From Scotland to Pebble Beach to right here in the southwest metro, golf has captivated sports enthusiasts for centuries. After all, whether knocked through a windmill or driven across the fairway, nothing can quite compare to the excitement of a hole-in-one shot. Despite the sport’s popularity, it seems to lack in stylish women’s fashion. That’s where Eden Prairie’s Lisa Mandile steps in.
With a background in retail merchandising (she graduated from the College of Art and Design at the University of Minnesota) and a knack for fashion (she jokingly calls herself an unpaid stylist), Mandile has been drawn to women’s fashion. In 2004, she formed a handbag business with a friend while maintaining a full time job at a software company. When she and her friend’s business fell to the wayside, Mandile found herself searching for more.
She credits her software career for instilling a love for golf, as she would often play with her clients. As a 15-year golfer, Mandile understands the importance of comfort. Yet, she became fed up with the norm—unstylish, plain and oftentimes frumpy golf tops and skirts. “We always joked that we should make golf clothes,” she says. “Everything out there was not what we wanted. We wanted something that was a bit more fashionable and fitted.”
One fall evening in 2011, inspiration struck and she turned to her notebook. “I had the epiphany and was sketching like a fool,” she says. What emerged was a flattering top and skort style.
She then turned to her handbag seamstress who created patterns from her sketches. She counts herself lucky. “I am not a trained designer, but I understand what I like,” she says. Another friend suggested they test the waters first, to gauge demand and interest, before mass-producing a full line.
The following January, they created a few pieces and sold them in three nearby pro shops. It worked—the clothing sold out immediately—and Tzu Tzu Sport (affectionately named after her two pet shih tzus) was born. The line officially launched in May 2012.
Mandile believes her business’s size lends itself to creativity. She can afford to try new, and often bold, patterns and fabrics. “Because I am a little market, I can do that,” she says. “There is always somebody who likes what I am doing, hopefully.”
Tzu Tzu has since expanded from Mandile’s four original sketches. It now includes both short and sleeveless tops, skorts and pants. All are offered in a variety of colors and patterns, including basic black, navy, pink cheetah, orange tie-dye and zebra print. Mandile “test-drives” each piece of clothing to ensure its comfort before adding it to the line.
Shopper Lori Lauber says Tzu Tzu’s fabrics wash and wear nicely, and are feminine and unique. “She has such great colors that you don’t just see in traditional golf clothes,” Lauber says.
Many of Mandile’s shoppers also wear pieces for tennis and as activewear. Minnesota winters may inhibit sales, but Mandile has moved onto warmer climates. In addition to multiple Minnesota clubhouse locations, Tzu Tzu is also sold in Florida, Arizona, Hawaii and North Carolina.
Mandile’s friend and golf partner Tracey Matzka-Ahlborn has been wearing Tzu Tzu since day one. In fact, she served as inspiration—the sleeveless “Tracey Top” comes in peacock, starburst, zebra print, Arizona ombre and basic colors. “They’re flirty and colorful and flattering to just about everyone’s shape and size,” Ahlborn says. “Young and old, I think we have seen so many different people wearing stuff, it’s so fun to see these women get out of the frump and into the new.”
Next up for spring are new top and skort designs and more fun patterns. “I have always had a passion for fashion,” Mandile says. “When you see them put on the right outfit and their face lights up… I don’t think people ever expected that could happen in golf clothes.”
To shop Tzu Tzu Sport, visit tzutzusport.com or stop into Bearpath Golf & Country Club. 18100 Bearpath Trail, Eden Prairie; 952.975.0123; bearpathgolf.com.