Rhone taps into high-end ‘athleisure’ activewear market
|Founded in 2013, Rhone is built on a belief that men will pay a premium for quality, comfortable activewear.
As Checketts, co-founder and chief executive of high-end activewear company Rhone, explained to a product development agency the concept behind the brand — that men would splurge on activewear as long as the garments were worth it — the agency’s executives weren’t enthused by the idea.
“They said, ‘Our opinion, and what’s been known in the activewear industry, is that guys don’t care about hand-feel of the material, or care about durability. They’re a much more price-conscious consumer,’” Checketts said, recounting the conversation. “And we said, ‘Maybe we’re not representative of the market, but that’s not what we think at all.’”
Checketts, 33, was convinced there was a gap in the U.S. activewear market, which last year accounted for $97 billion in sales, according to Morgan Stanley. And the son of longtime sports business power player Dave Checketts has parlayed that vision for high-end activewear with his family’s connections in the sports industry not only to create Rhone, but also to bring onboard a list of financial backers that includes former NBA Commissioner David Stern, former ESPN and NFL Network head Steve Bornstein and ESPN Radio host Ryen Russillo.
With an increased focus on fitness and health in major markets like the U.S. and China leading to a 42 percent increase in global activewear sales from 2009 to 2015, Checketts thought there was a dearth of companies making quality, male-focused “athleisure” — or athletic wear versatile enough to be comfortably worn both in a gym and a social setting.
“That’s why Rhone started: We felt like you were having to choose between clothes that looked good and clothes that performed good, and that’s just not a great option,” Checketts said. “Big companies move like cruise ships; they can’t turn on a dime. … That opened up space for us to come in and say, ‘We think there is a need for us in the market.’”
Through research, Checketts and fellow Rhone co-founder Kyle McClure realized that the U.S. military and NASA had in the past embedded clothing with the odor-killing, antimicrobial element of silver. That sparked the idea to buy higher-quality, stronger fabrics; embed them with silver plus other performance-enhancing elements; and present the finished product in a noncluttered, largely logo-free manner (with inspirational quotes stitched on the inside seams).
Those qualities have become pillars for the Connecticut-based company, which has 15 full-time employees and has raised more than $6 million in financial backing since its November 2013 founding. For example, most activewear loses its odor-protecting ability after 15-20 washes; Rhone touts that research has shown its garments retain their odor-protecting qualities through the average life of a garment, or up to 50 washes.
|Rhone apparel weaves together more durable, higher-quality fabrics with performance-enhancing elements.
Former NBA player Shane Battier, another Rhone investor, said: “There’s a lot of really good stuff being made for my wife … but when men try to wear it, there’s a stigma [attached] to it. So [Nate’s] thesis was simple: Let’s create a higher-performance brand for men that is comfortable, high-tech, performance-oriented — but you lose all the stigma.”
Rhone is sold both direct to consumers on its website and in more than 220 retail locations nationwide. Those include upscale department stores Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom, outdoors retailer REI and luxury fitness club chain Equinox.
|Rhone’s products are designed to be versatile enough to be worn while working out or relaxing.
“They’re moving to an area that is not co-opted by the big players; they’ve chosen a sort of athleisure wear that men are willing to pay extra for … and that’s something that’s not going to move the needle for Nike or Adidas at this point,” Stern said. “While [the bigger players] seek their Olympic endorsements and player endorsements and the like, I think Rhone has chosen a very good niche — and it’s going to be quite profitable.”