This Retailer Is Killing It At "Athleisure" But Wants To Kill The Term

Back in the summer of 2014, Jennifer Bandier opened the first location of her eponymous activewear-centric boutique, Bandier, in the posh NYC summering enclave of the Hamptons. The somewhat unlikely impetus: After a foot injury sidelined Bandier’s typical fitness pursuits, the former music industry manager took lengthy walks as her main form of exercise, spent more time than usual in leggings, and noticed a lack of high-end, sportswear-focused players in the retail scene.

After opening five brick-and-mortar stores in less than two years, the purveyor of seriously chic, sporty garb has distinguished itself in the increasingly crowded athleisure market, in which a new multi-brand retailer or high-end label seems to crop up every week. Just don’t call it athleisure — the term might be dictionary-official, but Bandier is over it. Why? Because it doesn’t connote any sort of actual activity. Instead, Bandier favors 'active fashion.' "The next generation of consumer is more mobile, works freelance, loves experiences, and travels often,” a Bandier rep told us. “They want ready-to-wear clothing with active properties to meet the needs of their on-the-move lifestyle — without sacrificing personal style or expression.”
Photo: Courtesy of Bandier.

It was important for Bandier to build something distinct in terms of her brand's retail experience. “Having spent the last few years building a retail business, without any former experience in doing so, I see myself as the ultimate consumer. I love online shopping [for the] convenience. I realized it was therefore so important to get people into a shopping environment that creates community,” Bandier told Refinery29. Creating a community vibe involved the creation of a sleek fitness studio in the retailer's flagship in NYC's Flatiron neighborhood. “I’m such a consumer — I like to keep abreast of everything in terms of shopping — but some people don’t, and if they come in and take a class, then they learn about Bandier and what we do.”

The fitness studio wasn’t the initial plan, but Bandier realized there was space for it — 3,000-square-feet worth — on the space’s third floor. “We put down a great floor and all these mirrors, and now we hold 25 classes per week.” It’s a place for people to try out classes or fitness instructors with cultish fanbases, like The Class with Taryn Toomey, NW by Nicole Winhoffer and Akin’s Army. “ We wanted to enfranchise the instructors — it’s hard to find real estate [to hold fitness classes] in New York, no matter who you are, and we wanted to give them an opportunity to grow their businesses.”

And while stores like Lululemon and Athleta have offered fitness classes (for free) for awhile, they’re first-come-first-serve, and usually sans the big-deal instructor. Bandier’s classes entail typical boutique-studio price tags, but are about top-notch talent: “Our classes are not free, but that’s really because we wanted to offer the best of the best,” Bandier explained. And having a place to sweat after or before you’ve shopped for clothes to sweat in seems to be paying off: In less than three months since Studio B’s inception, foot traffic at Bandier’s Manhattan flagship has doubled: Before the studio opened, the store averaged 300 to 400 people per weekend day; the addition of onsite fitness classes has ratcheted that average to 800 people per weekend day.

The store’s second floor is currently being outfitted to house a lounge, with couches and a communal table for lounging around pre- or post-shopping. It’ll also host album release parties for emerging artists, called “Bandier Sessions.” Eventually, a juice bar is slated to open in the 2nd floor hang-out space, too. The music tie-in is really important to Bandier: Her background is in the music industry (she managed acts like TLC during the ‘90s, and her dad, Martin Bandier, is a successful music exec). Bandier fondly remembers when music stores like HMV, where she once helmed events, served as “places for people to launch their albums, and that space doesn’t exist anymore,” she said. Plus, music is a really big component of the fitness experience; workout classes are a major, underrated way to introduce people to new tunes. “Fitness instructors can be these really key influencers in the music industry, without even realizing it,” she said. “Rarely have I done anything fitness-wise without music on,” Bandier remarks. (Same.)

As for the clothes themselves, while the retailer stocks plenty of decidedly higher-end, triple-digit leggings, Bandier stresses that the selection is broader, price-wise: “We buy for a taste level — we have $50 leggings and then maybe a $300 leggings, but the main price point is around $100.” In addition to harder-to-find indie fitness lines, Bandier stocks athletic-wear giants that predate the whole athleisure craze, like Nike and Reebok.
Photo: Courtesy of Bandier.

There’s a big focus on exclusives at the retailer, too — 40% of the retailer’s brands create only-at-Bandier pieces. They’ve also done collabs with Instagram-famous influencers, like Monday Active (pictured above) as well as Natasha Oakley and Devin Brugman, founders of A Bikini A Day. “It’s important to have product that’s unique only to us, so our customers feel like not everybody will have the same piece.” The retailer carries over 40 brands, and the 10 top-selling brands include Michi, Alala, Koral, Splits59, Ultracor, and Prism. “We give a lot of feedback to designers — I think it’s very important to have an open dialogue about that. I hear what people want from being in the stores,” she said.
Last month, Bandier launched its first pair-up with a ready-to-wear label — NYC’s Cushnie et Ochs, known for their sleek, body-con, cutout-dappled aesthetic, which translated easily into a 10-piece collection of active-fashion garb. (The collection, shown below, is almost sold out, and has been one of Bandier’s fastest-selling lines ever across all store locations.) There’s another high-profile designer collab (still under wraps) that will roll out in September, timed to coincide with NYFW. Beyond designer collabs, there’s also a plus-size project in the works that should debut sometime in 2016. “It’s one of the most exciting things that we’re working on,” Bandier said. “One of the things I’ve been hearing from customers is that there isn’t enough active fashion for plus-size women, and I’m so excited that we’re going to be able to offer them something fabulous.” Menswear is also a viable possibility down the line.
Photo: Courtesy of Bandier.

“Sales have been amazing,” says Bandier — to the tune of $20 million annually based on a 12-month run rate. Currently, there are five locations, with a Los Angeles location slated to open sometime in 2016, with the goal of three additional stores in 2017 and four more in 2018. There are also plans for their first-ever international brick-and-mortar outpost in the near future — no word yet on where, though Bandier mentions that she’s particularly interested in the U.K. and Asia markets. (The retailer's site does already ship internationally.)

Bandier plans to open studios in flagship stores in numerous cities, such as L.A., while having other satellite locations in the vicinity without class studios (i.e. the Upper East Side and the Hamptons in NYC, and possibly Brentwood in L.A.) Besides the fitness and fashion spaces, Bandier is really into beauty, so she introduced a tight edit of products onto the Bandier selling floor at the NYC flagship. The end goal? “The new 'department store’ for the active, modern woman,” Bandier explained, which could also eventually include fitness equipment, too.

Bandier isn’t concerned about the athleisure — or, rather, active fashion — bubble bursting anytime soon. “People are always going to be working out, and are taking better care of their health than ever before. We’re living longer, and people always want to take care of themselves. I’m not worried.”

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