The new luxury boutique - sportswear

Bandier wares mostly run from US$35 (S$49) sports bras to US$400 jumpsuits.
Bandier wares mostly run from US$35 (S$49) sports bras to US$400 jumpsuits. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

What is this, a luxury boutique? Full of leggings?

Ms Jennifer Bandier is selling workout couture, and her store, Bandier, is quickly becoming something of a celebrity destination. Her fans include Kim Kardashian and Liv Tyler.  The company, owned by Bandier and her husband, is rapidly expanding.

While there are some high-end online activewear shops, few have dared to venture into boutiques. Bandier (ban-deer) is filling that old-store concept with items that are not traditionally considered luxury. It sells pricey workout gear. 

Most are emerging labels such as Splits 59, Good Hyouman and Prismsport. There is a small sampling of ubiquitous brands, a careful selection of gear from Nike and Reebok. The wares mostly run from US$35 (S$49) sports bras to US$400 jumpsuits (average price of an item is US$90).

"If you're a woman, chances are you're wearing leggings or comfortable clothing. People get home from work, they want to wear a comfy T-shirt," Ms Bandier said.

High fashion has long shunned activewear as unworthy of couture treatment. But lately there has been an influx of extravagant workout wear, with upstart companies creating specialised labels.  Thanks in part to the rise of boutique fitness, designers are selling performance leggings that can cost US$300, US$400, or more.

Those boutiques drive Ms Bandier's business. The Broadway location, in New York City's bustling Flatiron District, is ringed by such trendy workout spots as Flywheel, Tonehouse, and SoulCycle (two studios).

"We do tremendous outreach with the studios," said Ms Bandier. "We try to have them do private sessions with people here," along with group classes. A Fifth Avenue location that is in the works will have a dedicated studio within the store for fitness classes, panel discussions, and more, she said. 

A former music executive, Ms Bandier, 45, started her retailer as a summer experiment last year, opening a seasonal boutique in Southampton. She aims to open three new stores and estimates she will haul in US$15 million in sales over the next 12 months.

For now, she is feeding off the popularity of what the fashion industry has dubbed "athleisure", workout wear that can be worn casually on the street.

She knows her good fortune cannot last forever, as fashion trends continue their perpetual cycling. "I'm realistic. But at the moment, it seems like the market's growing."  It is. The United States women's activewear market represents more than US$18 billion in annual sales, up 21 per cent from a year ago, according to research firm NPD Group.

With that in mind, Ms Bandier is thirsting for growth. Her new stores will open on Fifth Avenue and in luxury malls in Manhasset, New York, and Dallas. If it wants to fit in, Bandier needs to provide an opulent aura consistent with its surroundings. The merchandise already has that vibe. Many pieces at Bandier are launched early at its stores or are exclusive designs.

What would worry her? "If people stopped working out."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2015, with the headline 'The new luxury boutique - sportswear'. Print Edition | Subscribe