Welcome to Better Know a Store Owner, a Racked feature focusing on the people who run our favorite boutiques around the city.
It's hard to imagine that just a couple short years ago, gym clothes were meant solely for the gym. Mixing leggings, sweats, and neoprene into your everyday wardrobe would mark a New York woman as lazy, not fashionable-but-also-health-conscious. Then 2014 came around, and suddenly the portmanteau "athleisure" was on the tips of everyone's tongues. And for Jennifer Bandier, the timing was serendipitous.
The former music business pro, who previously managed acts like TLC, had just pivoted her career to focus on a business venture that married fitness, fashion, and music, starting with an eponymous boutique in Southampton before opening a Flatiron pop-up shop last fall that's now on an extended run. Racked sat down with the New York native about her store plan, the importance of a printed legging, and how a broken foot put this whole plan in motion.
Where did the idea to start a retail store dedicated to high-end activewear come from?
When I broke my foot in 2011, I could only wear fitness apparel and couldn't do high-intensity workouts. I started taking daily walks around the city, and I needed something fun to wear! I set out to find the most exciting new
brands from around the world—so what started as a personal research project, with me spending hours online, turned into a business.
Where did you look to turn this business into a reality?
I opened my first store in Southampton in 2014, just in time for the summer season. Southampton is a second home to me, and I knew the store would be a great fit for the area resident's outdoor active lifestyle.
Describe the state of activewear fashion at that time as a whole. Were people even using the word "athleisure"?
When I first had the idea for this store more than two years ago—and even when I opened last summer—the term "athleisure" was far from mainstream. Now, it seems that every designer has their own activewear line, and once-unknown brands are becoming cult favorites. One of the most exciting parts of the business has been seeing Bandier become a platform for small "athleisure" companies to grow.
Was it difficult explaining your store concept to people who just thought "gym clothes" were for the gym?
Not at all. People who were into fitness were dying for a change in the activewear shopping scene and loved having a one-stop shop to mix and match brands. When you visit a Bandier store, you learn a lot about the "fitness-meets-fashion" movement.
When did you decide you wanted to make your way into the city? And what was so appealing about Flatiron?
After the success of the Southampton store, I knew we had to be in NYC. Flatiron was an obvious choice, given it's dubbed the "FHITiron" area.
When I first had the idea for this store more than two years ago—and even when I opened last summer—the term "athleisure" was far from mainstream.
What has the response been to this location so far?
Nothing but amazing! We opened here as a holiday pop-up and never closed due to the outstanding response.
How do you find the labels that you carry here?
We scour everything—the Internet, people on the street, trade shows. And these days, a lot of the brands are getting in touch with us, rather than the other way around. At the moment, printed leggings are one of our big sellers.
What are the top activewear labels people should know about right now?
There's so many to choose from! Varley is an exciting UK-based brand that recently launched, offering activewear and swim. HPE is also from the UK, and it's incredibly technical and great for high-impact workouts. And K.Deer is a no-brainer for fun, flattering printed leggings for all types of workouts.
Is there anything you find that's either "too athletic" or too close to everyday-wear that you wouldn't carry in stores?
Yes, we buy to a taste level. Our merchandise tells a story that reflects a very specific fitness-meets-fashion aesthetic.
Is there anything you wear to the gym that you wouldn't wear in public?
I would wear everything sold at Bandier both at the gym and out to lunch. Everything we sell transitions—leggings can be styled appropriately for every situation.
Everything we sell transitions—leggings can be styled appropriately for every situation.
What's your favorite kind of workout, and what do you wear for it?
I definitely like dance cardio and spinning, and my go-to outfit for both is a printed legging with a solid tee-shirt. For dancing, layers are key as you warm up. Working out is much more enjoyable when you look good and feel good!
Where do you feel your music knowledge fits into the store experience?
Music is a natural complement to fitness—it inspires and motivates all of my workouts, and I can't imagine running or spinning without it. Plus, it's extremely important to retail shopping—it's part of the overall sensory branding experience. I make playlists with all types of music, keeping it pretty upbeat and current.
When our website launches, we'll feature playlists curated by individuals who inspire us in fashion, fitness and music—the three pillars of our brand. This way, you can listen to our music while you shop online, simulating the in-store experience.
What can you tell Racked about your forthcoming permanent location right now? Do you have any other stores in the works?
We definitely plan to stay in Flatiron permanently, plus expanding in New York as well as nationally. Stay tuned!
Okay, time for the lightning round! 8am or 8pm?
Cats or dogs?
Beer or wine?
Tequila or whiskey?
Beach or mountains?
Doughnuts or croissants?
Tea or coffee? And how do you take it?
Iced coffee, black.
Better Call Saul, or Mad Men?
Neither—Sons of Anarchy.