In the '80s, I desperately wanted a pair of the now-classic, pure white leather Reebok Freestyle high tops. (Alas, my mother did not think children needed "designer" sneakers, so I had to wait until I was a grown woman paying $35 for boutique fitness classes before I could invest in fancy shoes.) Now, Reebok is making a concerted effort to get that desirability back, particularly with a new generation that — lucky them — has no memory of acid wash jeans.
Reebok was arguably the first brand to be associated with trendy fitness, which in this case was '80s aerobics. The company is trying to find its footing again among the fit and fashionable set in a retail environment where brands like Lululemon and Nike have dominated the activewear market. To this end, it partnered with CrossFit in 2010 to launch a range of CrossFit-friendly gear. It's a strategy that seems to be helping increase Reebok's visibility as a technically sound fitness brand. According to Catherine Marshall, Reebok's Global Director of Business Development, the brand's CrossFit Nano shoe is its best seller.
But to survive in this brave new world of $400 designer yoga pants, brands need to up the fashion ante as well. Marshall acknowledges that this is a priority for Reebok, and also notes that it's been hard to get the word out. "Our design started changing about four years ago, and it's been slow to get out there in the market — specifically with women's," Marshall says. "We just didn't have good distribution for it. Every season gets better and we have to get this out there."
This is where Bandier comes in. Jennifer Bandier, a former manager for the band TLC, opened a small shop in the Hamptons in 2014 which curated niche, luxury activewear brands. It was a local hit, so she opened a larger outpost in Manhattan's Flatiron neighborhood, which is also ground zero for practically every buzzy boutique fitness studio in NYC. A website followed a few months later, and it's quickly become a favorite of both celebrity fitness instructors and actual celebs. Brands like K-Deer (I own two pairs of the striped leggings), Koral, Alala and Michi are popular. Two more brick-and-mortar stores are opening this year in Manhasset, NY and Dallas, TX, with more locations on the horizon for 2016.
Bandier's tagline is "fashion, fitness, music" and this is where Reebok is looking for synergy. (Fun fact: Marshall mentioned that Reebok was the very first footwear brand to sign a hip-hop artist, with Jay-Z's S. Carter collection in 2003.) Starting this season and expanding into spring 2016, Reebok is providing Bandier with multiple exclusives, as well as giving the retailer merchandise many months before other stores get it.
Both parties are excited about the partnership. "Reebok was on my radar when we opened the store and I saw the amazing designs that they're doing," Jennifer Bandier says. Marshall adds, "We believe [Bandier] are the ones everyone is looking to these days. All eyes are on them, and I believe they can put the best face of Reebok out there. It's an authenticator, honestly."
Continuing the theme we've been seeing over the past year of activewear brands putting on shows during Fashion Week, Bandier and Reebok hosted an event on Wednesday night at Marquee in NYC to showcase both its current fall 2015 collection and to show its spring 2016 collection, much of which Bandier will get first to market. With a live DJ providing music, three popular fitness boutiques offered short classes on the dance floor, followed by a performance with dancers dressed in new Reebok gear.
The clothes themselves are definitely not for wallflowers: Reebok wants to make a statement. "You will see a lot of loud prints. That's our voice — it's bold," Marshall says. "It gives us a different point of view." Reebok has also partnered with artists like Upendo Taylor (see first photo above) on prints, and plans to continue with these types of collaborations. They've also released a "magalog" called "Rally," which features the clothes as well as short features on influencers in fitness, music, art and fashion. This all comes on the heels of a pretty adorable baseball-themed capsule collection with Maison Kitsuné, which is available now.
I've seen lots of crazy activewear, and Reebok is not afraid to put plaid all over your butt — a trend I'm generally in favor of. However, there are plenty of pieces in the spring collection to tone down the noise. The graphic, color blocked bras are fantastic, as are the bomber jackets, which could easily be worn outside of the gym. I loved a pair of moto leggings with Japanese-style pleating at the knees, a feature that increases mobility in the garment but also looks damn cool. There's generally an industrial vibe to the collection, and while the tops splashed with alphanumeric graphics were not my favorite, they'll surely appeal to some women. (SoulCycle has basically made this style its trademark on its branded activewear.) Marshall says that Reebok likes to imagine their women with some "grit."
Whether Reebok can make enough noise in this increasingly crowded market to break through remains to be seen, but it seems like an auspicious start.