By Rory Satran
Off Brand is a thrice-monthly column that delves into trends in fashion and beauty.
TO TRICK-OR-TREAT with her family this Halloween, Natalie Sanderson donned a fishtail braid, headset, shimmery chartreuse animal-print leggings and a tank top emblazoned with the word "Peloton," the fitness brand. To any casual onlooker in her Portland, Ore., neighborhood, the 37-year-old resembled a particularly motivational mermaid. To those in the know, however, Ms. Sanderson was clearly dressed as the beloved Peloton instructor Robin Arzón.
Ms. Arzón, a former lawyer who's now a vice president and head instructor at the connected-fitness company, is one of 33 flashy teachers who have earned ardent followings among the 3-million-plus members of the Peloton community. ("Members" include both those who own a coveted Peloton exercise bike or treadmill, and anyone who just uses the exercise-class app.)
There's Alex Toussaint, the military-school alum who pedals in tights under shorts with a thick gold chain around his neck. And Jess King, the redhead whose feathered and spangled getups can look more Mardi Gras than Monday-morning spin class. Though these modern-day gods and goddesses are primarily adored for their Instagram-age inspirational adages (such as: "elevate your thoughts"), they're also becoming sweaty fashion influencers, perfect models for Peloton-branded clothing. The brand's look, insofar as there is one, is a hodgepodge of shiny spandex pieces, logos and statement hairstyles. It's inclusive, and a bit all over the place -- by design.
Style, once secondary for a company that was built on tech-y convenience, has come to the fore at Peloton. As it rides high on the success of its biggest year yet -- in September, the 8-year-old company posted its first profit, with revenue for the 2020 fiscal year topping $1.8 billion -- it is looking for ways to grow even further. To be perceived as a "lifestyle brand" rather than just a bike purveyor, it must expand its reach through clothing. While the company does not disclose what proportion of its business is apparel, co-founder and CEO John Foley delegated the apparel business to his wife and vice president Jill Foley. She now has 24 people working under her. "Just this year I hired eight more people because of our growth and I think the greater Peloton brand realized, 'Oh, geez, we need to invest more in this apparel," said Ms. Foley. "They're selling like hot cakes."
In pancake terms those hot cakes are mass-market IHOP, with its wealth of syrup flavors from sugar-free to blueberry. On Peleton's e-commerce site, launched in 2015, there's a little something for everyone who hops on a bike or fires up the app, whether that's logo sports bras and leggings or novelty items like a shiny black puffer jacket and a Peloton X Grateful Dead tie-dyed tank. Although it has a history of collaborating with establishment players like Nike and Lululemon, the brand is moving toward making more of its own gear. Ms. Foley said that in the early days, "we would just buy goods and slap our logo on it, but we've evolved into much more than that."
Ana Andjelic, a New York City strategy executive and the author of "The Business of Aspiration," confirmed that this juncture was critical. As the brand expands its own offerings, Ms. Andjelic advises an inclusive strategy. "Their community is very diverse -- they don't want to exclude any of them. They want to create a lot of doors into the brand. If I were them I would approach it as a collection of niches." These communities already exist. Facebook is awash in sub-groups including plus-size Peloton fans, members of instructor Ally Love's "Love Squad," Disney-loving Peloton fans and riders that embrace their "Black-girl magic." Ms. Andjelic compared Peloton to Foot Locker: a platform where diverse brands can thrive.
Peloton's Ms. Foley is leaning into that multiplicity. She admitted, "Sometimes we get feedback that the aesthetic of our brand is kind of varied...You come to our site, the aesthetic is not so clear," she said. But she says that's intentional. "That is because of our strategy and our philosophy of making something for everyone, for the diverse community that has become Peloton, and to not make everyone look the same."
Of course, if all a company is doing is offering simple gear with a logo on it, clever people will simply make their own. On Etsy, a Peloton-gear cottage industry has sprung up, yielding an endless scroll of available merch. Some of the popular slogans on tanks, T-shirts, mugs, shoe shelves, water bottles and yoga mats include: "Coffee, Peloton, Wine, Repeat"; "Pelo-mom"; and a quote from instructor Cody Rigsby: "It's not that deep, boo." For many, an affordable homemade T-shirt with a pithy slogan is perfectly fine for pedaling away in a home gym. Etsy doesn't threaten Peloton; Ms. Foley spoke of it as an idea generator for the brand. Some of the users I spoke with eschew gear altogether in favor of barebones bras and shorts, explaining that they saw no need to get excess laundry dirty when they're just working out at home.
For many fans, buying the gear directly from Peloton makes them feel like they're on the pulse of a buzzy movement. Ms. Sanderson, who dressed as Robin Arzón for Halloween, often checks the Peloton site for new apparel drops. "If it's cute, I'm going to buy it real quick because other people will beat me to it," said the former college athlete who works in merchandising at Nike. "So it's almost like this competition thing." Emily Parsons, a 27-year-old tech-company employee in London, owns 39 pieces of Peloton-branded apparel and said, "It's definitely a community and a bit of a cult kind of thing."
Regardless of whether you own dozens of Peloton products, buy gear from Etsy, or pedal nude in body paint like some riders have, you're contributing to the brand's currency. As Ms. Andjelic said, "Think about it as a marathon. Everyone comes the way they want to be dressed. The whole point is they participate in a shared experience."
(END) Dow Jones Newswires