Carbon38, a direct-to-consumer leader in performance apparel, is being refreshed with a new brand identity and an enhanced website.
Founded in 2012 by Katie Warner Johnson, Carbon38 has created a new logo that mirrors the brand’s progression in a sleek, clean typeface. It also has updated the digital user experience, following its migration to Shopify last September. It has been re-concepted as a virtual storefront, with modules to be added to further storytelling and provide guidance for styling and similar offerings.
Carbon38 offers more than 265 brands, 70 percent of which are female-led. The company has shipped more than 1.18 million orders; saw a 16 percent increase in repeat customers year-over-year for 2021, and has acquired 662,000-plus customers in its lifetime. Since its inception, Carbon38 has secured more than $60 million in funding, growing into a $100 million business in its first six years, and has generated more than $300 million over its lifetime in sales.
Asked why this was a good time for a refresh, Johnson explained, “No time like the present. Ultimately, we’re eight years old. I’m kind of thinking the refresh is like the proverbial new haircut.” She said that after the last couple of years through a pandemic, numerous challenges and an explosion in the market with so many women living in activewear “it just felt like the right time to take a step back and refresh.”
With the customer being the center of everything they do, the chief executive officer said, “We wanted to create a logo that honored this woman in her life. She’s the boss. she’s the breadwinner. She is the executive. We wanted to create a new look and a new brand experience that felt as sophisticated and fashion forward as our customer is.” The new logo was developed internally by her former creative director, who rejoined the company as head of brand.
In developing the new logo, Johnson thought about the Roaring ’20s and life post-pandemic. “I wanted to create a visual identity that honored that in a really modern way. To me it feels really Art Deco and long and lean. It’s sophisticated and matches where a digitally native fashion consumer environment has moved. It was a really fun exercise to get back to the why of Carbon, and where our customer was at this moment of time.”
Further, Carbon38’s visuals will move from studio to elevated lifestyle.
The company’s Carbon38 label accounts for 40 percent of its sales. In addition to seasonal offerings, the label includes fabrics such as Takara Shine, Ribbed, Diamond Compression, and the newly launched Melt, which is 81 percent nylon, 19 percent spandex, moisture-wicking and odor resistant, and boasts four-way stretch and a weightless feel. Takara Shine has developed a cult-like following, selling more than 200,000 pairs of leggings since the launch of the collection in August 2016. An Essential capsule launched in February, which consisted of modal French terry sets; there are tennis offerings in Melt coming this month, and a linen offering in April.
Besides its own brand, Carbon38 carries labels such as Nike, Adidas by Stella McCartney, Beach Riot, Beyond Yoga, Stand, Terez, Split59, Isabel Marant, Isabel Marant Etoile, Brochu Walker and Honor the Gift. “We’re really trying to find the newest, coolest brands that have really fun stories and elevated product offerings, and help our customer discover,” Johnson said.
Being on Shopify has been a great move for the company, Johnson said. “Ultimately, the customer is used to a certain type of experience [check-out, Shop Pay, navigating detail pages, brands, filters]. It allowed us with a click of a button practically to be with everybody else. And it gave us an opportunity to really focus on storytelling and outfitting where we can really shine,” she said, emphasizing that it has allowed Carbon38 to be much more nimble and creative.
Turning to what she sees as the company’s biggest growth opportunities, Johnson said there’s still a lot of room to grow in the U.S., as well overseas as the world is becoming more active — and much more into spandex. In addition to its robust site, Carbon38 has two store locations, in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and Bridgehampton, N.Y., and they continue to scout new locations.
After a “solid” 2021, Johnson said she’s looking for 20 to 30 percent increases overall in 2022.
As women head back to the office, Johnson feels she’ll continue to buy activewear. “When we first went into lockdown in March 2020, our sales exploded. That’s what everyone wanted. Everyone was reaching for a pair of leggings and sweatpants. Then suddenly cocktail dresses became the primary concern as we all went back to living our lives and all those delayed weddings and parties, and then Omicron hit and we’re all back into our sweats. I had a friend call me the other day and asked, ‘How do I wear sweats to a cocktail party?’ That is a great problem that we can potentially solve at Carbon38,” Johnson said.
She said there used to be categories such as activewear, workwear and leisurewear, “and now it’s all one.” Leggings, which during the pandemic were their number-one bestsellers, are suddenly acceptable to wear into business meetings. “The world has changed so much. We love that,” she said.
As far as those customers who froze their gym memberships or let them lapse, Johnson believes they will be back. “I think by third quarter or fourth quarter, COVID-19 will be in our rearview mirror.…Our customers have brought so many new activities into their lives, whether it’s hiking or golf or surfing or tennis. Before she was just doing her Pilates four or five times a week, now she’s mixing it up,” Johnson said.
Carbon38’s bread and butter has always been studio or yoga. But now, she said, “Our customer has picked weight-up training in a bigger way and what we’re really excited about is walking. Walking is the number-one activity for any population.…We spent a lot of time in the active space focused on running, but no one is really owning walking, and I think there’s an opportunity there.”
Over the years, Carbon38 has distinguished itself by forging successful collaborations with brands such as Eleven by Venus Williams, Anine Bing, Dion Lee and Jonathan Simkhai. They tend to do one to two collaborations a year and are close to disclosing a new apparel collaboration. They’ve also found themselves to be a good home for other brands’ collaborations, such as Reebok x Victoria Beckham, enabling “cool brands” to be introduced to a big customer base, Johnson said.
With the pandemic having posed numerous supply chain issues, she said brands now have to be more nimble than they’ve ever been. She always had an incredibly efficient supply chain, but with long lede times in Asia and South America of 11 to 12 months. “With the world moving much faster, we wanted to see if we could shorten that. That was the big challenge and we brought in new leadership to see it through.…We just launched our first collection using the new supply chain with three months’ lede time, made here in the U.S. just a couple of weeks ago,” Johnson said.
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