In the second installment of our Brand Development Series, we had the pleasure of talking with Michelle Wahler, CEO and Co-Founder of Beyond Yoga about standing out from competition by finding and expressing a brand’s “voice.”
Beyond Yoga is a luxury athleisure brand, started in 2006, whose clothing is designed to easily transition from the yoga studio to everyday life.
All of their clothing is designed and made in the US, and they strongly focus on positive body image for all shapes and sizes (offering xxs to xxl). In a sea of photoshopped perfection, Beyond Yoga uses only non-retouched photography to promote real women’s bodies.
They’ve carved out a strong market presence with sales on their website, as well as in retailers like Nordstrom and Zappos. Last year, they first partnered with Kate Spade New York for a joint collection, and have been featured in countless magazines (and worn by plenty of celebrities). Even with huge competitors like original athleisure pioneer Lululemon, Tory Sport, Fabletics and may others, Beyond Yoga has cultivated a voice all their own. Given their success, we were eager to pick Michelle’s brain to learn how Beyond Yoga managed to stand out against some pretty stiff competition, and have a unique voice and message that speaks to their consumers.
Michelle explained that the Beyond Yoga mindset wasn’t based on the quest to be a perfect athlete, like many other athletic brands seem to embody. Instead, they wanted to “create a brand whose goal was female empowerment based on Body Positivity and self-love. We wanted to use this platform to let women know that they are perfect exactly as they are, regardless of size. So if you want to work out in our product, wear it to a mimosa brunch with girlfriends or even curl up on the sofa to eat nutella and watch Netflix, we support that! We hope this resonates with consumers, but more importantly this message is true to who we are as women and what we believe in.”
Beyond Yoga’s success ties into two important themes that fit the brand’s strategy. First: the ever-growing prevalence of athleisure in everyday fashion. Last year, the market size was estimated at $44 billion in the US alone. Women (and increasingly men) can often be found out and about in comfy yet stylish athletic clothes, with no gym time in sight. Beyond Yoga’s style marries into that idea – that a woman can be comfortable and still look fashionable no matter what she’s doing. Secondly, there is a major push in marketing to embrace the imperfect. Along with Beyond Yoga’s unretouched models, we see Target using swimsuit models of all sizes in their ads, Dove continuing to promote “real beauty”, and JC Penny with a #HereIam campaign using several plus-size women as their spokeswomen. There’s a significant backlash to the ridiculous standards of beauty created by decades of an unrealistic perception of perfection, and plenty of consumers are ready to support (with both their wallets and social media interest) those brands that stand against that fabricated flawlessness.
For Beyond Yoga, body positivity was a pillar of the brand since the inception of the company. Co-founder Jodi Guber Brufsky has been a passionate Body Positive advocate for years, but even so, it took time for the brand to fine-tune their messaging and figure out how to roll it out successfully in campaigns. As Michelle says, “brands are like people in that they take on a personality, developing and evolving over the years. After ten years, we have progressed quite a bit and we are really proud of our current voice.”
Often, finding that voice or platform can be the most difficult thing for a brand. In an attempt to please everyone, the message can come off generic and flat, which makes it difficult to connect with consumers. It’s important to hone in on a niche, and focus on “speaking” to that niche through products, creative, advertising, and social media.
It’s becoming even more important in the athletic wear field to have a voice that sets a brand apart from the endless racks of lycra. With so many companies jumping into the space, a successful brand now needs to endure fashion cycles and figure out how to stay appealing to consumers. Whether that’s through fashion trends, materials, or brand messaging, it's clear that it’s going to take a lot more than just putting out a great pair of black yoga pants and expecting consumers to buy them. In the case of Beyond Yoga, their eye catching designs, comfortable materials, and their body positive message resonates with the over 84k people that follow the brand on Instagram, and helps them be a powerhouse amongst immense competition in their field.
In the end, the answer really seems to just stay true to what a brand believes in, and people will be drawn to an authentic message that aligns with what they want and feel. When asked what guidance she might be able to give to brands that have an awesome product or service, but are struggling to find and reach their audience, Michelle’s advice speaks to that basic trust in oneself and the business they want to build. She first says “Persevere. Don’t let anyone or anything slow you down or shake your confidence. Building a lasting business is a marathon, not a sprint, so you need to have unflagging belief in yourself to muscle through.” She also credits the importance of a support system. “Surround yourself with people who see and support your vision. When you are pulling late nights and lugging boxes, it’s the support of your family and friends that will help you go that last mile.”
And hopefully you’re rocking some comfy (yet stylish) yoga pants on that last mile.