How SoulCycle Is Growing Its Cult Appeal with Apparel

SoulCycle is one of the trendiest workouts in the universe right now. Everyone from Lena Dunham to the Victoria's Secret Angels is devoted to the stationary cycling workouts, as are tons of behind-the-scenes fashion industry people. It's been called a cult, and like every good cult, it has a uniform. SoulCycle launched retail in its studios in 2006 and e-commerce in 2010. The brand currently releases 12 private label collections per year, plus specialty collections like summer pieces for its Hamptons studios. And no one can get enough of it. Julie Rice, one of SC’s co-founders, says apparel sales have grown by about 126% per year since 2008. So, what's the appeal?
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SoulCycle is one of the trendiest workouts in the universe right now. Everyone from Lena Dunham to the Victoria's Secret Angels is devoted to the stationary cycling workouts, as are tons of behind-the-scenes fashion industry people. It's been called a cult, and like every good cult, it has a uniform. SoulCycle launched retail in its studios in 2006 and e-commerce in 2010. The brand currently releases 12 private label collections per year, plus specialty collections like summer pieces for its Hamptons studios. And no one can get enough of it. Julie Rice, one of SC’s co-founders, says apparel sales have grown by about 126% per year since 2008. So, what's the appeal?
Photo: Courtesy SoulCycle

Photo: Courtesy SoulCycle

SoulCycle is one of the trendiest workouts in the universe right now. Everyone from Lena Dunham to the Victoria's Secret Angels is devoted to the stationary cycling workouts, as are tons of behind-the-scenes fashion industry people. It's been called a cult, and like every good cult, it has a uniform.

SoulCycle launched retail in its studios in 2006 and e-commerce in 2010. The brand currently releases 12 private label collections per year, plus specialty collections like summer pieces for its Hamptons studios. (It's even developing its own line of private label performance gear, so watch out, Lululemon.) Pieces generally sell for about $40 for a top to $88 and higher for pants and sweatshirts. None of it is subtle: Large neon printed slogans, skull-and-crossbones, and studs will often appear on one single shirt. And no one can get enough of it. Julie Rice, one of SC's co-founders, says apparel sales have grown by about 126% per year since 2008.

One luxury fashion publicist I spoke to (who wanted to remain off-the-record) cops to owning 15 SoulCycle sweatshirts. Erica Domesek, founder of PS I Made This, has several pant and shirt combos. And I, who swore she wouldn't succumb to the siren call of all that hot pink, now own two shirts and I'm sure they won't be the last. So, what's the appeal?

Exclusivity for one. People clear their schedules on Mondays at noon to sign up for classes, some of which fill up instantaneously. And of course, the $32 price tag is prohibitive enough for most. ("Literally all my money that used to go to handbags now goes to SoulCycle," the luxury PR girl told me.) You can liken it to why people wear certain luxury items. "It’s the same way you see people walking down the street with the latest Céline bag," she continued. "[The clothes] speak to the exclusivity of it and that you’re in the know."

Photo: Courtesy SoulCycle

Photo: Courtesy SoulCycle

Larry D. Compeau, a professor of marketing at the Clarkson University School of Business and an executive officer for the Society for Consumer Psychology agrees that exclusivity is one aspect. He even went so far as to call SC a cult, but "not in a negative sense." "There’s a sense of belonging to a point of almost exclusivity. You have to pay your dues," he told me.

It goes even deeper than status--there's a pretty potent psychological component to the phenomenon as well. "It’s all about some level of cathartic experience," Compeau told me. "I'm going to call [SoulCycle] 'performance exercise.' It becomes part of your identity. This experience becomes part of who you are."

Domesek agrees. "You can wear a t-shirt and feel like you’re part of a community. You can let the shirt do the talking," she told me. "SoulCycle is definitely something that’s brought people together. The fact that there’s a fashion element--they’re thinking of all the ways to speak to this audience." What happens if non-SoulCycle members start *gasp* wearing the gear? "People who wear the clothes who aren’t expressing the ideals [of the group] could have a negative impact," Compeau said. Keeping that exclusivity could be tricky, but SoulCycle is already addressing this, sort of. SoulCycle offers a much wider array of items in studios than online, ensuring that those who actually attend classes remain "aspirational" in their pink flocked rhinestone-studded tee.

Another way is for SoulCycle products to stay up-market. They already did a nail polish collab with high-end Tenoverten salon. And they screen print their logos on to Nike and Lululemon (not cheap!) performance gear--SoulCycle's Rice told me those pants are some of the top sellers.

"I could definitely see [SoulCycle] doing a cashmere collection," my anonymous PR girl said. "Or I could see them partnering with Superga or The Row."

Cashmere cycling gear? In this era of $30+ exercise classes, it's probably not that far-fetched. Watch this space.

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