SoulCycle Is Betting High Fashion Will Get You Spinning
(Bloomberg) -- At a recent SoulCycle class in downtown Manhattan, riders didn’t just come to spin the flywheels of their stationary bikes. They came to shop.
“I’m always looking for ways I can up my look,” said Meg Gegler, a 23-year-old, self-proclaimed workout junkie. “Athleisure is more than just a trend now—it’s a lifestyle.”
Gegler is one of about 60 people who came to the launch of SoulCycle’s latest retail collaboration, a line of high-end workout clothing designed in tandem with Public School, the hip, New York-based streetwear brand. The two companies unveiled the line during a SoulCycle class that doubled as fashion show. In the middle of the session, models walked through the studio wearing such items as $185 leggings, $125 sports bras, and even a $655 bomber jacket meant to be worn to and from class. Riders clapped as they pedaled to the beat of the music.
“I love it,” Gegler said of the new line. Does paying more than $100 for leggings to sweat in faze her? No, she said: “That’s how much I normally spend on workout clothes.”
Since gyms have now fully evolved into social experiences rather than obligatory solo destinations, fashion has become central to working out. “Millennials are as social in their fitness activities as they are in other parts of their lives, unlike many in previous generations, who might have lifted some weights and then left,” said Deborah Weinswig, managing director of retail think tank Fung Global Retail & Technology. And if you’re out with friends, of course you want to look good.
SoulCycle, which is owned by Related Cos. via its Equinox Fitness subsidiary, has been selling its own branded clothing for years. Each month, the company puts out a new collection of 40 to 60 styles for sale at each of its more than 80 studios, annexes, and pop-ups, as well as online. The spin behemoth, which was on the cusp of an initial public offering back in 2015 before retreating, doesn’t make most of its money from merchandise, though. Retail is more of a marketing tactic.
After all, each woman wearing SoulCycle leggings is a walking advertisement for the $34-per-class paying “tribe,” said Melanie Whelan, the chain’s chief executive officer. Others have called SoulCycle's following “cult-like” for its fanatical devotion to the brand. “It’s a bit of a badge of honor” said Whelan. “You see it on a street and there’s a little of a wink and nod that ‘I am part of the tribe.’”
Since the spin studio sees its customers more regularly than a traditional retailer does—often many times a week—it needs to keep the inventory fresh if it really wants to move stock. To this end, SoulCycle puts out a new line about every three weeks. Over the last few years, the company has branched out, bringing in other brands to collaborate on styles and create limited-edition lines available only at SoulCycle locations.
“Our riders are spending a lot of their time with us,” said Whelan. “We want to make sure we bring them product that is not the same black tight.” Indeed, this collection is more than a black tight. The leggings come in rich blue, with a pattern inspired by the streets of New York; the bomber jacket is a shiny, silver number.
In the past, SoulCycle has worked with brands stretching across the shopping continuum. Partnerships have been hatched with such brands as Target Corp., Free City, and Solid & Striped LLC. That’s a wide range, from discount superstores to Instagram-cool swimwear sellers. Now, with Public School, SoulCycle is getting a taste of couture. The company declined to share sales figures for the collaborations, though Whelan suggested the clothing sells out each time.
SoulCycle gives its collaborators “shine or glow,” said Michael Dart, a partner at consulting firm A.T. Kearney Inc.’s retail practice. Clothing will probably never be the primary source of revenue for a business that’s essentially a gym, but such joint ventures can be a win-win for all involved when it comes to branding and good will. For the fashion labels, there’s access to the SoulCycle spinner, an influential athleisure shopper. For SoulCycle, its studios get more exposure.
Meanwhile, retailers are dipping their toes into the gym business. Such stores as Athleta Inc., Bandier Holdings LLC, Lululemon Athletica Inc., and Sweaty Betty Holdings Ltd. offer fitness classes inside their stores, with some sporting full-on studios and five classes a day. Prices range from free to boutique gym rates.
SoulCycle’s obsessed riders are a valuable customer for brands like Public School—at least, that’s how Whelan sees it. She bragged that her riders are “tastemakers and thought leaders,” maybe even “beacons in their community.” Public School, meanwhile, describes its demographic as “definitely a girl that lives in the city.”
“She is a professional whatever and works during the day and has to squeeze in the time to get her classes,” said Dao-Yi Chow, one of Public School’s founders. In other words, a perfect fit for the SoulCycle set.
Public School, known for its influsion of street-wear and high fashion, went full on athleisure for the SoulCycle partnership. (This isn’t the first time Public School has collaborated with a workout brand. Previous partnerships include Nike Inc. and FitBit Inc.) “What we do from a collection standpoint is trying get a woman through her day,” said Chow. “We have pieces in the collection that work to the convenience of not having to go home and change.”
It’s hard to imagine not changing after a sweaty 45-minute spin class. But throwing a shiny bomber jacket over a sports bra is a stylish way to leave any building.
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