Activewear Brand Rhone On The Move As Fitness Industry Rebounds

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Millions of us got into some bad habits during the pandemic, eating more and exercising less. As the Covid-19 crisis recedes in the rearview mirror, the spotlight has swung to the obesity epidemic, the latest in weight-loss science, and fitness in general.

Fitness clubs and activewear brands appear poised for some boom years ahead as younger generations adopt healthier lifestyles and Boomers realize they better shape up before it’s too late.

The state of the industry came to mind during a recent business trip to New York, where I stumbled on a direct-to-consumer store brand that I’d heard buzz about but had yet to visit. Rhone Apparel (named after the French river) was founded a decade ago, aiming to fill a gap in the athleisure market: high quality, well-designed activewear for fashion conscious men. 

At the time, Lululemon Athletica was growing fast, but its customer base was, and still is, predominantly women. According to one early write-up about Rhone, the premium men’s wear offered by the competition–including Nike–has tended to be generic in design with limited selection.

Beyond its design chops, Rhone has focused on textile science, using antimicrobial fabrics under the trademark GoldFushion–cloth that is infused with particles of gold which reduces odors, wicks away moisture, and is engineered for comfortable movement. 

All well and good.

What really turned my head was the in-store experience.

During my visit to one of the company’s three Manhattan locations (they recently opened their 15th nationwide), I was struck by how engaging, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic the associates were manning the floor. They wanted to know what sort of work I do, my exercise habits, and so on.

They could tell me without looking at the tags the prices, features, and benefits of every garment, including Rhone’s signature “commuter” pants– “designed to replace stiff dress pants.” It was a remarkable experience, especially when compared with the discontent that these days seems to afflict most retail associates.

As one who has worked in the retail industry for a while, Rhone may still be dwarfed by its competitors, but it has the vibe of one of those well thought out, well executed “new” ideas poised for a breakout. The company is building a cult of sorts, featuring on its website inspirational essays by sports figures with titles like, “The Untapped Benefits of Gratitude.” 

Adding authenticity to its brand are Rhone’s outside investors, which include business and sports personalities like Gabe Plotkin, co-owner of the Charlotte Hornets; David Blitzer, co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils; and former NFL quarterbacks Steve Young and Tim Tebow.

Rhone was founded by Kyle McClure, a former NCAA lacrosse player, Nate Checketts, an ex-NFL employee, and his brother Ben. “Women have Lululemon,” McClure said when Rhone was first launched. “But men don’t want to get their gear in the same place my wife is buying her yoga mat.” 

Confirmation was fast in coming. Early on they got a burst of orders from captains at army bases who wanted the gear for troops during training.

Rhone's survival of the post-pandemic is impressive considering the toll it took on fitness clubs and fashion houses like Lululemon, which swung from a 65% increase in net profit for 2021 to a decline of about 12% in 2022. That company’s shares took a beating in 2022 but recently returned to and exceeded their previous all-time high. The seesaw seems to continue as consumer fickleness towards fashion vacillates on what seems to be a weekly basis.

Having said that, the outlook for athleisure wear in the U.S. looks bright. According to a fitness industry trade group–the International Health, Racquet, & Sportsclub Association–one in five Americans now hold a gym membership. That number is expected to grow as Millennials in particular (ages 27 to 42) enter their battle-of-the-bulge years and as obesity is recognized as a public health crisis. Rhone, in this case, seems well poised to grow.


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in-store shopping experience  retail  Athleisure  apparel industry  Men's Apparel  Menswear  in-store shopping  textiles

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