Home > Uncategorized > Yoga Wars: What a Lululemon Challenger From Goldman Sachs Means for Retail

Yoga Wars: What a Lululemon Challenger From Goldman Sachs Means for Retail

by Kyle Stock
April 27, 2015 — 7:19 AM PDT

Yogasmoga is a little more than two years old but has the giants of the “athleisure” game in its sightsBloomberg

Rishi Bali makes an unlikely yoga baron. No one would mistake him for a health nut. And until recently, Bali had no experience in marketing, retail, or apparel manufacturing. The warrior poses he was most familiar with were on the trading desks of Goldman Sachs, where he spent much of his career orchestrating interest-rate swaps and other complex financial instruments for big corporate clients.
But Bali, now 41, grew up in the birthplace of yoga, a slice of Northern India in the foothills of the Himalayas. And he loves the practice in a pure, ashram-in-the-1960s sense. When Bali talks about yoga, his eyes squint, his head tilts to the side, and he cracks a blissed-out grin that belies his career in the canyons of Wall Street. Bali also happens to be very good at business.
In a little more than two years, Bali’s Yogasmoga has made a case for itself as Lululemon 2.0—an extremely modest case, but a case nonetheless. The company shares many attributes with the latest crop of nascent e-commerce darlings: a slick and color-saturated Web store, high-end U.S. manufacturing, and opulent products with price points in the sweet spot between the Gap and Prada. Much of Yogasmoga’s startup cash went to expensive photography and proprietary fabrics.

Those are, however, all table stakes in startup retail these days. More critically, Yogasmoga has a pile of venture capital—some $11.5 million raised in two rounds from Bali’s old Goldman buddies and their acquaintances.
He also has stores—the kind with lithe clerks, platoons of headless mannequins, and utility bills. The first Yogasmoga opened in October on the main shopping strip of tony Greenwich, Conn. (just down the street from Lululemon). A second soon followed in Los Angeles. A third is under construction in Beverly Hills, and Bali is negotiating leases on 10 more locations that he hopes to open by the end of the year, mostly in the chi-chi shopping districts of such affluent areas as Boulder, Colo., Miami, Silicon Valley, and Washington, D.C.
“There’s no killing Lululemon,” Bali said. “But people want an alternative, and I think there’s room for three or four solid players. We just want to be that next guy in the space.”
Rishi Bali holds court in a Yogasmoga store in Greenwich, Conn.
Rishi Bali holds court in a Yogasmoga store in Greenwich, Conn.
Bali’s business theory is relatively straightforward: Most of the brands that make tights and tank-tops either have unreliable products or don’t fully deliver on the yoga “ethos”—the Namaste stuff, for lack of a better term.
Lululemon had a problem on both fronts the past few years. In March 2013, it had a massive recall of pants that were too transparent. A few months later, founder and former Chief Executive Officer Chip Wilson went on Bloomberg TV and said the clothes weren’t intended for consumers of a certain size.
Yogasmoga, just a few months old when Lululemon’s see-through pants caused such a scandal, goes out of its way to build brand bonhomie. Bali launched a charitable foundation along with the business that sells woven bracelets and makes microloans in India. The company offers womens’ clothes up to size 18. Next week, Yogasmoga will launch a blog and publishing platform called Rangoli to connect better with consumers while selling a special limited edition of hand-printed leggings and tank-tops.
“I clearly understand the lifestyle, and that’s why I’m always talking about the emotional connection,” Bali said. “Yoga has a depth to it, not just a breadth.”
Entrepreneurs who have a similar market proposal, however, are about as common as certified yoga instructors. There’s Ellie, another VC darling that is pairing e-commerce with a subscription model. U.K.-based Sweaty Betty is making strides in the U.S.; it now has a store in Manhattan’s SoHo and a section of the Bloomingdale’s flagship nearby. And then there are the celebrity collections: Kate Hudson’s Fabletics, a subsidiary of JustFab; Impact, a K-Mart project backed by Biggest Loser star Jillian Michaels; and Calia, a new line of sports apparel by Carrie Underwood.
This is where Bali thinks his time on Wall Street will win the day. Financing hasn’t been difficult, and he has tackled every operational challenge with the vigor of a freshly minted Wharton MBA. “Our motto is ‘No loose threads,’” Bali said. “It’s not just about earnings but the quality of the earnings and knowing what our burn-rate is. This is big-boy stuff, and we’re a big-boy company.”
Yogasmoga has been profitable from the start, according to Bali. Its last round of financing valued it at $74 million, and Bali said the company can post $10 million in revenue this year if the store openings go smoothly.
“This is big-boy stuff and we’re a big-boy company.”
Lululemon, however, pulls in $10 million every two days or so and is having a bit of a renaissance thanks to new styles and leadership. Its shares have been climbing, and last year, Lululemon sales surged 13 percent. In the most recent quarter, sales at Lululemon stores open for more than a year ticked up 6 percent.
Meanwhile, VF Corp., the holding company behind the North Face and Timberland, is hawking its Lucy Activewear, and Nike and Under Armour continue to flood the zone on athleisure apparel. The Swoosh-maker is now even selling a yoga shoe (for $120).
With some savvy and discipline, little world-beaters like Yogasmoga may outlast other startups and the whims of celebrity stylists, but such giants as Nike and VF Corp. are another thing entirely. Here, however, is where the field gets interesting. Yoga pants are the new jeans; every apparel executive in the country who doesn’t have a warehouse full of leggings is asking the question they are paid to answer correctly: build it, or buy it?
To those companies, an outfit like Yogasmoga may soon start to look like a pretty attractive asset. Consumers are as eager as investors to find the next Lululemon—a smaller, cooler brand of super gear. The spoils could be huge for a company that can simply snap that brand up and help it grow.
Bali thinks his charge may even appeal to a sportswear giant such as Under Armour, which no doubt wants a bigger piece of the athleisure market but might not want to stray far from its identity as a outfitter of more competitive (and aggressive) athletes.
Stranger things have happened. In 1998, a small apparel startup in California went to market with a similar ethos. It was called Athleta, and Gap paid $150 million for it in 2008.
Rishi Bali makes an unlikely yoga baron. No one would mistake him for a health nut. And until recently, Bali had no experience in marketing, retail, or apparel manufacturing. The warrior poses he was most familiar with were on the trading desks of Goldman Sachs, where he spent much of his career orchestrating interest-rate swaps and other complex financial instruments for big corporate clients.
But Bali, now 41, grew up in the birthplace of yoga, a slice of Northern India in the foothills of the Himalayas. And he loves the practice in a pure, ashram-in-the-1960s sense. When Bali talks about yoga, his eyes squint, his head tilts to the side, and he cracks a blissed-out grin that belies his career in the canyons of Wall Street. Bali also happens to be very good at business.
In a little more than two years, Bali’s Yogasmoga has made a case for itself as Lululemon 2.0—an extremely modest case, but a case nonetheless. The company shares many attributes with the latest crop of nascent e-commerce darlings: a slick and color-saturated Web store, high-end U.S. manufacturing, and opulent products with price points in the sweet spot between the Gap and Prada. Much of Yogasmoga’s startup cash went to expensive photography and proprietary fabrics.

Those are, however, all table stakes in startup retail these days. More critically, Yogasmoga has a pile of venture capital—some $11.5 million raised in two rounds from Bali’s old Goldman buddies and their acquaintances.
He also has stores—the kind with lithe clerks, platoons of headless mannequins, and utility bills. The first Yogasmoga opened in October on the main shopping strip of tony Greenwich, Conn. (just down the street from Lululemon). A second soon followed in Los Angeles. A third is under construction in Beverly Hills, and Bali is negotiating leases on 10 more locations that he hopes to open by the end of the year, mostly in the chi-chi shopping districts of such affluent areas as Boulder, Colo., Miami, Silicon Valley, and Washington, D.C.
“There’s no killing Lululemon,” Bali said. “But people want an alternative, and I think there’s room for three or four solid players. We just want to be that next guy in the space.”
Rishi Bali holds court in a Yogasmoga store in Greenwich, Conn.
Rishi Bali holds court in a Yogasmoga store in Greenwich, Conn.
Bali’s business theory is relatively straightforward: Most of the brands that make tights and tank-tops either have unreliable products or don’t fully deliver on the yoga “ethos”—the Namaste stuff, for lack of a better term.
Lululemon had a problem on both fronts the past few years. In March 2013, it had a massive recall of pants that were too transparent. A few months later, founder and former Chief Executive Officer Chip Wilson went on Bloomberg TV and said the clothes weren’t intended for consumers of a certain size.
Yogasmoga, just a few months old when Lululemon’s see-through pants caused such a scandal, goes out of its way to build brand bonhomie. Bali launched a charitable foundation along with the business that sells woven bracelets and makes microloans in India. The company offers womens’ clothes up to size 18. Next week, Yogasmoga will launch a blog and publishing platform called Rangoli to connect better with consumers while selling a special limited edition of hand-printed leggings and tank-tops.
“I clearly understand the lifestyle, and that’s why I’m always talking about the emotional connection,” Bali said. “Yoga has a depth to it, not just a breadth.”
Entrepreneurs who have a similar market proposal, however, are about as common as certified yoga instructors. There’s Ellie, another VC darling that is pairing e-commerce with a subscription model. U.K.-based Sweaty Betty is making strides in the U.S.; it now has a store in Manhattan’s SoHo and a section of the Bloomingdale’s flagship nearby. And then there are the celebrity collections: Kate Hudson’s Fabletics, a subsidiary of JustFab; Impact, a K-Mart project backed by Biggest Loser star Jillian Michaels; and Calia, a new line of sports apparel by Carrie Underwood.
This is where Bali thinks his time on Wall Street will win the day. Financing hasn’t been difficult, and he has tackled every operational challenge with the vigor of a freshly minted Wharton MBA. “Our motto is ‘No loose threads,’” Bali said. “It’s not just about earnings but the quality of the earnings and knowing what our burn-rate is. This is big-boy stuff, and we’re a big-boy company.”
Yogasmoga has been profitable from the start, according to Bali. Its last round of financing valued it at $74 million, and Bali said the company can post $10 million in revenue this year if the store openings go smoothly.
“This is big-boy stuff and we’re a big-boy company.”
Lululemon, however, pulls in $10 million every two days or so and is having a bit of a renaissance thanks to new styles and leadership. Its shares have been climbing, and last year, Lululemon sales surged 13 percent. In the most recent quarter, sales at Lululemon stores open for more than a year ticked up 6 percent.
Meanwhile, VF Corp., the holding company behind the North Face and Timberland, is hawking its Lucy Activewear, and Nike and Under Armour continue to flood the zone on athleisure apparel. The Swoosh-maker is now even selling a yoga shoe (for $120).
With some savvy and discipline, little world-beaters like Yogasmoga may outlast other startups and the whims of celebrity stylists, but such giants as Nike and VF Corp. are another thing entirely. Here, however, is where the field gets interesting. Yoga pants are the new jeans; every apparel executive in the country who doesn’t have a warehouse full of leggings is asking the question they are paid to answer correctly: build it, or buy it?
To those companies, an outfit like Yogasmoga may soon start to look like a pretty attractive asset. Consumers are as eager as investors to find the next Lululemon—a smaller, cooler brand of super gear. The spoils could be huge for a company that can simply snap that brand up and help it grow.
Bali thinks his charge may even appeal to a sportswear giant such as Under Armour, which no doubt wants a bigger piece of the athleisure market but might not want to stray far from its identity as a outfitter of more competitive (and aggressive) athletes.
Stranger things have happened. In 1998, a small apparel startup in California went to market with a similar ethos. It was called Athleta, and Gap paid $150 million for it in 2008.

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: