Welcome to Fit for Business, a new column from Well+Good’s co-founder and publisher Alexia Brue. Each week, she’ll take you behind-the-scenes with the most successful healthy-living entrepreneurs around the world, so you can learn what inspires them, what challenges them, and what it’s like to work in the (booming) wellness space.
This week she’s sitting down with Jennifer Bandier, founder of the influential New York City-based luxury fitness fashion concept Bandier.
The success of Bandier might seem obvious to any Well+Good reader. Of course there needed to be a Barneys of fitness fashion, given the growth of the category!
But when the store’s namesake, Jennifer Bandier, was dreaming up her future business, there were way more naysayers than cheerleaders. “I can’t tell you how many people said this was a dumb idea—and that if it was needed, it would already exist,” Bandier confides.
Intuition and personal conviction, however, told her to soldier on, and by summer 2014 she had her very first space—a bustling pop-up shop in Southampton. Two short years later, there are now five Bandier stores—with more on the way (get ready, LA and Miami)—plus a new high-profile collaboration launching every month. The flagship‘s upstairs workout space, Studio B, hosts classes with some of the buzziest instructors in Manhattan, turning it into a bona fide destination for the sweaty set.
How did the born-and-bred New Yorker and former music executive (she once managed TLC) become one of the leading figures of what Bandier likes to call the “active fashion” movement? Here, she shares her story.
Where did the inspiration to start Bandier come from?
With the rise of boutique fitness, I started spending a larger portion of my life being active and, therefore, wearing fitness apparel. When I broke my foot in 2012, I could only wear activewear—at the time I was really into Splits59, Nike, and Monrow T-shirts—and I discovered so many fashionable fitness brands online. Styling unique outfits helped me stay motivated throughout recuperation!
There was, however, no physical store where I could go to discover new brands, feel the fabrics, try things on, and understand which products are best for specific workouts. I saw an opportunity to create an omni-channel retailer, with experiential brick-and-mortar stores that would complement an online shopping experience.
What differentiates Bandier from everything else out there?
We have a very specific viewpoint. Customers come to Bandier to discover the best selects from over 40 active brands from around the world. Most of the brands we sell offer exclusive pieces or, in some cases, full collections that you can only find at Bandier. We work with designers and bloggers to create unique capsule collaborations, which we view as “active fashion”—not athleisure.
“We work with designers and bloggers to create unique capsule collaborations, which we view as ‘active fashion’—not athleisure”
Most recently, we collaborated with designer label Cushnie et Ochs on a 10-piece collection of high performance body-con silhouettes. We were very thoughtful when selecting Cushnie et Ochs as a partner. They use stretch fabrics in their ready-to-wear clothing and they have a distinct aesthetic that translates well into active clothing. We almost completely sold out during launch week!
Can you explain the difference between “active fashion” and athleisure?
We never identified with the term, and our customer was not attracted to it either. “Active fashion” is so much more fun and representative of the Bandier girl; it signifies confidence and self expression.
Attracting talent is always a challenge. How did you convince people to join Bandier when it was little more than a dream?
Most people who work at Bandier were customers during the first summer we opened and were naturally attracted to the brand. Each person on our team has a passion for wellness and is extremely involved in their local fitness communities. Our team has very diverse experience, having worked at organizations including Barneys, Calvin Klein, Gilt Group, Goldman Sachs, Class Pass, Virgin, and more. We want work to be as exciting as possible—and there’s nothing more exciting than being on the ground floor of a company in a new and growing industry.
“There’s nothing more exciting than being on the ground floor of a company in a new and growing industry”
How did you decide whether to bootstrap the business, seek angel investors, or take VC money?
We haven’t taken any money from outside investors. I believe in our concept and our unique viewpoint. Working in a start-up environment lends itself to creative business building, which has worked well for us thus far. Control over the business has allowed us to grow steadily while maintaining our brand identity.
We always look at the business from a consumer’s point of view and think about what would attract people to the store. We don’t have an advertising budget, but we focused on creating community and unique in-store experiences—this has helped to grow awareness about our brand in very organic and impactful way.
Can you tell us about a key decision you made that was a turning point for Bandier, but that frankly could have gone either way?
After we launched Bandier in Southampton, we planned to open in Manhattan on the Upper East Side and had almost signed a lease agreement on a space there. I live on the Upper East Side and am very familiar with the area. However, I started spending a lot of time in Flatiron taking boutique fitness classes and realized that it was the perfect place to open our first NYC store. I was still pretty unfamiliar with the area and it was a risk, but it wound up being a successful decision.
A business owner’s to-do list is always long. Please share your favorite efficiency hack.
I’m a night owl. I stay up late so I can get a lot of work done in the quiet of my home while no one else is awake.
“My mother, Denise LeFrak, always told me to trust my intuition”
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received.
My mother, Denise LeFrak, always told me to trust my intuition. When I told people back in 2012-2013 about my plans to open Bandier, many people told me that if a fitness fashion retailer was a needed idea, that it would already exist. But my intuition told me otherwise. Thanks, Mom!
Another wellness entrepreneur who saw a hole in the market—and went for it? Juice Generation’s Eric Helms.