Two female entrepreneurs cash in on the growing trend for athleisure - clothes you can wear both inside and outside the yoga studio.
Dubai company offers yoga clothes for anytime wear
The phenomenon of wearing fitness clothing pre and post-workout is what the apparel industry calls “athleisure”. And nowhere is the trend more apparent than in the world of yoga fashion, where clothes are designed for comfort and to flatter.
When Dina Ghandour, a 28-year-old Palestinian, found herself wearing her yoga clothes between classes in Dubai, and noticed her other classmates doing the same, she realised there might be a business opportunity. “I live and sleep in my yoga wear,” she admits.
According to the American Sports & Fitness Industry Association, yoga participation grew 4.5 per cent last year. Meanwhile, US sales of yoga apparel were up 45 per cent according to SportsOneSource, a sporting-goods industry tracker, meaning demand for yoga gear is outpacing demand for the activity itself.
But until this year, there weren’t any specialist shops in the UAE for ladies to buy up-and-coming athleisure yoga brands.
Ms Ghandour used to stock up at Lululemon Athletica shops when she travelled abroad. The Canadian company specialises in yoga attire, with more than 200 outlets worldwide but, surprisingly, none in the UAE.
“The yoga community here was really growing but the retail element was clearly missing,” she says. “Nike and Reebok stores are great to wear to go to the gym, but having specialised yoga or Pilates fitness wear is important because they’re designed in a different way. You want the outfits to be longer, because you know you’re bending forwards a lot, and you want them to be stretchy in a certain way because you’re doing lots of twists, and don’t want the material to get caught.”
So Dubai-based Ms Ghandour quit her job as a PR consultant to open the UAE’s first yoga apparel shop, yApparel (yapparel.com), in March this year at the Jumeirah Centre. Using savings she’d accrued as well as investments from her family in Abu Dhabi, she also now sells yoga wear brands at seven yoga studios across Dubai.
Ms Ghandour may have made a smart move. Such is the growth of the athleisure trend that denim sales – the traditional staple of most leisure hours wardrobes – dropped 6 per cent in the US last year, according to the market research firm NPD Group. The jeans staple Levi Strauss reported a 2 per cent drop in global sales for this year’s second quarter and also announced plans to cut 800 jobs in March.
“There’s definitely a big trend out here of women wearing yoga wear all the time. The stretchy leggings have become a real fashion statement. I wear my yoga clothes all the time,” says Tasha Hawkins, a 30-year-old Australian who is opening Abu Dhabi’s first independent Bikram yoga studio, the Hothouse, this month. “The yoga scene here is really growing. In the last year, I can think of at least four new yoga studios that have opened in the UAE.”
Also riding high on the athleisure wave, Briton Hannah Swales, 33, and her Iranian-Canadian business partner, Kazeh Anooshirazani, launched thehotboxkit.com in January. It sells American athleisure brands previously unavailable in the Arabian Gulf, such as Hot Drop and Onzie. “Some ladies wear our yoga clothes on a night out in Dubai,” says Ms Swales, who lives in Silicon Oasis, Dubai. “We sell to active women, who want to do what they want and still be comfortable.”
Ms Swales has partnered with 10 studios to sell yoga wear in the UAE. She is hoping they will also become the first company to produce yoga clothing in the region. “I’m now in the process of sourcing fabrics,” says the former dancer and yoga instructor. “Hopefully my designs will be on the market early next year.”
Like the Hot Box Kit, yApparel specialises in brands that cannot be found elsewhere in the UAE. They include the Australian Divine Goddess, the Brazilian Liquido Active, the London-based Wellicious and the Italian-Balinese Toyoga, whose clothes contain seven semi-precious crystals reflecting the body’s seven chakras.
Most wholesalers sell to Ms Ghandour for around 50 per cent of the retail price. “The usual mark-up is 100 per cent, depending on the shipping. I’d like to make the clothes as cost-effective as possible, to what they’re selling for online or in the US,” says Ms Ghandour. “But it costs more to ship to Dubai than people expect because as a boutique, we’re shipping in small quantities.
“The regulations here are still catching up with the industry. Because it’s so new, there were a lot of unexpected issues to do with fees, logistics and the right trading licence. It has been five steps up from anything I could ever have imagined, in terms of the challenge level. But the marketing aspect is the easy part for me because it was my career before this.”
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