.
It’s important for people to go try things. Myself included! Again, that’s something that I struggle with. But together we can just get that message out and work to be better examples of what Finding Euphoria is all about.
KH: Do you feel like the atmosphere in Seattle is especially supportive or uniquely conducive to starting side-projects? It seems like several of your teammates have found pretty good success when trying to get something going.
CN: Seattle has been unbelievable. I think that’s so rare, because as professional athletes you’re always thinking how you can get better, how you can do this, how you can get better at doing that, but with Seattle, it’s a really laid-back mentality when we’re off the field and I think that shows in the locker room and before we start to warm up. We really enjoy each other’s company, but when it’s time to work, it’s time to work. When we’re training, we’re in it 110%. We don’t talk about anything else. But when we’re off, Seattle does a really great job of saying, “Get out of here, go do your own thing, take a break from soccer and just try to clear your mind.”
Nairn is only half of the Finding Euphoria story, albeit the half that most American fans are perhaps more likely to recognize. Caitlin Friend is the other half, and not a half bad footballer herself. I connected with her recently to get her perspective.
Caitlin Friend / Finding Euphoria: CF
Kevin Hunt / Her Pitch: KH
KH: So Caitlin—There are more and more American women’s soccer fans who’ve been streaming W-League matches in the middle of the night, but your name is probably one a lot of casual fans aren’t familiar with. Tell me a bit about your time in England’s FA Women’s Super League and in the Australian leagues.
CF: I’ve played for (Melbourne) Victory for 5+ years and have been fortunate enough to play with some great players throughout my time. I had a few solid seasons with Victory so I was able to get the attention of teams in Europe. I have a British passport, so it was an easy transition for me. I played for Notts County FC in Nottingham, England. I was there for a year and was completely enthralled in the football culture. We had two-a-days every day and it was a great learning experience for me as a person and a player.
I came back after my season with Notts and straight into W-League season with Victory. We had some new Americans on the team, Lauren Barnes, Elli Reed, and Christine Nairn. Since you are around each other 24/7 on the team, my friendship with the Americans was instant. Fast forward two and a half years and Christine, Elli, Lu and I are all living in Seattle together. Who would have seen this coming?
KH: Do you hope to keep playing or will you continue coaching?
CF: Right now I am playing in the National Premier League (NPL) Victoria for Bulleen FC. It is a year round season that goes from March until September. This will be my 3rd with the club as a player and my first year as a coach. I am coaching the U14 Bulleen Girls and I’m loving every minute of it.
KH: So, both, really.
CF: Right. It is very different being on the other side of the white line, but I enjoy seeing the development of the players from session to session. Although I still have time left in my playing career, coaching has allowed me to get a taste of what life will be life after I hang up my cleats.
KH: Compared to what you’ve observed from Christine’s time in the NWSL and with your time in various leagues, how do you think the American league compares worldwide?
CF: The American league (NWSL) is one of the most athletic leagues that I have seen in women’s football. The English league is more direct, while Australia is a combination of both the American and English leagues. It’s crazy to see how different women’s football can vary from league to league.
KH: Christine talked about how your initial line of questioning led her to really start to examine who she was as a person independent of her status as an athlete. Were you secretly just hoping she’d want to start a T-Shirt brand with you?
CF: Let me just say one thing: American fashion is behind the times. If you like the way Christine dresses, you can thank me. If you don’t like the way Christine dresses, blame it on her being American.
KH: She’s described herself as the “ideas person” and you as the person who does the “A to Z” to make the business work. How many of her ideas have you had to temper with a dose of reality?
CF: Look, it’s a tough balancing act—but I try to bring her down to reality as best I can, without hurting her feelings. It’s an art really, ha ha. No, we work really well together and we each have our own strengths and weaknesses. We are learning so much as we go along and it gives us something to work on together that is away from soccer.
KH: How has your relationship evolved since starting the brand? How have you each grown from the experience so far?
CF: It’s tough when you are in a relationship and you work together. We are still learning to balance it all. There are times when we have to go in different rooms for “space” (ha ha), and there are other times when we are absolutely crushing life with ideas for the brand.
It’s funny because her strengths are coming up with ideas and organizing the brand. She struggles with the artistic side of things—it’s funny how bad she is at it. She tries so hard, but it’s just not for her. I am the more artistic one, so I focus on all of the designs and photography.
KH: So I should assume that you signed off on the terrifying sketchy death bridge drone video thing? Really?
CF: The suspension bridge seems like so long ago. We did that for the drone footage and it was our first photoshoot. It was so much fun getting all the girls out of their comfort zone and out on that bridge. By all the girls, I mean everyone except for Christine because she was being a baby, ha ha.
It’s so cool to look back and see how different the brand is from that day and how far we’ve come with understanding it all. We still have a long way to go as a brand, but we are enjoying it just as much, if not more as the day we started Finding Euphoria.
KH: So, in five years, when you’ve got a chain of successful Finding Euphoria coffee shops across Australia, what do you suppose you’ll have on your mind for what comes next?
CF: We would love to have our own coffee shop ASAP! The possibilities are endless for this brand. We have so many different passions as individuals and as a brand, that we can go so many different routes with it all.
I want to continue to coaching and work up the ladder to be at the highest level possible. I am very passionate about developing young female soccer players because it’s important for them to have solid role models in their area of sport.
Christine wants to open up her own gym, so keep your eyes out for that. With all that being said, who knows where we will be in 5 years time. We are enjoying where we are at the moment and are focusing on prioritizing our happiness.
I think if I am happy with what I am doing then I will be alright wherever I am.