Christine D’Mello, SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
Twin entrepreneurs are spearheading the push stateside.
Julie and Sali Stevanja have their eyes on one of the biggest markets in the world.
The growth of the fitness industry in Australia has spawned many associated businesses.
From 24-hour gyms and outdoor fitness facilities to sporting gear and activewear, various enterprises are tapping into the opportunities.
One sector to benefit is activewear. The local athletic apparel industry increased 8.3 per cent from 2006 to 2012, according to an industry outlook report by Ken Research.
Activewear boasts such glamorous names as adidas by Stella McCartney, Nike and Jodhi Meares’ The Upside, while Australian brands Vie Active, Running Bare and Lorna Jane are doing a roaring trade. In fact the Brisbane-based Lorna Jane will be put up for sale for a reported $500 million.
One of the online fashion sportswear businesses to make the most of this trend is Stylerunner.com, the brainchild of twin entrepreneurs Julie and Sali Stevanja.
Julie, 33, says she and sister Sali, both fitness buffs, saw a gap in the market to bring exciting brands together in a one-stop online shop.
Stylerunner is growing rapidly. “We are now doing four times the revenue that we did in December, and that’s been a steady trend of between 25 and 50 per cent growth month on month,” Julie says.
They have their eye on the American market too. “We want to expand into the US next,” she says. “We would like to have a distribution centre there. The US is already our second-largest market and a fast-growing one.”
In the US, running/fitness sports footwear and apparel and accessories reached sales of $US10.5 billion ($11.4 billion) at sporting goods chain stores last year, market researcher NPD Group’s Leisure Trends report found.
It took the Stevanja twins four months to get Stylerunner.com up and running. They quit their jobs in June 2012 and were determined to launch by summer that year. Which is what they did, dipping their toes into the billion-dollar activewear market.
“We didn’t have any experience in retail or the sportswear industry,” Julie says. “We just started this as passionate consumers. So we think of the consumer first and foremost. We always put ourselves in place of the consumer and what they would want and what we can do to make it more exciting.”
They had no problem bringing the brands on board. When Stylerunner launched, they had 11 brands. That has grown to more than 30. They were able to get the contract for adidas by Stella McCartney, which they hold “exclusively as an online partner with adidas in Australia”, Julie says.
“We are currently the only online store in Australia distributing The Upside by Jodhi Meares, which has been a huge success and has had a great impact in the market.”
Stylerunner has several thousand customers and ships to about 50 countries. It employs nine staff.
As far as competitors go, Julie says they are focused on their own game and on delivering an exceptional customer experience.
“We don’t really feel like we have any major competitors in this space, in Australia or even globally,” she says.
“I think that there are a couple of new, small sites that have opened, or so I’ve heard, but our real competitors would be stores like David Jones and Myer. We are offering an upscale premium experience.”
Unlike the retail giants, Stylerunner has only an online presence and sells just activewear.
For the business, Julie says “social media is a fantastic avenue to find customers who are really the right fit for our brands and very passionate about it”.
The sisters are active on the image-driven social-networking service Instagram and now have more than 81,000 followers. Julie says the numbers are growing by several thousand each week.
Julie has a background in banking and digital marketing and looks after strategy, marketing and business development.
Sali previously worked in recruitment and now looks after the operational side of things.
Julie says they are not reinventing the wheel for their business model. “It’s just an online store, but it’s really a new approach to the category, delivering something more like an upmarket boutique viewer and experience.”
They also send the products out in a well packaged, branded box. “That’s where we differentiate ourselves from a lot of online stores.” She says customers even Instagram images of the boxes as well as products they have bought. The sisters also tuck in a handwritten note in the shipment, “which we get comments on all the time”.
They have now expanded with a new product – StylerunnerMAN – which stocks active and sportswear for men.
And their 18-month-old business was recently featured on Fox8’s reality TV show The Face.
“When we were approached to be part of The Face it felt surreal,” Julie says. “It was new and it was different and it was the sort of thing that we thrive on every day.”