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In 2017, Lindsey Carter was sitting at Alfred, a coffee shop on Melrose Place in Los Angeles, when she came up with the idea to start her own activewear brand. Just over five years later, Set Active, her buzzy line of coordinating staples, debuted its first brick-and-mortar location on that very street.
Fans lined up on opening day — November 11, 2022 — in a parade of Set leggings, sports bras and sweatsuits, all angling for a chance to get their hands on the brand’s limited-edition styles and meet the team, who regularly star in the brand’s Instagram and Tiktok videos.
The store’s social atmosphere is no accident, said Carter. “Human connection was taken for granted before the pandemic, so I really wanted a space where you could connect.”
To achieve the “minimalistic, community-driven” environment she envisioned, she took inspiration from childhood field trips to museums. At the front of the store is a marble seating area surrounded by a wall of screens playing footage of Set campaign shoots, recalling the communal lounge space where a class may gather to watch videos before being set loose to explore. There’s also a rack displaying new-arrival products and a Polaroid wall featuring models, influencers and “Set sisters,” as the brand calls its diehard fans. Finally, shoppers will reach the merchandise, fitting rooms and a “touch and feel” wall featuring swatches of Set’s three signature fabrics: SportBody, LuxForm and SculptFlex.
“It starts with education in the front,” said Carter. “You have to work your way to the back of the store to see the product itself.”
The store — a one-year pop-up, operated in partnership with retail platform Leap — is one element of Set’s next push as a brand, a strategy that includes physical stores, a permanent collection and designs driven by community feedback. In early summer, the brand plans to open its second yearlong location, on Bleeker Street in New York City. This time, it will be inspired by the “go, go, go” pace of the city, Carter said.
“We’re going to try to incorporate a speakeasy and have it really be New York vibes,” she said.
While breaking into brick-and-mortar is a challenging step for a nascent brand — one that Carter admits would not be possible at this stage without Leap handling leasing and operations — there can be substantial payoff.
According to research from the market intelligence company Mintel, the majority of athleisure consumers are omnichannel shoppers who buy both in-store and online. In fact, with the exception of Amazon, consumers tend to prefer the brick-and-mortar experience when purchasing products like leggings and sports bras, said Katie Hansen, Mintel’s senior analyst of retail and e-commerce.
While Set declined to share annual revenue and growth figures, it has yet to take on outside funding and is owned solely by Carter. When she launched the brand in 2018, she said she accumulated around $20,000 in credit card debt to get the business off the ground.
Set took off online during the first years of the pandemic, aided by the work-from-home athleisure boom and a customer base that was suddenly super-engaged with their social media feeds. It picked up famous fans like Hailey Bieber and Kendall Jenner. Its clever logo placement — three letters subtly printed across the sternum of its sports bras — meant eagle-eyed fans could easily ID the brand in paparazzi shots.
Along the way, Carter’s team stayed ultra-engaged with the growing fanbase on Instagram and Tiktok, answering DMs, polling followers about their favorite styles and colorways, and sharing customers’ outfit shots. Scroll through Set’s feeds, and you get a sense not just of the finished products, but also a behind-the-scenes look at the team’s design process, marketing decisions and daily life around the office.
On January 31, Set launched its first “Community Collection,” featuring colorways and a limited-edition bra style chosen by its fans. Last year, when the team started working on the launch, it posted a choice of comeback colors from past sold-out launches and CAD drawings of bra styles on Instagram, asking followers to vote on their favorites. The collection will be available for one year and replaced in 2024 by a lineup of new styles also determined by a vote.
Without handing over the reins entirely, the strategy puts some power in the hands of shoppers. “If consumers can lend input into new developments, it’s more likely they’ll want to make a purchase,” said Hansen. “They’ll see a little bit of themselves in the product that’s created and feel more linked to the item.”
The brand is also building out a virtual hub on Geneva, a communication platform for groups in the vein of Slack and Discord. There, a community of 200 or so Set fans chat with employees, get early peeks at work-in-progress styles and campaigns and organize meetups.
“Our community is who’s buying our product, and I want them to feel included and have a voice in what we do,” Carter said.
While blink-and-you’ll-miss-them drops of limited-edition colorways have driven Set’s momentum so far, it’s now building out a more permanent selection of staples. Its “Core Collection,” which launched in January and will be available year-round, features signature lounge and activewear pieces in four neutral colorways: Onyx (black), Blanc (a creamy white), Oxford (navy blue) and Espresso (a charcoal brown). For the campaign, the brand put on a runway show that showed the pieces in their natural habitat, styled with farmer’s market tote bags, oversized blazers, yoga mats and oat milk lattes.
Steering away from the hyper-athletic performance imagery of brands like Nike and Lululemon and toward laid-back lifestyle associations makes sense for a label like Set, Hansen said. Per Mintel data, 42% of consumers don’t exercise in the same athleisure items they wear casually, so positioning the pieces as all-day, everyday staples may appeal to a broader range of customers.
Looking to the rest of the year, Set’s designers have also been looking for inspiration outside of activewear, incorporating less traditional details like bows and ties for a forthcoming 2000s-themed drop – though, Carter assured, there are no plans to stray far from the brand’s aesthetic roots.
“People are always going to want back to the minimalistic look,” she said. “Sometimes you just want a simple outfit to go workout in or go about your day.”