How a Former College Golfer is Changing the Status Quo of Women's Golf Apparel
By Kayla Gutierrez
Katie McCarthy founded Kilo Tango in 2021 with the intent to provide women clothing that goes from the "Course to Cocktails."
How exactly does a former collegiate golfer turn into a young entrepreneur looking to change the dynamic and culture surrounding women’s golf apparel brands?
Katie McCarthy can tell you.
The 24-year-old from Cleveland, Ohio, pivoted during the coronavirus pandemic and founded Kilo Tango, an upstart women’s clothing company that’s flourishing by the day. Everything that goes into the brand starts with McCarthy’s connection to golf — to her, it’s why Kilo Tango is more than just a business but something that is close to her heart.
“I’ve always been surrounded by the game,” McCarthy recalls. “Some of my favorite childhood memories were with my family on the course, and I distinctly remember moments with my dad at the driving range near our house.”
McCarthy later began competing in junior golf events at age 10, placing second in her first-ever tournament. It would end up being a launching point for something greater.
“I was kind of shocked, honestly,” remembers McCarthy. “That second place finish is a memory that has resonated with me my entire life, and one of the main reasons why I’m so invested in the game. I always associated golf with being fun and I thank my parents for never forcing me into the game. I guess that’s why I love the sport so much.”
The junior golf events would multiply on the calendar throughout McCarthy’s childhood and after high school, it was on to Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania — the Division III school offered her a spot to play on the women’s golf team while she pursued a degree in business management.
Then 2020 hit.
A pandemic-induced pivot
What promised to be a stellar finale to a college golf career took a turn for the worse when McCarthy’s senior season came to a halt as the world grappled with COVID-19.
“The pandemic dramatically affected my last year of college,” remembers McCarthy. “I moved back home, didn’t have a senior golf season, and graduated virtually. I actually never went back to Gettysburg which, for me, was extremely disappointing and upsetting. That was not the way I imagined finishing my college career.”
Life has a funny way, however, of bringing the best things to us in the most unexpected ways. And little did Katie know, her life was about to change.
“A lot of my girlfriends started getting into golf during COVID, and as the only real golfer in the friend group, I was naturally their go-to for golf fashion advice,” says McCarthy. “My friends always had trouble finding the right clothes that were both athletic and classy, and could be worn on and off the course; something flattering and current while respecting the dress code.”
“I distinctly remember sitting on a barstool in a friend’s apartment talking about the idea of starting my own golf brand,” remembers McCarthy. “At the time it was just a big idea, but the next night I stayed up so late researching how I could make it work. I was so committed to the concept, and I certainly didn’t want to get into the habit of having an idea and not doing anything about it.”
McCarthy would become addicted to achieving her newfound dream. Fresh out of college, she never expected to be starting her own business and certainly had no idea how difficult it could be. The next year became consumed with days of research, planning, and building something special.
“When I started, it took a lot of intense planning to make sure everything was exactly what I envisioned,” says McCarthy. “I had to learn a lot about the clothing industry and, being young, sometimes people would try to walk right over me.
“I understood the golf industry, though, and knew I had what was missing from the women’s market — I was eager to fill that need, too. I spent countless hours and late nights figuring out how to make it work, and didn't really have time to doubt myself. Each lesson felt like a win, like 'Wow, I somehow did that, let’s figure out the next thing.’ I was learning something new every day.”
By 2021, McCarthy’s idea was a reality: Kilo Tango had entered the golf apparel scene, ready to roll. The company had plans to make its official first debut at the 2022 PGA Show and with only a few samples, there were no expectations — McCarthy and her team looked at the global golf gathering like a learning opportunity for Kilo Tango to capitalize on the excitement about showcasing new products.
Then, another curveball: last December the McCarthy family received devastating news: Katie’s mother, Jenifer, was diagnosed with breast cancer just weeks before the 2023 PGA Show.
“Believe it or not, but my mom actually asked the doctors, ‘Can’t my surgery wait until February? I want to be at the PGA Show for Kilo Tango,’” says McCarthy. “Her dedication to the company and helping me succeed is one of the main reasons I am able to do what I love. My mom is certainly the most positive person I know and the best partner. I couldn’t be any more blessed to have her in my corner.”
The doctors agreed, and Jenifer was able to move her surgery to after the PGA Show — something Katie is forever thankful for. Although the diagnosis was difficult news for her and her family, McCarthy used these obstacles as motivation to achieve her goals.
At the 2022 PGA Show, Kilo Tango received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback about the products at their first showcase, and the interest only increased this past January in Orlando. For a small company like Kilo Tango, competing against larger brands was extremely intimidating, but the immense amount of love and support McCarthy received from everyone who stopped by the Kilo Tango display was what made the experience worth it.
“When people ask how many employees work for Kilo Tango, they’re usually shocked to hear it’s just me doing the design, marketing, sales, logistics, finances, and everything,” says McCarthy. “Of course, I wouldn't be here without my consultant, Lauren, and my closest employee, my shipper and receiver, and my right hand — better known as Mom. I’m really lucky that my family was always super supportive of my dreams and helped in any way they could. They are the reasons that all of this was possible.”
McCarthy uses Kilo Tango’s catchy motto “Course to Cocktails,” as her North Star, representing everything she embraces as a female golfer: she respects the tradition of the sport, but also loves how much the game is evolving.
With that in mind, her goal is to design clothing that will take golfers from a 9-hole round on the course to wine on the patio with friends. The colorful, feminine colors on the clothing are fun and welcoming, which ensures that all women look and feel good when they play. Kilo Tango features luxury polos, skirts, skorts, shorts and dresses that are ethically-sourced and made in the USA with long-lasting fabric and quality material. The brand also has a unique line of bespoke accessories, like leather headcovers and golf towels as well as high-ponytail and needlepoint performance hats with the Kilo Tango signature lime logo cleverly presented.
And now, all of McCarthy’s friends who were wondering back in 2020 what brand to sport on the course have something they can turn to in their closet. But it’s not just them — Kilo Tango and its motivated founder are changing the apparel game for every woman seeking something fresh.
While the last few years have been a wild ride, with highs and lows built-in at every corner, Kilo Tango is now beginning to hit its stride . . . an idea turned reality all thanks to McCarthy's vision.
“Sometimes I look back and ask myself, ‘How did I do that?’ and honestly, it still feels surreal with how far we’ve come in such a short period of time,” says McCarthy. “I’m glad I went for it when I did. Now, I’m most excited to be a part of Kilo Tango’s growth and the future of women’s golf — I hope our clothing makes more women feel comfortable to go out and pick up golf.”