RYU CEO Marcello Leone on the brand’s U.S. expansion and the future of athleisure
Depending on who’s speaking, athleisure is either a booming industry and the new norm in fashion – or it’s an oversaturated trend that’s dying out fast.
While analysts haven’t always been in agreement on the future of the athleisure craze, RYU (Respect Your Universe) President and CEO Marcello Leone has always believed in its evolution.
That’s one of the reasons why the entrepreneur took it upon himself to reinvent RYU. Having first invested in the apparel line in 2011, he went on to fully acquire it in 2015, overseeing its transformation from mixed-martial-arts brand to athletic tech behemoth.
Now, the Vancouver-based company, whose stock price has more than doubled in the past 12 months on the back of 11 successive quarters of growth, is in the middle of a U.S. expansion which will see a NYC flagship store open this week shortly after the Thanksgiving holiday.
In conversation with FashionNetwork.com, Leone took the time to explain RYU’s aggressive North American expansion plans, including plans to launch five stores a year for the next five years, and how it’s staying relevant in an already saturated market.
FNW: RYU was relaunched at the end of 2015 with a new approach. Can you outline your vision?
ML: There was an immediate emotional connection with what “Respect Your Universe" stood for. It meant something to me and it had a purpose. I’ve been in the apparel space my whole life so I also saw the evolution of where athleisure was going. This led me to build a brand and a tribe with an emotional connection of respect and to create a culture for all types of athletes in all walks of life. I wanted to pave the next evolution of athleisure: a hybrid between athletics and street/lifestyle. So the emotional connection was the first grounding variable and influence of why I started the journey and the movement. Then we needed to have a point of difference as well from the product perspective and we coined Urban Athletic Apparel.
FNW: How is RYU differentiating itself from other companies in the athletic wear space?
ML: Innovation is critical. We own 22 intellectual properties and patents. Also, the fit on a garment in the ready-to-wear industry is what makes the difference from a successful company and one that is not. If you look at our product mix and you walk into one of our experimental centers, you will see a great balance between men’s and women’s, a tailored cut that is very differentiating from any other brand in the market place, and a very significant accessories business.
FNW: While many retailers are closing stores, RYU is opening them. Can you explain the brick and mortar strategy?
ML: It’s all part of building a brand. I think the only place today for brick and mortar type of stores are experiential hubs that give somebody a real chance to be part of a brand, otherwise who needs another store? I look at this as a great opportunity to build the brand.
FNW: RYU stores have been successful in Canada and now more are popping up in the U.S. Why has RYU chosen to go after the American market?
ML: We look at building in urban centers like Vancouver, Toronto and New York. The United States is the getaway globally, so it’s inevitable that if you’re going to be and build a global brand, you’re going to have to be in the United States and Canada.
FNW: Are you going to be doing anything different in the U.S. market?
ML: We customize our experimental hubs for every community and we tailor our business plans to those communities and members. It’s always very different from store design to product offerings to experiential events that are happening. Every detail will change for every type of community that you are in, but the DNA is always the same.
FNW: What is your North American store target?
ML: Until the end of 2022, we’re planning to open on average five stores per year, so that would be a total of 29 stores by the end of 2022.
FNW: You’re also re-launching your e-commerce business. How does that play a role in the business strategy?
ML: I think today if you’re going to build a brand, your strategy online and offline is critical to your success. Our new website is going to be very interactive and it’s going to give you the full feel of our brand. It’s all about connecting our brick and mortar with our online business and being able to give you that seamless experience and quick service.
FNW: Analysts have predicted that athleisure is dead. Do you think athleisure is dying?
ML: Athleisure, from the old ways of wearing a headband and multi-color fabrics, that is completely -- in my opinion -- dead, but the evolution of this industry is today the new sportswear, and it’s very hard for contemporary brands to beat it. It will continue to evolve, but it won’t go away.
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