THE WEEKLY HOWL IS WATCHING THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA

It’s got to be the shirt: Athletic apparel has very low barriers to entry. Everyone has their own apparel line these days. You can hook up with an overseas manufacturer or an on-demand service like Teespring and be selling your own t-shirts in no time. For the athletic apparel giants, this means that they need to do something to differentiate themselves. For Nike and Adidas, that something is performance. They are going to seek innovation in the materials used and then try to convince us that we will perform better because of it. They also apply this strategy to footwear which already has much higher barriers to entry than just apparel. For Lululemon, that differentiation is going to be customization. From Fast Company:

 Lululemon plans to capitalize on its ability to track how each customer’s body moves. The Whitespace team has created a store-ready version of the treadmill I tested in the lab, which will be called the “Signature Movement Experience.” The idea is for customers to learn about their own unique pattern of motion while allowing store representatives to provide highly customized product recommendations. When I went through the experience, an algorithm identified a top bra for me based on the results, plus four other bras that would also provide the support I need. The first of these treadmills went out at the SeaWheeze Sunset Festival–the half marathon and music event in Vancouver that Lululemon sponsored this past weekend–where the company set up a booth where women could go through the process.

Now facing competition from countless activewear startups, Lululemon is eyeing its future in a post-athleisure world, where comfort–not product categories–determines what consumers wear to work as well as the gym. By capitalizing on this individualized, data-based style of customer experience, the brand wants to push the athleisure genre it pioneered in the 2000s forward. “It’s an entirely new paradigm for us,” says Waller.

It’s a smart play to not try to play the Nike/Adidas game because you’re not going to beat them at it. They’ve been doing it for too long. Plus, then you’re not differentiating yourself from them. Customization also plays into the athleisure angle. If you’re not working out in it do you really care about performance or do you care about how it feels on your skin? Isn’t that the point of athleisure? To be comfortable. This is the kind of thing that is not easy to duplicate. Anyone can start a t-shirt company but this is a lot more difficult.

 Under Armour has traditionally followed the same script as Nike and Adidas. The company was founded on moisture wicking shirts. But recently, CEO Kevin Plank was been vocal about Under Armour becoming a tech company and trying to make smart clothing happen. This is the smart way to incorporate technology into your apparel company. Put the tech into the recommendation process so that you can sell someone a shirt that fits them perfectly.

Are you well?: If you’ve ever seen The Devil Wears Prada, then you probably remember the Cerulean scene. It’s when Miranda Priestley explains to Andy how decisions made by the high-end fashion houses eventually filter down to everyday people like her. But what does that have to do with WW (the recently rebranded Weight Watchers)? Everything, of course. From Vox:

There’s a famous scene in the fashion-insider tell-all The Devil Wears Prada, in which Miranda Priestly, the Anna Wintour avatar played with icy hauteur by Meryl Streep, explains to jejune fashion assistant Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway), a wannabe serious journalist, about the trickle-down effect of high fashion.

After Andy scoffs about what she considers frivolous fashion choices, Miranda informs Andy that the frumpy blue sweater she’s wearing isn’t simply blue, it’s cerulean. Furthermore, Miranda says, her wearing that sweater is the result of a long series of fashion decisions — from an Oscar de la Renta collection featuring cerulean, to that of lower-end designers, to “some tragic ‘casual corner’ where [Andy], no doubt, fished it out of some clearance bin.” High fashion, she implies, starts with luxury brands, then those trends work their way down to the mainstream.

The same process is happening with wellness.

Traditionally, the kind of luxury “wellness” product associated with lifestyle brands was a thoroughly high-end affair. There’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop, with its $66 jade eggs (designed to be placed in the vagina, for dubious medical benefit). There’s SuperShe, a Finnish island resort devoted to wellness and women’s empowerment that runs $4,600 a week. Last year’s pop-up at Saks Fifth Avenue, The Wellery, was a high-end, 20-stall “wellness mall” where you could, among other things, pay $25 for a 10-minute slot to breathe in high-end Himalayan salts.

Now there’s WW, which was, until September, Weight Watchers. The affordable weight loss organization is in the process of rebranding itself as a wellness hub (the company says WW now stands for “wellness that works”). According to a press release, WW will now focus less on shedding pounds, and more on its “overall approach to health and wellbeing of inspiring powerful habits rooted in science.”

              I never made the connection before but this is how the fitness & wellness industries work as well. Fitness is much more fragmented than fashion but the same dynamic is at play. Someone starts doing something new and different in a studio in New York or California. People flock to it, possibly including some celebrities, and pay handsomely for the privilege of being on the cutting edge of fitness. This leads to expansion and copycats. Then it slowly filters down to workout DVD’s and big box gyms. Tara Burton is also right that this marks the mass market phase of wellness.

She added: “The movement has trickled down to more affordable options — as wellness is seen as not just for the rich, but something you should do for yourself. Almost like a responsibility.”

As Beth McGroarty, a spokesperson for the Global Wellness Institute, told Vox that according to the Institute’s trends report: “There is a proliferation of lower-cost wellness products and services: from a new generation of affordable healthy grocery stores to low-cost spa chains. ... We expect to see greater shifts from wellness as a luxury product to an attainable goal that’s packaged and sold by more affordable outlets.”

In other words, wellness is entering the economy class. Sometimes literally. Earlier this year, several airlines — including British Airways and Virgin Atlantic — partnered with Headspace in order to give passengers access to in-flight guided meditations, ostensibly to make the experience of traveling in economy a little less hellish. Wellness, in other words, is now being treated as a necessary corporate amenity, even for those passengers for whom $3,000 retreats or $30 barre classes would break the bank.

              This can be a double-edged sword. Health is the new wealth and people are starting to redefine success as more than just having a lot of money. That’s great. Feeling and looking good shouldn’t be a luxury product, affordable only to the upper classes. But there will be a lot of stupid fads. There already are. There will be many people who exchange their hard earned money for a bunch of pseudoscience nonsense. I suppose that is nothing new to anyone who follows the fitness industry so as always, buyer beware.

Made for TV: There is a new gym in New York City that you have to apply to for the privilege of paying up to $900 a month in membership dues. The name of the gym is Performix and now we’re learning more about its business model. From Cheddar:

Eventually, Hesse plans to use Performix House as a content generator for a streaming service his company plans to launch in January. The majority of content will be free ー all with an objective to promote other Performix-branded products. On its site, the company sells items for weight and diet management, workout performance, and general health and wellness. The company also has a subscription service, which delivers its health and wellness products to users every 30, 60, or 90 days.

"Performix uses this House as a marketing vehicle," Hesse said of his strategy. "Generally speaking, we want to provide these products as sort of complements to the customers that are already supporting our brand," he added.

              So let me see if I have this straight. Performix wants people to pay $900 a month in order to be in the background of its workout streams (which will be free) so that the company can make the real money selling supplements. I understand the concept of a loss leader and a lot of product placement during the streams could do the trick. What I’m wondering about is whether charging people almost $1000 a month for a gym membership is a smart move. I assume that they want good-looking, rich people with large social media followings to be the members of this gym. But what is in it for those people? Is Performix going to try to sell them on added exposure? The problem with that is that people with large followings want to cash in on that. They want to get paid for endorsing products. They already know how to get a lot of followers. Maybe no one will actually pay that amount. Maybe it’s just another way to establish prestige and exclusivity. Make them feel like they’re getting some amazing deal when Performix offers them a gratis membership. I don’t know.

              I do think that the gym-as-sound-stage model is going to become more prevalent. All those workout streams have to be produced somewhere. But this does speak to an underrated issue with that model: how do you manage the participants. The instructors are more straightforward, you pay them. But the people taking the classes could be an issue. You’ll need people to sign forms, you’ll need people to give the instructor some energy, you’ll want people that embody the aspirational nature of that particular workout. How do you manage all this? Paying people to take the class is not the best model but perhaps free attendance might work. I doubt that charging someone a small fortune is the answer.  

              Also this:

"I didn't open this to be in the gym business ー not that the gym business isn't a good business to be in," Matt Hesse said Tuesday in an interview with Cheddar. "It's just not our core competency."

              So your core competency is product development (supplements) but you’re opening up a gym and starting a streaming service in order to market those supplements. I think it’s interesting that Hesse mentions core competencies because this strategy is the exact opposite of focusing on your core competencies. Now you’re in 3 different businesses that require 3 different sets of core competencies. That’s a lot of stuff for Performix to get good at.

Motivation: Humans have been around for 300,000 years but in the last few decades, there has been a massive shift in the way that we work and play. We used to exercise for work and rest for leisure but the information economy largely requires the opposite. The problem is that we’re not wired for sedentary work and active leisure. From The Washington Post:

Teaming up with longtime friend Boris Cheval, a postdoctoral researcher in health and exercise psychology at the University of Geneva, the duo set out to determine why people may have the desire to exercise regularly, but struggle to follow through. It’s the “exercise paradox,” Cheval told The Post.

The problem is people’s brains are conditioned to choose the easy route, whatever calls for the least amount of energy, said Boisgontier, who studies neuroscience.

No matter what you think you want, researchers say your brain wants you to be sedentary to conserve energy. When you start contemplating physical activity, it forces your brain to work harder to counteract the urge, the study found. Even when you’re headed up to the gym to get exercise, for example, your brain may tell you to use the elevator rather than the stairs, Boisgontier said.

              Sometimes the flesh is strong and the mind is weak. You have to learn to listen to your body and turn off your brain. Your brain is good at coming up with excuses but your body wants to move. Rest days are for when your body is telling you that it doesn’t want to work-out.

CrossFit: Add Wodapalooza to the list of sanctioned CrossFit events. From Morning Chalk-Up:

Today, CrossFit HQ announced that Wodapalooza 2019 will be an official sanctioned event and qualify one male, female and team to the 2019 CrossFit Games. Wodapalooza is the 7th official CrossFit sanctioned event to be announced in recent weeks. 

“Wodapalooza brings its distinctive character and culture to the CrossFit Games season,” said CrossFit founder and Chairman Greg Glassman. “They figured out that Miami in winter — sun, bathing suits, balconies, and bright lights at night — is a world-class destination for showcasing the fittest and healthiest people on earth. It’s a party.”

              This brings the U.S to non-U.S. ration to 3:4. I also think that it’s interesting that Glassman chose to mention Wodapalooza’s atmosphere because I think that this is a major upgrade over the Regionals format. More events should try to emulate that instead of trying to come up with outlandish and possibly dangerous events. I realize that it is extremely difficult to find a venue as distinctive as Wodapalooza (it might be impossible) but this is how event organizers need to be thinking. Make your event distinctive and representative of the local area. I have a mental image of Wodapalooza that I do not have of the Granite Games.

              In other news, CrossFit also confirmed that there will be at-large spots in the new Gams format. From Boxrox:

“The CrossFit Games will return once more to Madison, Wisconsin, in the late summer of 2019. Participants in the individual Games competition will consist of:

  1. national champions as determined by the CrossFit Open;

  2. first-place, sanctioned-event winners;

  3. the top 20 overall finishers in the CrossFit Open;

  4. four at-large athletes selected by CrossFit Inc.”

This means that they now have the power to select 4 athletes that they deem Games worthy and give them a free ticket to the 2019 CrossFit Games, even if they don’t fulfill the qualifying criteria. So far CrossFit Inc have not released any more information about what ‘at-large athletes’ actually means. 

              Greg Glassman had talked about giving these at-large spots to people outside the CrossFit community in order to embarrass them. I really hope that they don’t do this. The at-large spots should go to deserving athletes who missed out on qualifying for one reason or another. Maybe someone who got hurt but is an established top competitor. Or maybe someone who had the misfortune of coming in 2nd to Mat Fraser in a qualifying event. Giving these spots away to people just so they can be embarrassed on cable television would take away from the Games.

Conduct a separate event, kind of Pros vs Joes or Celebrity Challenge for CrossFit. It doesn’t have to be just the loudmouths. They could have Mat Fraser or Patrick Vellner compete against a team of people. Let a bunch of NFL players assemble a team and see if they could beat Fraser in a 5 event format. It would be a great way to illustrate how well-rounded the top Games competitors are. Although that would be more of a Pros vs Pros.

Tidbits:

-Virtual reality might help you train harder

-The guy who designed the Peloton & SoulCycle bikes has designed his own

-Are you a cop? Because if you are then you have to tell me

-The food industry has so many issues

-“The biggest fashion brand in the world”