A Brazilian-inspired athletic wear line, Dona Jo Active Wear, is moving into the Strip District.

Ashley Ferraro, 24, is the designer and company president behind the label.  A graduate of North Allegheny High School, she started the company with her Brazilian husband, Rapha, and has spent the last few years traveling between Brazil and Pittsburgh selecting a manufacturer and fabrics.

As Ashley tells it, the couple met at Florida Gulf Coast University—he pursuing a career in professional tennis and she swimming for the Division 1 team—and they fell in love. During a visit to Rapha’s hometown in Brazil, she met his family and fell in love all over again with the sun-drenched colors and clothing.

“I saw all these people in very vibrant prints going to the gym, looking so sexy, which is such a part of the culture,” says Ashley. “I thought, wow, I have to bring this to the U.S.”

They purchased a manufacturing operation in 2012 in Guara, near Rapha’s hometown, hired a small team of pattern makers and seamstresses and began planning the business. Ashley designs the fitwear—leggings for yoga and running, pants, tops, sports dresses and skirts—and Rapha offers support on the business side.

Ashley quit her day job with a Cranberry marketing firm in May of 2013 when the first orders began to ship. Dona Jo is already gaining traction internationally, a feat accomplished by spreading a visual message through Instagram.

In less than a year, they’ve gained 18,500 followers.

“Since we launched the website in July business has grown exponentially,” Ashley says. “We’re crazy busy. We haven’t spent a dollar on (traditional) advertising.” Dona Jo currently employs two who work in sales, social media and modeling. More hires are expected.

Could they be the next ModCloth? “I hope so,” says Ashley. “That would be awesome and a great story. I hope we’ll continue to grow.”

Deb Smit

Deb is an award-winning journalist who loves ancient places and cool technologies. A former daily newspaper reporter and Time-Life Books editor, she writes mostly about Pittsburgh. Her stories have appeared...