It's 2018, and there's a decent chance you're tired of hearing about new activewear and athleisure companies — and trust us, we've spared you a lot of them. But this one is doing things a little differently, and we're intrigued.
Kristin Hildebrand has been making her mark on the fashion landscape for the past decade or so: She was an OG fashion blogger, launching Bleach Black in 2008. Shortly thereafter, she helped create one of the first big influencer collabs ever — RVCA x Erin Wasson — before getting scooped up by Nike to creatively direct and conceptualize the brand's women's collection. She spent seven years at the world's biggest sports company, earning the title of creative concept director; now, she's using what she's learned to strike out on her own, hoping to fill a gap in a very crowded space.
Wone (pronounced like "won") is a high-end, minimalist activewear line sold direct to consumer in limited runs. It's chic — a word that, while overused, can't usually be applied to sports clothes. Still, it definitely applies to Hildebrand's refreshingly simple square-neck spaghetti strap sports bra, scoop-neck crop top and virtually seamless leggings — all available only in black and made from high-quality French fabrics. It's basically The Row of activewear.
During a preview at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Portland-based Hildebrand, who self-funds the line with her husband, explained how traditional brands tend to think about creating value for customers: "They're thinking, 'How can you get the customer to understand [why] this is a high price point? Therefore we need to add value,' and so there's all these seaming details and excessive pieces that you don't necessarily really need. Our vision for this was just take away as much as possible and reinvest in the fabric." Hence the very simple silhouettes.
The fabrics are expensive — so much so that Nike wouldn't let her use one of them for a celebrity partnership she was working on (that ultimately didn't come to fruition). It's apparently used for Tour de France cycling outfits. "Within the industry in general, these are fabrications you won't see ever, specifically because it's too expensive," she explains. "We've got fabrics that are $20 a yard versus fabrics that most brands are working on which are $2.50 to $4. They're only approved for 50 washes; we're approved for 50,000 washes."
So yes, the line is price-y — from $150 for a sports bra to $320 for leggings — but the idea is that they will be all you need for years to come, able to withstand countless workouts, washings and trends. Hildebrand also feels that the brand's timeless silhouettes and long-lasting fabrics make it more environmentally responsible (i.e., less likely to end up in a landfill). She plans to drop collections twice per year.
The minimalist design is also part of a business strategy, as is the size of the first collection: There are only five styles, one colorway (black), and 600 units of each style. "I want to make sure to sell out each season," she says. By not having much variety and selling directly to consumers, there's no risk of excess inventory or having to mark things down.
But perhaps most important to Hildebrand is the ability to communicate directly with her customers and have a personal connection. "I want to have a different relationship with my clients than I had in the past," she says. "I want to know my clients, I want to understand if they're liking things, if they're not and reasons why. I want them to have access to me." Thus, Wone's e-commerce strategy is a tad unconventional. Interested shoppers must sign up for email updates; Hildebrand is "hand-approving" a limited number of members who have one week to make their purchases and everyone else is waitlisted until a new spot opens up. Those who do make purchases within that one-week frame will become "elevated members" who then get special access to all special events and the next collection. It's a concept borrowed from fancy wine clubs.
Wone is also holding private fitting appointments in big cities including Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. As for marketing, Hildebrand plans to gift a few friends with large followings, and while Wone has an Instagram account, it has no permanent posts yet and only uses Stories.
It's an unusual approach that feels a bit exclusive and maybe even counter-productive to making money and spreading awareness, but Hildebrand hopes it will result in a more dedicated, engaged customer base. Plus, going against the grain is the whole point: "I'm making all these decisions because I want the outcome to be very different from that of my past," she says. "We want this really small, lovely, manageable business."