Fitness, fashion and community converge at performance clothing retailer Carbon38
In the first episode of the new Apple TV show Physical, with Rose Byrne, it’s evident that fashion and workout wear have converged since the fitness boom of the 1980s. Fast forward to today, when the wearing of athleisure styles has crept into some outfits. corporate work. No one was better positioned to capitalize on this emerging trend of blurring the lines between street wear and athletic wear than Carbon38 co-founder Katie Warner Johnson. The CEO combined her Harvard degree and fitness trainer skills to launch the first multi-brand luxury sports retailer with a mission to boost other female-led brands along the way.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in art history and architecture, Warner Johnson deferred a job offer from Deutsche Bank to pursue his other passion, ballet. This dream was blocked due to several injuries, but rather than fall back on finance; she became a coveted fitness trainer in Los Angeles. “I was a fitness instructor so I lived in spandex,” says Warner Johnson of the birth of the brand.
“I got to know some cool, up-and-coming brands, the majority of which were led by women. I found that these brands wanted to tackle the major players in the sportswear space, but rather than it. to do so, I thought about assembling the micro-players and crowdsourcing our way to success. ” An invitation to the 2012 Women 2.0 Startup Conference weekend in San Francisco helped cement the idea.
The name was born out of the CEO’s passion for the periodic table, and in 2014 the brand was launched with five brands. “Carbon is one of the most abundant elements in our body, and that seemed compelling to me for the business I was starting to create,” she explains. They have worked with over 260 brands to date, 75% of which are led or founded by women. “It is important for me to support my fellow leaders – Carbon38 exists because of them,” says Warner Johnson.
The site features Adidas by Stella McCartney, LoveShackFancy, Balmain, Reebok X Victoria Beckham and Sweaty Betty, among others. The looks promote a style that mixes the DNA of sportswear with trendy ready-to-wear silhouettes, a stimulating look for modern women.
The fitness pro tapped into her financial acumen from her college background, growing the business from $ 0 to over $ 50 million, raising successful fundraising rounds and hiring the right industry leaders. to support the vision.
The world of fitness was a community long before social media and the internet buzzed with them. It turned out to be the retailer’s first marketing vehicle, with Warner Johnson being the brand’s first ambassador. “I was our first ambassador, wearing the latest styles on Carbon38 for my morning fitness classes. By the time I got home from the studio, we had hit our daily sales target.” She credits the ambassadors for the founding and success of Carbon38.
The company has a network of thousands of fitness instructors in 23 countries serving as “brand evangelists,” as it puts it. “Consumers today can spot a fake endorsement at a glance. When there is a real connection between the brand and the partner, consumers feel it, believe it and buy into it. Cultivating an authentic network of ambassadors has been our mission at Carbon38. ”
Recently, the brand launched the “At Our Core” campaign which highlights the roles and social contributions of female ambassadors around the world. “These women are pillars of their community and the foundation of our business,” she explains.
Like any start-up, Carbon38 was not without a learning curve, especially the odd luck of their community success. “Knowing what I know now, I wouldn’t have taken any risks or supported some of our craziest and most important victories,” she reveals. “That said, in the past year alone Carbon38 has experienced some of its greatest ups and downs. My biggest learning has been ‘you are never in control’, a terrifying and liberating achievement,” she continues of critical business lessons.
As a fitness brand with many instructor ambassadors, they were ready at the onset of the pandemic to reach out to their community, offering classes to help keep some aspect of normal life going. “At the start of the lockdown, we implemented ‘Work (out) From Home’ – a 3 times a day fitness class hosted on our Instagram with a wide range of instructors from our community of ambassadors. ”
The platform brought together customers, brands, suppliers, investors, teams and ambassadors during this difficult time. “We always offer live classes on weekends on our Instagram. The possibilities to connect with our wider community extend far beyond leggings.”
For those on the east and west coasts looking for an IRL Carbon38 experience, the brand currently has two physical locations, Palisades Park and Bridgehampton. Current investments are aimed not only at transporting over 70% of female-led brands, but also investing in investors and incubators acting both for those who otherwise might never receive capital and exposure for succeed on a large scale. Collaboration is also at the heart of the brand, having forged an exclusive tennis-centric collection between Venus Williams and EleVen.
In 2015, the brand added its own line of exclusive training clothing to Carbon38. They are taking steps towards sustainability by using two fabrics in the core products, Cloud Compression and Diamond, made from recycled water bottles. In addition, 100% of branded polyethylene bags are made from recycled plastic.
The road to sustainability is a journey much like building a brand. Small steps and actions turn into bigger ideas and results. Warner Johnson is grateful for the opportunity, regardless of the self-creation and wisdom gained along the way.
“Building something from scratch at my kitchen table to spend the last 20 months at that table preparing the business for a new era and its next decade of success has been a gift,” she reflects, adding: “Back to learning that you are never in control. I plan to listen more carefully to our customers, suppliers and teammates because the answer is always in the room. “