Sweat it out in Celebrity Prêt-à-Porter with LA Collective

Sweat it out in Celebrity Prêt-à-Porter with LA Collective

Touché LA, a full-service incubator for celebrity activewear and athleisure clothing brands, rebranded itself as LA Collective in November 2018. The Los Angeles-based startup declared that the move was an essential part of its strategic business goal to continue growing its platform, online presence and e-commerce.

“We are thrilled to announce the next steps in our journey as we scale the company,” Co-Founder of LA Collective, Jaynee Silvers Singer, said to Apparel News. “LA Collective will be a game-changer for the American fashion scene.”

But the company’s thirst for disrupting the fashion industry first began 3+ years ago.

Born of the Love for Fashion

While clothes shopping for herself, model, actor and singer Jaynee Silvers Singer noticed a gap in the high-end luxury and fast fashion athleisure segment. The multipotentialite recognized a need for stylish options for the new-gen to flaunt, while indulging in sweat-breaking fitness-related pursuits.

And it helped that at that time, her husband Karl Singer had already amassed a wealth of experience in private label manufacturing, product development and retailing. This provided the duo with a front-row view of the gradual collapse of the middle-market retail chains – which meant that traditional distribution channels were on a decline.

“If you rewind five or 10 years ago in the fashion industry,” Karl said to PYMNTS, “the middle market was controlled by a handful of brands. Customers looking to be on the cutting-edge would talk to the staff at those stores, or read Vogue, or even read the trades. But as those brands have been slowing down, we’ve seen the rise of the social media influencer and celebrity, and they’ve really become the new trend forecasters and style editors with extremely large followings.”

This was also a time when many influencers and celebrities, such as Kate Hudson (Fabletics) and Venus Williams (ELeVen), had begun launching their own brands.

Taking cognizance of these two trends, the husband-wife duo arrived at the concept of helping couture-loving celebrities manufacture and sell athleisure and activewear products online.

Social media stars are the new style editors

“Social media stars, while they may know a lot about fashion and trends, are not necessarily well-equipped to overcome the many logistical and operational hurdles that go into the manufacturing and distribution of apparel. We run the manufacturing, operations and fulfilment behind the brand and bring it to market, and really help grow these brands into larger lifestyle brands,” Karl added.

Suffice to say, ultimately, it was the couple’s joint love for fashion that led to them to start up Touché LA (now known as LA Collective) in 2016. A vertically integrated manufacturing operation for activewear and athleisure clothing, it seeks to help celebrities with everything from design, development and manufacturing to marketing and fulfilment. The likes of Morgan Stewart, Alexis Ren and Anna Victoria have so far entered into collaborations with LA Collective.

Forbes reported that to minimize overlap of responsibilities and maximize productivity the founders split the business roles between them. Jaynee looks into the creative aspect of the business, while Karl leads the operations and streamlining of its manufacturing process.

To date, even in their separate roles, both Singers refuse to compromise their focus on Los Angeles. They see LA Collective playing a central role in furthering the trendy, yet fitness-led lifestyle of the city. At the same time, the startup dedicates itself to contributing to and uplifting LA’s apparel-manufacturing community.

Bringing Back Domestic Manufacturing

The company’s core ethos has always been linked to the city of its origin – “Made in LA. Designed in LA. Inspired by LA”. To that end, along with its headquarters, LA Collective’s 60,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, warehouse and fulfilment centre are also located in Los Angeles. This decision to centre much of its business activities in LA should come as no surprise, considering the city is the hub of all things health and wellness related. From juice bars to fitness centres, beaches, and hiking trails; LA boasts an authentic fitness culture. For, as they say, “if the people of LA aren’t working they are working out’’.

Hence Jaynee said “We are looking to bring back domestic manufacturing in a big way by leaning into manufacturing and designing in L.A. and taking inspiration from the L.A. culture.”

Thanks to this centralized and localized production centre, with 80 sewers and 53 seamless machines, LA Collective enjoys greater flexibility to adapt and modify their processes and production lines. It also means faster speed-to-market and better control over quality, allowing the startup to operate a lean inventory model. Additionally, LA Collective is able to release new apparel every 5 weeks with a monthly output of 120,000 units.

“I can walk 20 yards or 50 yards to our factory floor and make sure the product we want to launch in four weeks is coming out, the quality is correct and everything is kind of a seamless transition for the launch date,” Karl explained to Sourcing Journal.

The couple believes that local manufacturing will help grow the city’s fashion industry, while also taking established partner brands to the next level.

From Celebrity Vision to Fashion Lines

But the secret sauce to LA Collective’s success lies in “getting behind large-scale social influencers with big followings and helping them create their brands”. Hence these celebrity partners are handpicked by the startup.

Apart from filtering basis the follower count, the selection process also includes checking if the influencer has a strong enough team behind them to run targeted advertising across digital channels and brick and mortar stores. This would be critical to help the influencer not only understand what products potential customers are looking for but also capture the interest of relevant buyers.

Made in LA. Designed in LA. Inspired by LA.

First among the celebrities who cleared LA Collective’s stringent selection process was social media celebrity and actor of the Rich Kids of Beverly Hills fame, Morgan Stewart. Together, they launched the capsule collection, TLA By Morgan Stewart, in January 2017. And this athleisure line ended up becoming an overnight success – spotted on celebrities such as Khloe Kardashian, Olivia Culpo and Nicky Hilton. In fact, a windbreaker from the fashion line made it to a gifting guide on ForbesWomen. It has also been favorably covered by publications such as Shape, Dailymail, Coveteur, and Women’s Health Magazine.

“For TLA by Morgan Stewart, it was our first collaboration. It grew so organically but quickly at the same time. It developed this cult-like following,” Jaynee said. “We’re excited to continue growing it, broaden our collection offerings and potentially go into new categories of fashion with her and building out a lifestyle brand.”

Eventually, in July 2017, LA Collective launched its activewear line Ren Active with influencer Alexis Ren who has 9.4 million followers on Instagram (at last count, when the article was written). Ren told Vogue that she started the line because she “wanted [to do] something that could withstand any of the ups and downs of social media.”

Then in November 2018, LA Collective launched their in-house brand VITA LA, in collaboration with the fitness instructor, Anna Victoria.

“We are actively understanding that house brand while launching talent-based brands with celebrities, influencers and personalities from different entertainment sectors using Vita LA as a collaboration pipeline,” added Jaynee.

While such influencer collaborations are becoming more commonplace in the industry, LA Collective sets itself apart by focusing on athleisure and activewear, with plans to expand into streetwear, swim wear and ready to wear in 2019 and 2020. Los Angeles-based Instaco runs a very similar model, where they identify online influencers and their product category (not just fitness wear). Then, they incubate the fledgeling fashion line for around a year before considering sales avenues. Most recently, in August 2018, Instaco helped model and influencer Jordyn Woods launch her own activewear brand, Secndnture.

Sourcing Journal reports that Nordstrom collaborated with Something Navy’s Arielle Charnas in 2017, to launch a designer capsule online. This licensing deal resulted in $1M+ in sales within just the first 24 hours.

LA Collective does things a little differently, from Nordstrom, when it comes to its revenue model.

Profit-Sharing with Fashionistas

Being a fashion incubator, La Collective finances all the celebrity influencer clothing lines it develops. But the startup doesn’t believe in dealing with its talent through licensing agreements, where the celebrity simply signs off their name and design to LA Collective. Instead, they offer the influencer equity in the brand and follow a profit-sharing model.

Karl told PYMNTS, “Licensing can be great for the celebrity involved, but it really doesn’t give them very much skin in the game. We want it to be clear that we are getting behind them in a big way and taking the risk of financing it, running development and running the operations in the business. We are really invested in growing this over time, and we want the influencers we work with to have the same level of investment.”

Since LA Collective and the influencer stand to gain via this business model, both parties become genuinely invested in making the clothing line successful. And according to a report on Sourcing Journal, this sort of partnership ensures greater authenticity in promotions by the influencer on their social media channels.

Selling to the Social Millennial

Pushing such genuine and engaging content on the internet is especially critical to retaining the interest of the millennial consumers who are facing social media overload. Hence, the startup is very active on platforms such as Instagram in engaging with its customers to build brand loyalty and image.

LA Collective also democratizes the product development process by involving the millennial customer. Via crowdsourcing, the startup actually picks up on consumer preferences shared online to formulate their fashion lines. This not only keeps the lines fresh and trendy but also showcases that LA Collective cares for the millennial customer’s opinion.

Additionally, as ‘Gen-Y’ is seen spending more time online than ever before, LA Collective looks at “social media as the new storefront”. This friction-free platform is seen to significantly improve conversion rates.

Adding Distribution to the Mix

Aside from manufacturing and marketing support on offer, LA Collective also helps with distribution of the influencer’s clothing lines. The startup’s celebrity clothing lines are sold online via the website LACollective.com, and also through retailers.

In fact, Ren Active and TLA by Morgan Stewart have wholesale business tie-ups with retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Revolve and Bloomingdale’s. And LA Collective wholesales all its brands at prices ranging from $32 to $98. It must be noted though that a few of LA Collective’s influencers still prefer to stick to direct-to-consumer channels – both online and offline.

LA Collective does invest in a smattering of physical retail that the startup believes is essential to keep customers loyal and more engaged with the brand. Yet, their core focus is e-commerce.

Towards New Categories and Innovations

Such an online-first approach along with active celebrity participation is what drives continued consumer interest. It also helps that LA Collective rarely discount their products. By not diluting the reputation of its partners and the brands, the startup fuels a demand amongst the customers for its products. So much so that LA Collective, on its website, claims to be a category leader in United State’s athleisure (worth $83B by 2020) and active-wear market (worth $69.2B in 2020, accounting for 36% of sales worldwide).

Karl even claimed that LA Collective has hit all the milestones with its current stable of brands that are generating revenue beyond its original targets.

To move things further ahead, in 2019, LA Collective announced its intention to expand into new categories, such as swimwear and streetwear. It will also enter into more partnership with leading celebrities and influencers.

“This expansion has always been on our roadmap,” Jaynee said. “We’ve always had the operational ability to do all categories in fashion, but it was all about timing with us and teaming up with the talent that fit really well into our story and a specific category.”

In the near future, Karl also hopes to inject some innovations (which are still under wraps) to the company’s payments structure.

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