While many designers are taking the leap into the growing activewear market, James Jeans founder Seun Lim is going to great heights to make a name for herself.
On a recent Friday morning, as sunlight streamed into the tall doors opening onto a balcony overlooking Los Angeles’ bustling Koreatown neighborhood, she faced a mirror wall at D&A Yoga with seven women standing tall around her, each planted in front of a hammock suspended from the wood ceiling beams.
“And up and out,” Lim instructed them, leaning back so that the stretchy cloth, looped around her arms and under her shoulders three feet off the ground, prevented her from falling down. All eight women extended backward to stretch their necks, tummies and legs. Then they moved forward to resemble ski jumpers on the tips of their toes. Bending backward again, with hands flat on the floor, she told them: “Squeeze your booty. Open your heart.” A few minutes later, everyone hung upside down, like frogs ready to jump into a pond, breathing in the lemongrass-scented mist wafting through the air.
“Crunches — 12 times. Let’s go,” Lim said. “Don’t look at the floor. We’re sending fresh blood to our heads, detoxing our lymph nodes. All good things.”
Since opening the yoga studio in March, Lim has been juggling multiple duties as denim designer, flying yoga instructor and activewear entrepreneur. To maximize the time between the dozen hourlong classes and few private sessions she teaches each week, she relocated the office for her 12-year-old denim brand from downtown to the two floors floating between the yoga studio and the 40-foot high ceiling. Matching the Provençal countryside-meets-industrial city aesthetic of the loft, French cafe music bounced off the exposed brick walls and ash wood floors.
One of the levels contains the designs for D&A Body, the new women’s activewear label that Lim plans to unveil in September at Coterie in New York. Also in the works is a line of skin care called D&A Face. She’s getting ready to open a Manhattan offshoot of her yoga studio by October, in the same SoHo building that had housed her first headquarters before she and her husband, James Jeans chief executive officer James Sway, packed up to work in the heart of the world’s premium denim industry in Los Angeles.
“We want to build more of a lifestyle [business] and not just be denim,” Lim said, noting that D&A is short for Dream Alive.
Moving to the West Coast started Lim’s journey toward fusing fashion and fitness. She spent 11 years of her youth dancing ballet but never bothered going to the gym in New York because she walked everywhere to burn off the three cups of iced lattes lightened with half-n-half that she imbibed daily. In Los Angeles, where the prevailing car culture prevents an easy walking workout, she started gaining weight. Everyone was doing yoga, which she determined “was kind of boring to me,” she said. “I couldn’t get into ‘om’ and ‘om.’ That’s not my thing.” Four years ago, she took her first class of flying yoga in Seoul, South Korea, where she was visiting her parents. “This is more fun,” she said of the gravity-defying exercise.
Becoming a flying yoga instructor gave Lim an excuse to buy almost 200 pairs of leggings — and identify a commercial opportunity. Preventing the hammock from burning bare skin, the leggings are bought and washed more often than other activewear pieces. Taking her experience of perfecting the way jeans mold the body, she’s designing three fits of leggings that snugly cover the derrieres of different body types. Retailing from $70 to $90 and making up 75 percent of her line, the leggings have foldable waists and hems that are cut with stirrups or extended to make the legs appear longer.
Two styles of sports bras — one with a racerback, another with straps crisscrossing the back, both selling for between $50 and $60 — make up the rest of the business. The proprietary synthetic fabric that forms the foundation for the designs is tinted in dark shades like navy, black, charcoal gray, burgundy and rich jewel tones that match the hammocks in her studio. Lim said the activewear won’t include a stitch of indigo or denim.
The debut collection for D&A Body at Coterie will be sold for immediate deliveries in October. It is a supplement to the denim business, which she described as “steady.” She wants to be prepared for consumers who look to invest more in experiences rather than products. “They spend more time and money on their well-being,” she said. Besides, she added, “this makes me happy.”