New Activewear Brands

Activewear brands are more successful than ever before. Alongside well-known names like Lululemon, New Balance, Gap Inc’s Athleta and Nike are newer arrivals like British brand Sweaty Betty, multi-brand boutique Bandier and Tory Sport, Tory Burch’s activewear line are taking the spotlight.

Some of the new arrivals are listed below:

OUTDOOR VOICES

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The Story: Founded in 2013 by Parsons School of Design graduate Tyler Haney, Outdoor Voices has fashion industry support — A.P.C.’s Jean Touitouis one of the brand’s strategic investors — as well as venture funding, thanks to its direct-to-consumer strategy. Haney says the company’s focus is on recreational sport, not competition. (Brand signatures include colour-blocking and heathered fabric in minimalist shapes and fashion shades.) “I very much felt there was an opportunity to free fitness from performance, taking every day activity and finding the beauty in it,” Haney said. “We wanted to create product that functions in the same way as that of Nike and Lululemon, but more aesthetically aligned with what I wear day to day, like Acne and A.P.C.” This helps to explain why Haney felt someone like Touitou was important to bring on not only as an investor, but as an advisor. “I wanted to have partners in the mix who have operated businesses in the fashion world.”

YOGASMOGA

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The Story: Founded in 2013 by brother and sister (and Wall Street veterans) Rishi and Tapasya Bali, Yogasmoga’s first collection of US-manufactured athleticwear — even the yarn is bought in the US and fabric developed in California labs — sold out in three weeks. Today, the apparel company has 12 stores in the United States with plans to open 25 more by the end of 2016. In 2015, Yogasmoga — which started with its namesake but now sells clothes for running, spinning and daywear — raised $6.5 million in a Series B finance round at a $74 million valuation. (It is now in the midst of raising its Series C round of funding.) Along with domestic production, another point of differentiation for Yogasmoga is its technical fabric, which the company says is resistant to pilling and offers superior moisture wicking. Dedication to yoga as a lifestyle is a big part of its branding. “It speaks to the consumer who is looking for an American brand that is purpose-oriented,” said chief executive Rishi Bali. “Today, we feel like people are looking for a purpose, not just product.”

CARBON 38

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The Story: Founded in 2013 by ex-ballet dancers and Harvard classmates Katie Warner Johnson and Caroline Gogolak, e-commerce site Carbon 38 features high-fashion, high-end activewear modelled on fitness instructors. (Warner Johnson was one of the first instructors at the popular barre studio Physique 57.) “We realised that there was all of this white space in the market that Lululemon created, and an opportunity to grab some of that market share,” Gogolak said. “There is a lot of room to take a bite out of that.” In 2015, Carbon 38 introduced an in-house label, meant to fill the gap between the activewear it sells on the site — from brands including Lucas Hugh and Alo Yoga — and ready-to-wear. The collection currently makes up just 5 percent of the retailer’s overall sales. “It’s a way to speak to this growing trend of activewear as everyday wear,” Warner Johnson said. “But it’s going to [remain] a small part of the overall story.” The range features basic leggings, but also blazers and coats made from technical fabrics.

KIT AND ACE

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The Story: Founded in 2014 by JJ and Shannon Wilson, with support from father/husband/Lululemon-founder Chip Wilson, the Vancouver, Canada-based company aims to outfit its customers in everyday clothes that perform like athletic apparel. “We saw this as an untapped opportunity to take everything we’ve learned from athletic clothing and then apply it to streetwear,” Shannon Wilson said. “Most people are living what we call these full-contact lives. They’re up and out of the house at 6am and they’re going until 10pm at night, and they really require one set of clothing to take them through that.” Best-selling products include brushed French terry cloth t-shirts and “technical” cashmere, which is preshrunk and machine washable.

While the product’s end use may be different than Lululemon’s, there is certainly customer overlap. About 70 percent of Kit and Ace’s customers are female. “I’m pretty impressed that we have 30 percent men,” said Chip Wilson, whose previous company catered predominantly to women but is now gaining ground in the men’s market. “I think it says a lot about where the market is for this.”

TORY SPORT

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The Story: Founded by Tory Burch in 2015 as a complementary line to her main collection, “We see Tory Sport as a peer to Tory Burch,” the designer said. “We want it to stand on its own because it’s a true performance brand.” The line covers several sport categories often ignored (or at least undervalued) by traditional athleticwear brands, including tennis, golf, and studio. “Activewear is something I have wanted to do for almost six years and we have been working on it for three,” Burch said. “I’m always interested in the idea of designing things that are impossibly hard to find.” Pieces from the first two collections — including accessories and items from the day-wear-focused “Coming and Going” category — have garnered waitlists.

SWEATY BETTY

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The Story: Founded in Notting Hill in 1998 by husband and wife duo Tamara and Simon Hill-Norton, Sweaty Betty was originally a multi-brand boutique featuring labels sourced predominantly from Scandinavia and Italy. In 2007, the company pivoted its business model to produce its own label, competing more directly with Lululemon. It now operates more than 40 stores in the United Kingdom, with annual sales upward of $46 million. “We realised that reselling other people’s sportswear brands in a premium location wasn’t going to work. The margin on sportswear is so low, because everyone was doing the high-turnover stores on the high street,” Tamara Hill Norton said in 2014. “We needed to change direction and do our own label. Also, we were beginning to gain awareness and really wanted to push our brand.”

BANDIER

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The Story: Former music executive Jennifer Bandier partnered with her husband, Neil Boyarsky, and Barney’s Co-op founder Jayne Harkness to introduce a multi-brand retailer that carries everything from Mary Katrantzou’s Adidas collection to Monrow and Spiritual Gangster. The company’s Flatiron store, which opened in 2014, features a 3,000-square-foot fitness studio that offers more than 25 classes each week taught by superstar instructors. Like many high-end boutiques, Bandier has negotiated exclusives with the brands it sells, offering styles or colours unique to the retailer. What it hasn’t done is focus its entire efforts on e-commerce, which currently makes up just a quarter of the company’s sales. “We went the other way,” Boyarsky said, referring to the e-commerce-first trend in apparel businesses. The retailer averages 2.4 units per transaction and $1,400 per square foot. (The average cost of an item is about $80.) Sales are up 40 percent year over year.

IVY PARK

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The Story: Beyoncé and Topshop’s Sir Philip Green are equal business partners in this new activewear brand, which will be available in mid-April at 12 retailers across the globe, including Topshop, Nordstrom, and Selfridges. The 200-piece collection, priced between $30 and $200, will not be sold through its own website. “Sir Philip has created some amazing collaborations but I wanted a partnership and a standalone brand,” the entertainer-turned-mogul said in a statement.

TRACKSMITH

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The Story: Founded in 2014 by chief executive Matt Taylor and Luke Scheybeler, the latter of whom also co-founded cycling brand Rapha, the Boston-based Tracksmith is a running-first brand. “The great thing about running specifically is that almost everyone owns a pair of running shoes and shorts, and people will do lots of different activities in those clothes,” Taylor said. “Right now, we are perceived as an apparel brand. But the vision for Tracksmith is a lot grander and much more wrapped around a complete lifestyle. It’s for anyone who is passionate about running.”

Tracksmith has raised $5.7 million in funding with partners including the Pentland Group, a collection of apparel brands with a foothold in the outdoor/performance arena. The brand originally launched with men’s apparel only, introducing women’s nine months later. Currently, the male-female customer ratio is 70 percent to 30 percent, although Taylor predicts that to level off at an even split as more women learn about the product, which aesthetically nods to the collegiate track-star gear of the 1970s and 1980s. While the company will not disclose revenue numbers — and says that previous reports have been inaccurate — Taylor will confirm that sales have doubled year-over-year.

AETHER

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The Story: “When we started Aether in 2009, there were barely a handful of brands doing technically sound outerwear for the urban dweller,” company co-founder Jonah Smith said. “We looked around and if it was technical, it looked like you should be out in the field or on a mountain, and if it was good looking, it probably wasn’t particularly warm or weatherproof.” Smith and co-founder Palmer West set out to do just that, creating a range of gear that is meant to perform in all types of weather and conditions, from water-repellent wind breakers to stretch-ponte leggings. Self-financed, the company operates four standalone stores — Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Aspen, Colorado — alongside e-commerce and has experienced annual growth of an average 40 percent year-over-year for the past four years. “About two years ago, we shut down our entire wholesale business, which was about 150 stores in seven countries, and instead chose to focus on our own stores and a primarily direct-to-consumer model,” Smith said. “We are just now starting to reap the rewards of that significant change.”

Courtesy of Business of Fashion.


Self-Portrait’s Breakthrough Year

In the last year, Han Chong’s breakout label Self-Portrait has attracted 250 stockists and sold out on Net-a-Porter in two hours. How did he do it?

When Dasha Zhukova, Russian-American heiress and editor-in-chief of Garage magazine, attended Pierre Casiraghi’s wedding at Lake Maggiore this summer, she wore a dress crafted from leaf-patterned guipure lace and lattice embroidery, with delicate spaghetti straps and a sand-coloured mesh lining that fell just below the knee.

“People started asking, ‘Where’s that dress from?’ The more people started wearing our designs, the more we became a mystery,” says Han Chong, founder and creative director of Self-Portrait, the London-based label behind the dress. “Dasha is a millionaire! To think that she chose to wear a dress that costs about $300 to an event where all the women were wearing couture.”

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But this is all part of Self-Portrait’s appeal. The label’s intricately-detailed garments involve the kind of technical work one might expect from a luxury brand. “I could see such big potential in launching a contemporary brand that moves at the speed of the high street, but has a luxurious quality,” says Chong.

It’s a formula that appears to be working. Spring/Summer 2015 has been Self-Portrait’s best-selling collection so far, with a 92 percent sell-through rate. From 2013 to 2015, sales grew by 300 percent — 90 percent of which was driven by wholesale, and 10 percent by online sales. And in just over a year, Self-Portrait has attracted 250 stockists worldwide, including Dover Street Market, Harrods and MyTheresa.com, who have signed on for Spring/Summer 2016.

How did Chong do it?

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Chong’s interest in womenswear design came from unlikely beginnings. “My parents own a shop that sells beef jerky in Malaysia — nothing to do with fashion!” he says. “But I grew up with my aunt, a local artist, who specialised in paintings. She was very creative and had a big influence on me.”

Jennifer Lopez was the first star to publicly step out in Self-Portrait, wearing a $262 tuxedo wrap dress from the label’s first collection, when she was a judge on American Idol in 2014. A few weeks later, model Alessandra Ambrosio was spotted in São Paulo wearing the same dress. But it wasn’t until a year later that the brand began to gain significant red carpet buzz, appearing on celebrities as diverse as Reese Witherspoon, Kristen Stewart, Katy Perry and Beyoncé.

The real breakthrough for Self-Portrait, came when Selfridges became the label’s first major stockist in 2014. “When we got the opportunity to sign an exclusive contract with Selfridges, I felt that it was a big turning point for the brand,” says Chong. Since launching the label, Selfridges has sold over 100 Self-Portrait pieces each week.

“The label continues to be one of our best performers,” says Lydia King, buying manager at Selfridges. “The collection was genuinely different; approaching a very clear ready-to-wear opportunity from a different perspective, and taking contemporary womenswear in an exciting new direction.” According to King, Self-Portrait has been such a hit with customers that the brand has been allocated its own shop-in-shop in both Selfridges London and Manchester.

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Today, the Self-Portrait team consists of seven full-time staff, plus two additional team members in Hong Kong who help oversee shipping and production. “When I first started, I didn’t understand things like margins and sell-through. I always thought, ‘How hard can it be?’ But I definitely learnt a lot of things along the way; learning how to run the business, realising I have to do things like register my company,” says Chong, who attributes some of his business acumen to the experience of running his first fashion label.

Going forward, Chong’s top priority is growing the business in the US, Self-Portrait’s second-largest market after the UK, in terms of both online customers and wholesale orders. “The US is important for us, but I also want to do things in a way that is controlled. I want to grow the brand as organically as possible. It’s easy to get carried away,” he says.

New product categories are also in the pipeline. Chong plans to launch a bridal collection, and a sunglasses collaboration with Le Specs is set to launch in March 2016. “Kidswear might also be a future opportunity for us,” Chong says. “A lot of our customers have asked if we’ll do childrenswear. Imagine that! They want a mini-me version of themselves.”

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The 2015 Grammy Awards

Welcome to a whole new kind of Grammy Awards. The spectacle that once gave us Jennifer Lopez in a bare-to-there Versace dress and Lady Gaga arriving in an egg proved to be just as classy (if not more so) than the BAFTA Awards that took place in London on the same night. Its red carpet existed in a void of color, its performances were a mix of snoozy and inspiring, and it all went on without any real jaw-dropping moments. Katy Perry and Beyoncé, recent memorable Super Bowl halftime acts who know how to work a leotard, both performed in demure, angelic white gowns and used their screen time to send a message—Perry’s against domestic violence, Beyoncé’s as a platform to introduce John Legend and Common performing their single from the movie Selma. This year’s Grammys were grown-up, well behaved, and—dare I say it?—thoughtful.

When it came to sartorial statements, the two big trends were pants and a whole lot of cleavage. In the first, more reserved camp were Danielle Haim in Stella McCartney, Gwen Stefani in Atelier Versace, and Anna Kendrick in Band of Outsiders. In the latter, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus, Kim Kardashian West, and Iggy Azalea in sternum-baring dresses of all kinds that, while revealing, still felt tasteful compared to Grammy looks of years past. Few female attendees dared to wear any color at all. The best exceptions were Rihanna, who breezed through the red carpet at the 11th hour in a pink confection of a dress by Giambattista Valli Haute Couture, and Madonna, the queen of shock, who wore a custom Givenchy by Riccardo Tisci Haute Couture look—and also gave photographers a little something extra when she flashed her bum on the carpet.

The fashion experimentation so associated with the Grammys was thus left to the guys. Shorts had a moment thanks to Pharrell, who wore a reflective suit by Adidas preshow and reprised his Chanel Salzburg look onstage for his performance. (Let’s not forget show opener Angus Young, who’s still wearing his shorts suit from AC/DC’s heyday.) Nick Jonas opted for a gray and yellow suit; both Kanye West and Keith Urban revealed some cleavage of their own; and Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, and Ryan Adams all wore denim of some kind. Just when it seemed like nothing startling would happen, there appeared Prince, wearing a shimmering tangerine tunic and trousers, getting a standing ovation just for arriving and bringing a little excitement to the evening.