Runway News

Move Over Lululemon, Carbon38 Elevates Fitness Wear to the Level of High Fashion

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Katie Johnson and Caroline Gogolak

Carbon38 has been billed as the Net-a-Porter for the fitness lover. The new e-commerce site stocks a slew of fashion-forward fitness brands including Lucas Hugh, Onzie, Michi and Prismsport, none of which were previously readily available. Little surprise that Carbon38 has quickly become a go-to for active women looking for an alternative to head-to-toe Lululemon or Nike.

We spoke with co-founder Katie Warner Johnson to find out more about how the site got its start.

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theFashionSpot: Can you tell us a little bit about your background in the industry?

Katie Warner Johnson: I've grown up in spandex. I was a professional ballet dancer (leotards, galore!), ended up at Harvard on the Harvard Crimson Dance Team (rocking the crop top), made my way to Wall Street where I had a brief stint in a suit. I finally found my home in fitness when I joined the instructor team at Physique 57 – at the time, the studio was nine months old. Almost seven years later, I am now a senior instructor at the Beverly Hills location and along with my fellow ballet-dancing Harvard grad co-founder, Caroline Gogolak, we have launched Carbon38!

1378688829tFS: How did the idea for the site come about and what made you decide to pursue it?

KWF: Perhaps I am biased, due to the fact that I have spent the last six years in leggings, but I see a new wardrobe emerging – one for the woman who does it all. In the last 5-10 years, a new woman has arrived on the scene. She is an executive, an entrepreneur, a mom and she wants to look good. As a result, workouts like Soul Cycle and Physique 57 have become the new happy hour. Now it is time for this woman to have a wardrobe to match her busy, always-changing schedule. This wardrobe needs to look good, resist wrinkles, withstand machine washing and drying, pack well, feel sexy, and while we’re at it, why not suck everything in? The closest thing that already does this is fitness apparel. Now it is time to diversify a market Lululemon pioneered 10 years ago.

1379794795tFS: How long did it take from idea to launch?

KWF: Two months. We finally settled on the concept around Thanksgiving last year after entering an accelerator program that October and conducting extensive research. We launched January 21, 2013.

tFS: What were some of the biggest challenges with launching the site?

KWF: Not knowing what is next. We launched a proof of concept to test appetite. I was terrified that no one would show up to the party or care about what we were doing. I don’t think I slept from Thanksgiving until launch. I also consumed a lot of Oreos during that period. It was a very dark, though double stuf-filled time…but then we launched. We sold out and continued to offer new products and our users grew and became as excited as we were about the site. So here we are, still standing and growing like crazy! (I still don’t sleep, but for good reasons.)

1369161797tFS: Can you tell us about some of the brands you stock? How did you go about finding them?

KWF: We have a ton of new brands we are showcasing this fall from all over the world: Australia, Sweden, Brazil, London, Paris and others from LA, NYC, Toronto, to name a few. We curate based on what Caroline and I would wear. We want all of our pieces to transition easily from studio to street so we test them all out at the gym and then run off to meetings. If it wears well and feels good and we get compliments, we carry it. 

tFS: Do you expect these brands to be permanent on your site or will you be adding/switching up brands?

KWF: We are always on the hunt for what is new and fresh. We are constantly swapping out pieces so that it stays current and gives our customer a reason to keep checking back – we aim to have something new and exciting launching every Monday. We carry limited quantities so that you have to buy early and often!

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tFS: How do your brands compare technically to the likes of Nike? Do you carry items that are as high performance?

KWF: We are after aesthetic and quality. Performance is certainly important and many of our brands offer similar capabilities as those of other athletic-specialty brands. But we see that this woman is spending her time at the office, taking care of the kids, grabbing drinks with friends and fitting in a fulfilling workout – not going out for the Olympic trials (though a few of our clients are former Olympians!). We want to offer a product that fulfills that need – to look awesome through all the activities of the day. 

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tFS: What do you wear when you work out?

KWF: Right now, I am wearing Pipeline leggings, a Spiritual Gangster tank, Lorna Jane bra, Electric Yoga windbreaker and Nike Flyknits, and I am heading out for a hike to brainstorm. 

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tFS: Anything you can tell us about what's to come?

KWF: We are really building out our Page38 magazine – our content and features will pick up this fall. We want to create Vogue’s sporty cousin; something that is chic, informative, aspirational and shop-able with a little glamour and high-gloss finish. We’d love to hear what you think of the new editorial. I am addicted to feedback! Tweet at us, Facebook us, hashtag and pin us and, better yet, email us at founders@carbon38.com.

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