Fashion brands have increasingly looked to events to build a community, but in the days of coronavirus, when gatherings are impossible, many are taking those in-person events online. From workout classes to coffee meet-ups, brands are finding that doing events online isn’t just a stopgap replacement for hosting live events, but they can also improve on their former event model since they allow for more opportunities for data gathering and scale.

With in-person events impossible, online events are providing an opportunity for brands to collect valuable data on who their customers are, how they’re behaving and what the company can do to grow its audience. Joe Kudla, CEO of activewear company Vuori, said his company is launching headfirst into online events via three formats launching in the next few weeks. The brand normally hosts one or two events per week at each of its five stores.

Every morning, except Saturday, Vuori hosts a workout class on its Instagram with a different fitness instructor, and workouts ranging from yoga to cardio workouts to meditation. On Wednesdays, Kudla hosts live discussions on different aspects of life. Yesterday afternoon, NBA player Steve Nash was the first featured guest. And on Saturdays, starting this weekend, Vuori will partner with fitness company Dogpound to livestream Kudla being put through one of the gym’s famously tough workouts. All of those events will be streamed through Instagram.

Instructors in the daily workout classes are instructed to wear Vuori, provided to them by the brand). But apart from that, Kudla said product will not be explicitly promoted, at first. In the coming weeks, however, his team will look for ways to more closely tie events to product promotions.

Kudla said Vuori has not yet quantified what percentage of viewers on Instagram are new followers or existing customers, but a key goal for the brand is understanding this new online audience. To do so, he’ll look at when they began following Vuori and if they came to Vuori’s account through any of the instructors’ or guest collaborators’ Instagram accounts.

“The biggest data point we want to understand is who our audience is and if we can convert them to customers,” Kudla said. “We’re interested to see if there’s a cross-pollination of followers with Dogpound and with the people who come on for conversations, and if they’re an engaged audience that we can bring in who doesn’t necessarily know about the brand. And on top of that, we’re looking to see how these events translate to the business.”

The brand plans to double-down on content and collaborations that bring new eyes to the brand and get those customers to convert.

Early signs signal this plan is working. Kudla said engagement has already doubled on the brand’s Instagram since the daily classes began two weeks ago, which has contributed to an increase in sales. Vuori had planned for e-commerce sales in March to increase 100% from last March, but sales were up 200%. 

Daniella Mizrahi, founder of DTC activewear brand Yella, said her entire marketing plan for the next four months had revolved around in-person pop-ups. She had lined up leases and planned fitness-related events for at least one pop-up per month as she sought to introduce customers to the brand. Without that option, she has instead turned to hosting digital events, with a focus on workout classes featuring local Los Angeles fitness trainers and hosted on Zoom.

The most recent class was held this past weekend. It featured trainer Triana Cristobal and welcomed several hundred participants, including members of the media and customers, reached through Yella’s email list. Mizrahi said that while the original intention around these events — to get Yella’s product in customers’ hands — was no longer possible, there were other benefits of hosting the class online.

“That whole concept was out the window when we moved to digital,” Mizrahi said. “We switched focus entirely. We don’t talk about the product at all. Instead we’re trying to focus on building an audience and getting to know them. We’re going to be having all the instructors promote the classes they do with us and hopefully bring in their audiences, too. So it’s very different from an in-person event, but it’s still a benefit to us.”

Mizrahi said the brand is planning a weekly schedule of Tuesday and Saturday online workout classes, and hopes to establish recurring participants. As she sees, it, identifying that audience will help her identify her core target customer.

“We’re hoping they can help us figure out what kind of brand we want to be,” Mizrahi said.

Both Kudla and Mizrahi said that holding these events online has allowed them to scale them in ways they couldn’t before. While Vuori’s in-store events typically can only hold around 50 or 60 people, the Instagram workouts regularly see audiences of more than 10,000. 

“I think getting a better view of your audience is a big advantage of doing these things online,” Kudla said. “You can reach a broader audience and gather better data. But I think both digital and in-person events have a place. Hopefully we can go back to doing in-store events, but these things we’re launching now are all things I want to continue doing in the future.”