With a new collaboration with Equinox and another one in development with Swarovski, Caraa, a 16-month company that specializes in stylish bags for the gym-to-the-office, aims to generate $2.3 million in sales this year.
That would be a considerable hike for a company that started selling in January 2016 and tallied $250,000 in annual sales. “The Equinox Tote” has a hidden shoe compartment, ultralight waterproof nylon lining and matte black hardware. The Caraa x Equinox design doubles as a backpack, and it has enabled the start-up to increase distribution in Equinox clubs from five to 45.
During the initial design process, creative director Carmen Chen Wu camped out at the juice bar in Equinox’s SoHo club for people watching. Caraa cofounder and chief executive officer Aaron Luo said, “She sat there with the team pretty much off and on for three months to see what kinds of bags people were wearing. We always joke about how we are in the market to solve two problems for women — the too many bags problem and the ugly gym bag problem.
“We stopped a few members, chatted with them, we spoke with the stores. But for us, we don’t believe in coming up with a design in a room based on the inspiration of the designer,” Luo said. “In this day and age, you have to be in the middle of your customer base to really understand what their needs are.”
A year in the works, the Caraa x Equinox collection will ship April 28, with a launch event planned for Equinox’s Greenwich Avenue club. “Carmen will be on hand to meet members who will have the option of monogramming hand tags for the limited-edition bags. We are very in tune with the customer base from Equinox. It’s also a great way to grow the business for both brands,” Luo said. “So we are trying to establish ourselves as one of the few high-end sports brands out there. When we first started there was no one able to do what we had to do.”
He said the company is also in talks with Nordstrom and is collaborating with Swarovski for crystal-encrusted handbags that will be introduced later this year. Even though the company is primarily a direct-to-consumer brand, it sells to a select number of Reebok and Peloton shops.
Referring to Deloitte data, Luo said accessories and handbags break down into three clusters — fast-fashion brands such as Zara and H&M; fashion ones like Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Goyard, and sports brands that are highly functional but middle-of-the-road in terms of fashion.
“A lot of the latter are trying to march toward the fashion side. But for a lot of large brands, it’s very hard to pivot. They can’t move that swiftly,” Luo said. “We feel there is a sweet spot between high fashion and high function, while keeping the prices below $600.”