When American Ballet Theatre dancer and Chameleon Activewear founder, April Giangeruso, began wearing her own custom leotards around the studio and in rehearsals, her fellow ABT dancers were immediately intrigued. They began asking for leotards of their own showcasing Giangeruso's fun, quirky prints. With the help of her Mom, she happily got to work making leotards for her coworkers and friends.
In no time, Chameleons were everywhere.
With her signature bold patterns and practical designs taken from her own experience as a professional ballet dancer, it didn't take long for the rest of the dance world to take notice. We caught up with April to get an inside look into Chameleon Activewear and what it's like being a dancer, business owner, and now an expectant mother!
April Giangeruso in April's READ CAREFULLY leotard
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your dance career! Where did you get your start, and what has your journey in the ballet world been like?
Ever since I took my first ballet class at five years old, I knew I wanted to be a ballerina. Originally from Maryland, I began training seriously in ballet at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington D.C. I grew up taking part in ballet productions at the Kennedy Center for companies like American Ballet Theatre and Universal Ballet. At 14, I moved to NYC to further my dance training and joined the JKO School at ABT and shortly after, ABT II. After two wonderful years in ABT II, I was asked to join the main company in 2010. My journey in the ballet world feels like a fairy tale. I have been able to travel the world and do what I love simultaneously. I have met some of my best friends along the way and have been lucky to be in a company like ABT where everyone is supportive of each other and treats one another like family!
What inspired you to start Chameleon? When did you start making leotards, and how has it evolved since its inception?
My mom, Kathy, is an award winning seamstress specializing in non-stretch garments like suits and other clothing. I begged her to try to sew with stretch and make leotards for me because I knew she could do it! So I bought her a special machine and worked with her during a summer lay-off from ABT to make our first leotard. We are both perfectionists, so it was a bit of a process developing what we thought was the “perfect” simple silhouette leotard in four different styles. I started selecting fun prints for her to sew, and every time I would wear one to work, everyone would ask me where my leotard was from. Before long, all the girls at ABT were requesting leos. So, one day I brought in about thirty, and they were all gone within five minutes! The ABT ladies affectionately named them "Momtards". We continued taking requests from ABT women, and I was also getting requests from around the world through my Instagram.
I was thinking of starting a real company one day when I met my now husband, Blake, who is a businessman, and he helped me make my dreams a reality. We named the company Chameleon Activewear because I love chameleons and because it is absolutely an appropriate name for the way I love to change up prints so much! Also, in the dance world everyone wants to be called a chameleon because it means you adapt and change easily to anything that is thrown your way!
Skylar Brandt in Sky's SKY leotard
What sets Chameleon apart from other dance wear brands? What is your point of view as a designer?
Chameleon focuses on bold prints and simple styles. You will never see a solid leotard from us- there are enough of those out there already! We also will never make complicated constructions. Our customers can select prints based off of their personal style which lets individual personalities shine. We are all about personality! Also, we are not just a dance wear/active wear brand; we want the leotards to cross over into lifestyle. Nothing makes me happier than seeing girls were their Chameleons with jeans or shorts! It’s really catching on. All of our camisoles and cap sleeves can also be worn as swimsuits, so that is super cool too!
I love that your designs are multipurpose for daily life! What other practical components did you want to focus on when designing your leotards?
I wanted a simple, well-fit, high quality leotard that almost feels like a second skin. Chameleon leotards are thin and comfy. They also are designed without linings because I could never find the perfect lining in a leotard. They either rolled up, felt too thick, or didn’t cover what they needed to cover! I encourage anyone who wants extra lining or support to pair their Chameleon with a cute sports bra. I’ve always loved doing that myself!
You mentioned working with your mom and husband to bring Chameleon to life. I also know that your fellow ABT dancers are all models for your designs! What has it been like collaborating with them, and what to they bring to the company?
It has been so fun doing this with my friends. Every lady who has been involved in Chameleon has inspired me in their own unique way. I just love all of the girls so much- this brand doesn’t happen without them! One of my favorite parts of the brand is having each woman name their Chameleon. They really put thought into it and always come up with something so creative. It gives the leotard so much life!
My husband is my collaborator for the business side of things. I always say that he’s the smartest person I know. My mom of course helps a lot with fit, quality control, and developing new products.
ABT dancers in Chameleon Activewear leotards
I saw on your Instagram that you're a soon to be mom- congrats! How do you juggle your dance, personal, and entrepreneurial life?
Thank you! Well, right now I am on maternity leave, so other than taking a bit of class to exercise, I don’t have a full dancing schedule, of course! My husband is very supportive of the brand, and on the days and evenings when I have hours worth of orders to fulfill, he jokingly says he knows I have to "build the empire!"
I always make time to see my friends and keep a healthy work-life balance. When the baby is born, I know juggling everything will get harder, but Chameleon is something I can do from home so it should give me a fulfilling distraction from changing diapers!
What is your favorite part of owning your own dance-wear line?
I LOVE interacting with Chameleon customers. I try to give everyone personal attention and respond to inquiries and questions quickly. It also just makes me infinitely happy when people say things like, "a Chameleon got me through class," or, "a Chameleon gave me the confidence to step outside of the box," or, "my Chameleon is my favorite leotard I own." I just want to make people happy, that is my ultimate goal.
Christine Shevchenko in her FLEUR DE SHEVY leotard
What are some of the biggest challenges?
Just adjusting to a new world of business and not getting too rattled if anything goes wrong. For example, in the beginning we had a bit of a production hiccup, and I couldn’t get leotards to customers as quickly as I wanted to. I started to get upset by it, but then when I started emailing customers to let them know about the delay, everyone was so patient and supportive. It was like they were all on my team. It was a great feeling to know that people want you to succeed; that gave me a lot of confidence going forward. Chameleons have also been so popular that we have had trouble keeping them in stock! We are ramping up production and making it so that we have a steady flow of inventory to please everyone!
Where do you hope to take Chameleon Activewear in the short and long term future? What are your goals for the company?
In the short term, I am focused on building the brand and getting as many people to have access to Chameleon as possible. In the long term, since the company is called Chameleon Activewear, I want to add on to our collection and develop more active wear products! And more fun prints! We have made over fifty prints so far with a goal of many, many more in the coming year!
Lovely article. I met April in 2009 when she traveled here to dance in Costa Rica’s production of Nutcracker. Wes Chapman was the director of ABT II…he still directs our production. And…scattered amongst the dancers are Chameleon leotards. Brightens up the studio!