There aren’t many Black women who can say they have played rugby, let alone played professionally. Phaidra Knight is one of the few, and not only did she play well, she also happened to dominate the sport for nearly 18 years. Now an official Hall of Famer, Knight is taking on a new challenge, but one that is inspired by her years as an athlete. She recently launched an activewear brand called PSK Collective. She wanted to create a line of clothes for the athletic figure, because as a muscular woman with a “boxy” shape, she knows how difficult it can be to find clothes that fit well.
“Oftentimes, I resorted to someone making custom clothing or buying stuff and having to have it customized or altered,” she said over the phone. “Alterations were done on a regular basis.”
Hoping to make things easier for the next woman, or man (she plans to expand the line to include menswear), she launched line of active meets streetwear, or athleisure pieces, on August 5 and it sold out quickly. And outside of aiding people in being chic and comfortable, she wanted to help athletes like herself obtain equity and justice in not only sports but everyday life. Proceeds from some pieces in the line go the Women’s Sports Foundation to help make that happen. She hopes to expand the line, already partnering with Lids on a hat collection (15 percent of those profits go to WSF), and is looking to include shoes and even business wear in the near future.
Knight has high hopes for PSK Collective, and considering commanding a challenge on the field or court is her specialty, it clearly won’t be an issue off. We talked to her about her years in rugby, crafting her athleisure line, filming a movie with Halle Berry, and why sport is life for her. Check out what she had to say.
MADAMENOIRE: To start, I want to learn more about your history and background playing rugby. Black women playing rugby is a really big deal. Is it true that you got into this sport, simply by someone recommending you should try out?
PHAIDRA KNIGHT: Yea, that was pretty much it. I was in law school in my first year at a social and a woman approached me. Leading up to that, I had been training with the plan to walk on to the Wisconsin Badgers. I had a year of NCAA eligibility. I missed team sports, especially being in law school. I just needed a balance. I was looking to connect back with my roots in basketball, but I ended up getting invited out for rugby and just kind of haphazardly went to a training and that was pretty much it. I fell in love with it. Just the level of acceptance from the team, and I really liked the element of contact and physicality. It was a quick takeover for me.
That’s such a huge jump from basketball. You’ve played basketball for years. Did you just want to delve into something different?
When I was a little girl, I spent quite a bit of time playing with my next-door neighbor. I wasn’t the only child, but my sister was four years my elder, and we were just really different. I was very athletic, what we called then a “tomboy.” My neighbor’s mom would make him play with me because she just wanted him to be active. So we would play football. One-on-one tackle football. I love football. I could say I love it more than basketball but it wasn’t something during that time that wasn’t socially acceptable for girls to play. When I was in kindergarten or first grade, my sister was a cheerleader and encouraged me to be a cheerleader by saying I could probably play football if I was a cheerleader. So I did. I signed up for the little league cheerleading only because I had a desire to play football at the end of the season party. That was the hook for me. So when this woman told me about rugby, I had never heard of it or seen it. And she showed me. The interesting thing about rugby is basketball and football evolved from rugby. The idea of finding space and then penetrating it, it varies. So as much as they seem diabolically opposed to each other there are certain aspects of the game that make them very similar. It didn’t take me long to transition and understand it conceptually and it worked out well.
You definitely excelled greatly in the sport. What were you doing in terms of training to make you one of the best players in the world?
I think what gave me an advantage was that I approached training and playing and how I managed my life in a very professional way as it concerned the sport. It was essentially my full-time job. I had a full-time job, but Rugby was that, too. I hit the gym. That gave me largely an upper hand. I think it was based on my upbringing. I grew up on a small farm. I had to work really hard so I developed an incredible physical work ethic. I lifted weights. I lifted to be as strong and make myself as strong and powerful as possible. I think too, we all deal with trauma in different ways. For me, I think I carried a lot of trauma from my childhood and I worked a lot of it out on the field. I was a very physical player. I don’t think that very many women were as physical or brought the physicality to the game. It did not come without a lot of criticism and penalization from the referees or other people and opposing teams, but that didn’t stop me. I continued to play the way I wanted to play. I continued to be as physical as possible. Every time I got the ball in my hand, I wanted to make it my business that anybody that wanted to tackle me, they’d be punished for it. It’s not a negative thing, it’s just competition for me.
How did your experiences as an athlete inspire you to create PSK Collective?
I’ve been an athlete all my life. I have a baby picture on my mom and dad’s mantle holding a ball and I don’t think I could even walk then. I started playing basketball early on. As an athlete, I had a very athletic body, so it was very difficult at times to fit conventional clothing. When I started lifting weights and becoming more serious, it became even more of an issue. I was really inspired to make inclusive and diversity-focused street and activewear that would cater to athletic bodies of girls, women, and individuals alike. I wanted to create a line that started with women and then expand on it after some time to have a men’s line that was also inclusive of all body types.
How extensive do you want the line to be? How far do you want to take the line?
Well, we initially sold out of a lot of our items. The jerseys that are on the site now are pre-ordered because we are completely sold out of a ton of our stuff. We are also in the process of revamping our website, so we are going to be adding things again. We had leggings. We will be having dresses, tunics, coats. Eventually, we will expand and offer shoes, but the brand will be quite extensive. We plan on adding a men’s line within the next 12 months for sure. So, we want to expand and I have a plan, and personal interest in also creating business wear. There is no need for it right now obviously with the pandemic, but semi-custom blazers and pants. That is way down the line. Right now we are a streetwear line. I think one of the cool things that I didn’t mention that also inspired me to create this line is that I wanted to combine the love of clothing with my passion for social justice. As it relates to the initial launch, I focused more on women’s rights and equality. This is how PSK was born. Our brand’s vision and values really inspire women to be active, confident, and body positive
Halle Berry mentioned you in one of her Instagram posts and she was talking about how you inspired and motivated her to get into her best shape. Can you kind of expound on the work you all were doing together as she was getting ready for her movie Bruised?
The initial introduction was actually about a year and a half ago and when I got back to the US and decided I wanted to fight MMA competitively. So I called up my coach. I’m like, “Denise I’ve got to tell you something. I’m doing this. I’m going to fight MMA.” And she was like “Oh my God! I’ve got to connect you to Halle Berry. I just had a conversation with her and she is doing an MMA movie at her age and she is going to be the main character.” So she introduced the two of us and then there was just so much curiosity for the both of us.
It later happened that we both showed up at the academy that I train at. I finished a session with my coach and she walked by and said hi. I said hello. And she stopped in my tracks and she turned around and said, “Phaidra?” I’m like “Yeah?” She knew me. I obviously knew who she was, but she knew who I was. My coaches standing there were amazed like “How do you know her?” But anyways, that’s how it started. It was a genuine, awesome friendship from there. She would train in there pretty much daily preparing for that movie. She’s in the gym sometimes from 7 a.m. in the morning and she would train for hours. And I will come in around 8 or 9 and she would sometimes be in there. But she worked really hard. And she asked at one point, “Would you and your team like to be in my movie?” And I was like, “What? Of course!” I feel so privileged and honored to be in her movie. Such an incredible person.
Nice. You’ve played so many sports and learned so many disciplines. You talked about there being a picture of you holding a ball before you could even walk. What makes you love sports so much that you get out there and whatever you attempt, you excel at it?
I came out of the womb just a little athlete. I found that I was challenged on both the mental, intellectual side as well as physically. I was able to combine the two. It was a way for me to deal with trauma. After something came about that was negative, I went outside, picked up my basketball and shot hoops. I wasn’t a big TV watcher so I spent a lot of time outside. I think I just had a dominating nature in sports and wasn’t opposed to any of them. I had this incredible rugby career after playing most of my life up to that point another sport, basketball. And now, at the age that I am, I am focused on establishing a career in mixed martial arts with the hope of fighting professionally. It would be a monumental feat to get there for sure. I just love it. I love a challenge. There is an element of learning. Whether you’re in a class or an octagon, there is information you have to take in and synthesize and apply. It requires intellect. I love to be challenged in that way.