Building on the strong retailer response to the upcoming launch of its YogaSport collection, Ahnu has partnered with Blake Brody, a niche maker of premium in-studio footwear, to launch its first women’s slip-resistant, on-the-mat yoga studio footwear product.
Ahnu, a division of Deckers Brands, unveiled its first après yoga footwear line in 2012, and Jacqueline Van Dine, VP and co-founder of Ahnu, said the inspiration came from her aunt.
“My aunt back in 2011 asked me if I had footwear for yoga,” said Van Dine at a media presentation in New York City for its Ahnu by Blake Brody line. “So I sent her some cute little ballet flats and she said they were too bulky. She wanted something a little bit lower profile. And that got me thinking that there isn’t really any footwear designed for yoga. And so we initially came out with more of an après and more casual focused yoga line and began working on a whole performance collection.”
YogaSport, primarily aimed at fitness enthusiasts interested in hybrid workouts, launches at select retail stores and yoga studios across the U.S. in July. The line particularly emphasizes greater forefoot flexibility to maximize physical stretching moves, as well as a centered heel base, ideal for standing poses where balance is key.
But seeing the opportunity for an in-studio yoga line, Ahnu since 2013 has been collaborating with Blake Brody, which specializes in traction-infused footwear for studio activities like Pilates and barre.
“I had never done anything in the yoga field,” said Brody at the event. “So a mutual agency introduced us and Jacqueline had all this experience with the lifestyle side and I had all the experience with the studio, so we were able to mesh the two and really come up with this amazing shoe specific for the mat and yoga.”
While many yoga enthusiasts will prefer barefoot, the Ahnu by Blake Brody line, dubbed In Studio-Om, tackles some of the challenges doing yoga poses while barefoot. A particular one is dealing with a sweaty mat.
“You’re working out so hard, sweating and slipping around and rather than really focusing on the practice, you’re just trying to hold your balance,” said Van Dine. “We felt we could hopefully solve some of those issues by creating footwear that offers some grip but is so minimal that it literally hugs your foot. It’s not designed like a traditional shoe with an outsole.”
The In Studio-Om features stretchy Lycra material in the forefoot that allows the wearer to spread their toes and flex in any direction; a strategically placed PU foam for arch and heel support, and an ultra-gripping silicone compound on the bottom and lateral side to improve balance and reduce slippage. The padding addresses collapsed arches, and also offers support to keep arches raised.
“It’s great for older women who are standing for such a long period of time,” said Brody. ”And it’s great for people who need the extra support. But you really maintain all the sensitivity to the ground and all the natural range of movement of your toes, foot and ankles.”
The In Studio-Om also features a breathable upper for comfort, anti-microbial treatment, is machine washable and is made using vegan materials.
The Ahnu YogaSport collection is comprised of four styles that span 16 SKUs – one style and three SKUs of which include Blake Brody for Ahnu. The range includes:
- Blake Brody for Ahnu, In Studio-Om, $49.95, designed for on-the-mat use,
- Yoga Split, $99.95, a low impact workout style with crisscross straps,
- Yoga Flex, $119.95, a high impact workout style with a mesh upper,
- Yoga Poise, $129.95, a high impact workout style with a garment leather upper.
While the burgeoning yoga opportunity has been around apparel and mats, footwear has been untapped. Said Van Dine, “We’re really opening up a new space and a new door that really hasn’t been tapped into.”
Ahnu continues to see a strong response from retailers around YogaSport. Discussions have been held with a wide range of run specialty stores, REI and other outdoor shops, niche sporting goods chains such as Manhattan’s Paragon Sporting Goods, department stores such as Nordstrom and Dillard’s, as well as Zappos, according to Van Dine. A test with Lady Foot Locker is also being explored.
Van Dine said many retailers are recognizing yoga is part of addressing today’s active consumer who pursues a wide range of activities. She noted a few run specialty doors have told her that some of their staff are yoga teachers and yoga classes are often conducted in stores after closing.
“What’s so amazing to me is the Instagram photography we get from our consumers finds them in the mountains with their groups in yoga poses. So the consumer doesn’t delineate their activities. They say, ‘You’re an active lifestyle brand. I get you because you get me’.”
But for Ahnu, the aspiration is to become a 360-degree yoga fitness lifestyle company leading a new category on footwear walls. With focused efforts in yoga over the last two years, Ahnu has developed close ties with the yoga community through its Yoga Teacher Ambassador Program – a network of 2,000-plus professional instructors that benefit from membership rewards, product sneak peeks and exclusive networking opportunities. Further underscoring its commitment to the yoga lifestyle space, Ahnu introduced a yoga apparel line via Ahnu.com in September 2014.
Van Dine said popularity of yoga continues to grow with even professional basketball and football teams incorporating the practice into their training regimens in recognition of its benefits. But it’s also reaching another level socially. Said Van Dine, “Yoga’s gone from a trend to a lifestyle.”