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Being a new brand in a rather saturated market such as activewear, you'd assume it would be hard to get traction, but with all the press this month around yoga-wear startup “Ellie,” I simply had to find out more.

Especially as they’re poising themselves to dislodge current activewear darling, Lululemon.

If you haven’t seen any of the coverage from BrandChannel or others, some highlights of their interesting, and perhaps disruptive strategy include the offer of a subscription model with a completely online offering and in-house manufacturing.

Based on these simple aspects, how might Ellie unseat Lululemon?

Ellie Yoga Wear designValue

Using the same high-quality, high-tech materials Lululemon is known for, but selling product at about half the cost, is what could really make Ellie really stand out in the market.*  Rather easy to say, but they have some strong foundational pieces in place to make it happen while still maintaining strong profits.  

Completely online, Ellie has no brick-and-mortar overhead, so there’s immediate operational cost containment. In addition, in-house manufacturing in LA could prove to be more cost-effective than outsourcing (more on in-house manufacturing below.)

Engagement

The subscription model (think workout wear of the month club) is really interesting to me.  While I can’t see myself needing three new pieces of workout clothing each and every month, there’s almost assuredly a huge market for it. As it consistently keeps customers engaged with the Ellie brand, it’s logical in providing higher revenues, profits, and customer lifetime value.

Customer-vetted products 

Here’s a spot for disruptive brilliance.  Pre-production designs will be shared via online social marketing, through Facebook, etc, and customers will give feedback on options.  Ellie will be able to determine which designs to produce based on real —rather than anticipated—market reaction.  In-house manufacturing then means super-fast (as in, less than a week) productizing of the latest designs, which will have already been vetted by an audience eager to look good while working out.

OK, so what’s not to love?

I’d read that they would launch with only 16 products, so I was expecting limited stock, and site functionality—understandable for a new brand launch.  Given that Ellie had received first round funding just a couple weeks ago (as of this article’s writing), I assumed that the “prototype” site would be rather slim, potentially even just a proof of concept created to obtain the funding.

Take the quiz to shopWhat really tarnished the experience was that I was forced to take Ellie’s “Fitness Style Quiz” AND give my email address before I could see any product information more than literally a handful of pictures and prices. 

The “Fitness Style Quiz” is nicely designed: very visual, good progress indicator, simple multiple choice questions on personal preferences.

However, without any context, it was tricky to make choices completely separate from an actual product.  Without understanding the ultimate purpose of the quiz, I wondered if my choices would impact the products I’d ultimately be shown on the site.  

After completing the quiz and entering my email address, Ellie presented my “Personalized Selection” of four styles tailored to my Quiz answers.  Four products were above the fold, and (ouch!) one of them displayed a giant black “sold out” sticker.

Of course launching a new brand isn’t easy, and one should expect a couple small bumps along the road.  I’m really hoping, though, that Ellie changes the stance on requiring email address to access the products.  List-building is important in building a new brand, but in the long-run CX will suffer, and public sentiment may cause more trouble than it’s worth.  I can only think of a couple brands, like Rue La La, that have been able to pull off a “private” or “exclusive” kind of cache and succeed.

Still optimistic about future content targeting from Ellie

I’m excited to see where Ellie takes this business model, and how they evolve their digital experience and content targeting. I’m willing to give the benefit of the doubt that the current site is not representative of the ideal digital presence for Ellie.  

The optimization-focused marketer in me is hoping I participated in an A/B test to determine if this pre-site UX increases engagement and conversion.  I could see potential B-version experience setting a cookie that discreetly follows the user through the site, noting the styles she likes, then at some point delights with a surprise “personal shopper” set of outfits.  Nice.

Pretty serious firepower behind the brand launch

Ellie is backed by L.A.’s hottest incubator today, Science—consisting of a number of former MySpace executives, and already incubating a number of interesting startups—and raised $2M in first round funding last week from Trinity Ventures, Rustic Canyon Partners, and Blumberg Capital. 

It’s obvious Ellie is disrupting the industry, with a unique model and strong backing, but are they setting a new standard for lifestyle brands?  We’ll see if they eclipse the supernova of Lululemon, but one thing is certain – this kind of innovation will drive evolution of the customer experience for this industry, and likely others.

*Editor's note: The team behind Lululemon reached out to us to ask to put in a correction about the statement that Lululemon and Ellie are made from similar material in our article. They said "LUON is a proprietary fabric manufactured exclusively for lululemon. Ellie’s products are made from Eclon, which is NOT the same."

Sheryl Hampton

Published 21 February, 2013 by Sheryl Hampton

Sheryl Hampton is a Digital Strategist and Account Director at ISITE Design, and is a contributor to Econsultancy.

1 more post from this author

Comments (6)

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Erica

What is the website of this new brand of yoga wear? I would have liked to take a look at it but there is no link (that I can see at least) in the article and Googles not being much help. Is the site live? Also the link with the anchor text "science" in the last paragraph is 404ing.

almost 4 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Hi Sheryly

I don't know how much research you did - but it looks like Ellie used to be PVbody, according to a Facebook page of that name.

Looking there shows that there are quite a few unhappy customers : and in addition the Ellie website seems to have crashed/been offline a lot since Feb 8th.

I know I'm becoming a bore on eConsultancy for repeatedly saying that Marketers need to take a more proactive role in getting their websites load tested: and especially be part of the discussion to ensure that _Realism_ is ensured in the testing...

Given that Ellie are supported/financed by what you describe as 'L.A.’s hottest incubator': it's hard to see how they have allowed their launch to be so marred with poor website performance.

Such a beginners mistake not to have planned for the case that things go viral.

It's a wake up to all online retailers... get your 2013 load testing done before the summer.... in case of nasty shocks your tech team will have time to fix things before your Xmas peak.

almost 4 years ago

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Lucy

As the previous commenters have stated, Ellie / PVbody are not a serious company. Lulu is great, if you are looking for more activewear brands i buy from ActivewearUSA, very large selection and great customer service.

almost 4 years ago

Sheryl Hampton

Sheryl Hampton, Digital Strategist at ISITE Design

Hi Erica - Ellie is at http://www.ellie.com. I'd love to know what you and others think of the experience as well.

Thanks for the tip on the "Science" link; I'm having that corrected. In the meantime, the article is here: http://venturebeat.com/2012/02/07/science-incubator/.

almost 4 years ago

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Katie Del Angel

While it sounds like the site UX leaves a lot to be desired still, I have to say I'm pretty pumped to see what this means in the broader customer experience/experience design sense...The customer-vetted product concept in particular. It sounds like they're laying the foundation, at the very least, for hyper-personal relationships, which can only mean good things for the consumer. I'm curious how something like that would sustain for their business though.

almost 4 years ago

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Jules

I read about ellie on the marketing email Pure wow. I tried to sign up for the email list but after 3 weeks, still have recieved no info on how to order the product. It makes me think they are just testing the viability of the market aka lean startup, and have no product to actually ship at this time. You can't even use their website- it doesn't work at my home computer, was going to try work when I happened on this article.

almost 4 years ago

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