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Do you ever recognize a product before you know — or even can name — the brand that makes it? In "This Thing's Everywhere," we delve deep into these ubiquitous pieces and the impact they have on the businesses of their creators. 

I'm interviewing Lindsey Carter as she's walking on a treadmill, where she takes many of her work calls these days. Being the founder and CEO of an activewear company, this is only natural: The former social media and branding consultant has been putting a professional premium on health and wellness since she launched Set Active in 2018.

With its sleek athleisure sets, Carter's brand was an immediate favorite among the model-off-duty types. For the paparazzi, it's become big business to photograph nepo babies as they stroll to their Range Rovers after Pilates. Their hands may be covering their faces from the flash bulbs, but to the trained eye, there's no hiding their Set Active.

Now five years in, Set Active is still a Calabasas staple, but it's bloomed into something more. Those with access to a certain nook of the TikTok algorithm may recognize the brand as the unofficial uniform of the hot-girl walker, the Stanley tumbler sipper, "The Five-Minute Journal" writer. In my case, Set Active began creeping on my radar in early 2020, at the onset of the pandemic's stay-at-home orders and virtual-fitness gold rush. The more time I seemingly spent on my couch, likely in decrepit workout clothes, the more Set Active I began to see.

But rest assured, the brand exists offline, too. Set Active is being worn in your hot yoga class, at your local Whole Foods, behind you in the Starbucks drive-through. And chances are, if you were to compliment that person's Set Active, they'd be excited to compliment you right back, too. (I know, because this once happened to me at a workout class, while I was wearing a Set Active ensemble of my own.) 

This is what Carter intended: a community first, brand second.

"Growing up and in high school, I felt like I never fit in or that I didn't have a voice," says Carter atop the walking pad. "It was really important to me when I started the brand that everyone felt like they were being heard, to the best of our ability. I know we can't please everyone, but we put a big emphasis on involving our community."

Today, that community can convene in-person at the brand's Melrose pop-up, centrally located in a popular shopping district of West Hollywood. It's on the same block as Alfred Coffee, where Carter actually experienced the entrepreneurial lightbulb moment that started it all in 2017.

"I was looking around at all these women who were coming to and from Alfred — picking up their coffee, having a meeting — and it just came to me," she says. "No one was making functional, active sets that you could work out in, but that you could also style a fashionable outfit with. And I was like, 'I'm going to take what I know about branding and marketing, and I'm going to do it.'"

The key, Carter realized, was the intention behind the garments themselves. She had been wearing Lululemon "every single day," she remembers, but as she got older, she began to realize that she wasn't interested in performing the workouts for which the apparel was designed.

"I was never going to be that gym girly who was going to lift weights, and I felt that my activewear was wearing put all this pressure on me," she says. "If I didn't go to the gym, it was a failure."

A year after her Alfred epiphany, Carter launched Set Active, reportedly accumulating $20,000 in credit card debt to get the business off the ground. The development process was meticulous, she says, including trying more than 70 samples before signing off on the brand's proprietary fabric. Called "Sculptflex," Set Active's ultra-compressive nylon-Spandex blend comes with special ribbing that expands and contracts with your body. The label has since launched two additional fabrics: the smooth, barely-there "Luxform" and the ultra-technical "Sportbody," created with high-impact workouts in mind. All three are registered trademarks.

Aesthetically, Set Active has done well to differentiate itself in the ever-widening world of activewear by, in many ways, keeping things simple. With the brand's sports bras and leggings featuring uncomplicated silhouettes and subtle branding, color becomes ever more imperative.

Carter has always done her own trend research, combing through high-end e-commerce platforms like Farfetch and Net-a-Porter to take note of the tones populating each season. Alongside a dedicated data analyst and an internal "color team," the brand selects up to four new tones to sample, which then get whittled down from there.

Looks from Set Active's 2023 "Core" collection.

Looks from Set Active's 2023 "Core" collection.

Within 2022's "Core" collection, shoppers can get their one-shouldered sports bras and cropped baby tees in shades like "Rain" (an icy, sleet-laced blue), "Mojito" (a lush, parrot-y green) or "Canyon" (a dusty, fiery clay). The neutrals, though toned down in color, have names that are just as punchy: "Onyx" for black, "Blanc" for white, "Oxford" for navy blue.

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However, Carter speculates that Set Active's success has less to do with on-trend colors and more to do with branding: Set Active was built to be perceived through a phone screen.

"We give the brand that human personality, so the consumer feels like they're talking to another human, rather than a brand," she says. 

For its 440K Instagram followers, Set Active delivers "Gossip Girl"-like captions: clean and witty, as if they were drafted over a frosty martini. Photos regularly showcase community members, their selfies sandwiched between behind-the-scenes sneak peeks or high-gloss campaign shots.

Set Active further fosters that human connection using Geneva, a free messaging app for groups and clubs. Here, customers — which Carter lovingly calls "Geneva sisters" — can interface with the brand via various chat rooms. Some, like those focused on product testing or styling, are functional; others, like "Monday Motivation," are less so, but that doesn't make them any less important.

"We had a fit meeting two weeks ago," says Carter. "I said in the product testing channel, 'Hey, if anyone's in LA, we have a fit meeting on Tuesday at 2:30. If you want to come, let me know. We'll send you the details.' And a Geneva sister came to our fit meeting to see how we did it."

Also a key cohort of the Set Active community are, of course, the influencers who helped build up the brand in the first place. (You might categorize the Geneva sisters as micro-influencers.) From day one, Carter says, the brand has prioritized "genuine, organic relationships" with content creators, seeding product when appropriate. In the past year, Set Active has begun to include community members in its gifting programs, too.

"It became apparent to us that the word of mouth from our community is so incredibly influential, and we wanted a way to say thank you to them for that," says Carter.

While it's easy to hop on Instagram and see who is included in Set Active's community, it's also apparent who isn't: Right now, sizing maxes out at a 14/16, but Carter confirms there are expansion plans in the works.

"We have an April target date to expand sizing into XXL, which is something we're really excited about," she says. "Our community has been asking about extended sizing for some time, and we're now at a place from a financial and customer-base standpoint where we can make it a reality."

Set Active's customers (committed Geneva sisters or not) can expect expansion to be a guiding principle of 2023, in sizing and beyond. It's not that the brand is necessarily looking to do it all, especially when it's done well capitalizing on one specific aesthetic — it's more that, well, that one aesthetic can only carry you so far.

Looking ahead, new categories are a primary focus, which the brand will execute either by testing the market with a co-branded collaboration (previous collaborators include Justine Skye and Aimee Song) or taking a leap of faith directly into new offerings. In the case of the former, Set Active will be linking up with the ultra-girlish, Instagram-beloved hair accessory brand Emi Jay later this year. 

"In understanding our consumer, we know they're tired of limited-edition colors," says Carter. "We now have to get creative, so 90% of what we're dropping this year will be something new. New styles, new ways to innovate products that you haven't seen before."

The storytelling will be new, too. Set Active's drop model has been working for the brand, but this year, those drops will be elevated with a range of standalone campaigns that support a consistent theme — called "nostalgic reinvention" — throughout 2023. Upcoming January launches include a lounge and activewear range, as well as a community collection to be promoted with a "reimagined fashion show."

But beyond the Los Angeles pop-up, don't expect any big changes around retail. Where some of Set Active's DTC competitors may be angling for wholesale play, Carter is wary of any distance that might create between the brand and its "sisters."

"I have always been intentional with everything I do," she says. "I just think controlling your own brand is more of a powerful story."

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