Sweaty Betty Brings its British 'Sports Luxe' Looks to Venice's Abbot Kinney
Local fitness fanatics looking to buck athletic wear's black-and-stretchy standard have a new best bet, courtesy of the Brits. London-based fitness empire Sweaty Betty opened its first California brick-and-mortar location in Venice on Nov. 20, selling figure-flaunting workout attire in splashy colors and eye-catching patterns at a premium price.
Husband-and-wife duo Tamara and Simon Hill-Norton launched Sweaty Betty in 1998, eventually growing the brand into a multimillion-dollar business with 42 stores in the United Kingdom.
UK A-listers such as the Duchess of Cambridge and her sister Pippa Middleton have come out as brand loyalists. Meanwhile, in the U.S. the company has opened three other stand-alone shops and two Bloomingdale's boutiques, all on the East Coast. And stateside stars like actress-entrepreneur Jessica Alba and model Gigi Hadid have already gotten onboard. How does the company plan to hold its own on the West Coast, a.k.a. Lululemon territory? By putting forth a product lineup that is "a true fashion collection," says Melissa Sgaglione, public relations director for the "sports luxe" company.
"We're more fashion-forward," she explains. "We use more risk-taking prints." The new Abbot Kinney store is stocked with "It" girl-appropriate neoprene crop tops, cashmere overalls and silhouette-hugging coordinates covered in cheeky patterns. A sign on the wall encourages shoppers to "Sweat your style," which they can presumably do while wearing bright, '80s-reminiscent graphics meant to evoke the skate parks of Venice Beach. "The technical aspect is still there," Sgaglione says of features like breathable mesh and sweat-wicking fabric, "but we make it fun."
Instead of traditional fitting rooms, there are pastel huts that look like changing bungalows plucked from the British seaside. Union Jack throw pillows lie on lounge chairs and a pop art depiction of the queen overlooks a backyard patio where you can sip fresh-pressed juice or pick up a SolÃ© bike for rent. The 1,220-square-foot shop is divided by activity, with separate racks devoted to running, dancing, swimming and the like. They're all sporty passions Tamara Hill-Norton throws herself into, so she devotes a trained eye to designing and styling the pieces.
Sweaty Betty isn't just bolder than its competitors, aesthetically; its pricier too. The bestselling Zero Gravity workout tights â€” which promise the ultimate in "bum-sculpting" design â€” sell for $160. A dolman sleeve yoga tee runs $90, while swimsuits range from $120 to $220. The winter ski collection, with its optical patterns and pistachio and peach accents, includes pieces that top out at $635. The steeper prices didn't keep shoppers from filling the dressing rooms mere minutes after the Venice store opened on its second day. Some walked in already wearing head-to-toe fitness gear, while others were clad in street clothes, curiously eyeing the neon layering pieces, yoga mats and rentable surfboards. "I was walking across the street and the colors drew me in," said Moni, a healthcare professional in her 50s, "I like workout wear that doesn't look boring," said the free-weight and cardio enthusiast.
Up next, Sweaty Betty will continue its California expansion with a new location on Santa Monica's Montana Avenue that is slated to open in mid-January. Also on the books for the new year, the Abbot Kinney shop will offer in-store classes, in keeping with the company's tradition of teaching Pilates, boxing yoga and more. By summer, it will feature an even brighter Rio-inspired collection, aiming to push basic black even further to the back.
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