Building a brand from the ground up is no small feat, even for experienced industry insiders. For newcomers to the fashion space, the process can be downright daunting.
Apparel manufacturing veteran Courtney Capretto’s latest venture provides a framework for would-be label-owners to launch their own businesses, making the process of creating a collection as easy as shopping online.
The Athletics MVMT, which launched this spring from its headquarters in downtown Los Angeles, allows both established brands and newbies to create their own curated lines of premium athleisure styles, ranging from bra tops and leggings to sweat sets, performance joggers and puffer jackets. Through the company’s proprietary “Build Your Brand” online portal, users can fill out short profiles and choose from a 30-piece range the items that will make up their collections. The browsing and buying process is reminiscent of a typical e-commerce experience, though customization options abound.
Capretto said the concept was born of her experience running Form Department, a full-service brand development firm that provides creative direction, sourcing and product development expertise and sustainable manufacturing options. “We curate brands from start to finish,” she said.
“What I saw was that there were a lot of people coming in, especially newcomers, and they were so overwhelmed by the whole process,” she added. “So I wanted to take that process and simplify it and make it digital, so that they could go online and within three steps—maybe 15 minutes—they could have a brand.”
The Athletics MVMT’s Build Your Brand program provides samples within one week, Capretto said. And within 30 days, fully formed collections arrive on customers’ doorsteps.
“We work with startups, existing brands, and we have some fitness influencers,” she said. Some of these online personalities had already tested the fashion waters by buying blank T-shirts and commissioning screen printing, she said, but wanted more sophisticated product that was representative of their unique styles. Other industry players may have built out successful ready-to-wear businesses, but needed an experienced partner to expand into activewear.
“We have some people that know exactly what they want, and we can execute very quickly for them,” she added. “Then there are others that need creative help, and that’s what we do. We walk them through the whole process, and we’re very hands-on.”
For all parties, the process is built with simplicity in mind, Capretto said. Once users shop their looks on Build Your Brand, they can choose to customize color ways through Pantone. “You can also upload your logo or artwork and see how you want to place it on the garment, so you have a 3D visual,” she added. Those who need help connecting with talent can work with one of the company’s in-house graphic designers to create custom imagery for their lines. “You could buy a logo or whatever you need for your product,” she said. “We’re really trying to cover all bases.”
Taking the bespoke brand-building experience a step further, users can also choose from three different types of material per product category, Capretto said. For garments like leggings and sports bras, for example, a lightweight recycled polyester is available alongside a mid-weight mossed fabrication and a heavier compression option. Cotton-based sweatshirts, sweatpants, T-shirts and more are available in multiple weights. All Build Your Brand garments are manufactured in Los Angeles, and fabrics are sourced from local mills, Capretto said.
In order to make the prospect of launching a brand more approachable, Capretto and her factory partner have settled on a 50-piece minimum, and the products are cut-to-order to minimize waste. The group had initially hoped to launch with a 100-piece MOQ, but decided that the volume might be intimidating for first-timers. “We decided it was important to gain their trust,” she said, noting that saddling fledgling brands with too much product would not set them up for success.
Now, brands can buy into product in increments of 50, 100 or 500, and The Athletics MVMT helps to automatically create the sizing breakdowns. It also packs and ships the items using branded, compostable poly-bags.
Having developed and launched the business during the pandemic, Capretto said she has been “very pleased” with the response from interested parties; about 20 clients have signed on this spring. “They may have always wanted to create or build something,” she said—and with ample time to consider next moves, and perhaps a stimulus check or two in hand, 2021 has come to feel like a promising moment for entrepreneurs.
The appetite for Made-in-the-USA products is also growing, Capretto said, noting that “for about 90 percent of the people who come through, it’s very important” that the goods are made stateside. Supporting L.A.’s historic garment sector is often a stated priority, she added, even if it does cost more to produce in the city than to source from overseas.
“I started working in retail as a teen and I wanted to build my own brand, so I went downtown,” she said, where she developed her first samples in a small factory run by a woman named Rafaela. Today, her operation has grown from one small room with just a few sewers to a two-block facility employing more than 70 mostly female workers, and it’s where The Athletics MVMT produces the bulk of its collections. Capretto visits “at least three times a week,” she said, describing a relationship that has evolved over the course of two decades from transactional to true partnership.
“I’ve worked with Courtney since she was around 20 years old and she is very involved with how the garments are finished,” the factory owner said. “She knows how to quickly adapt and works well under pressure, which has contributed to The Athletics MVMT’s growth.” The most challenging part of the company’s business model, wherein all product is made to order, is maintaining precision around the timing and quality of orders “since there are no overages,” she added.
Capretto supports California’s Garment Worker Protection Act and its goal of eliminating the piece-rate model that still proliferates in factories across the city. But despite having seen the industry’s seedy underbelly, her outlook for the future of L.A.’s garment sector is sunny, based on the influence of family-owned factories with deep ties to its community. Rafaela added that her factory supports “any act that encourages fair wages and healthy working conditions.”
While the business is built primarily on private-label products, The Athletics MVMT has also launched two direct-to-consumer capsule collections of its own, Capretto said, with the aim of generating awareness with shoppers. Launched earlier this month, Capsule 001 includes 10 athleisure styles, ranging from bike shorts to bra tops, leggings, pullovers, hoodies and overcoats and retailing for $52-$275.
Capsule 002 includes a seamless collection of bras and leggings produced in China using circular knitting technology for advanced compression, stretch and comfort. Each matching set sells for $68 on the company’s e-commerce site. According to Capretto, the brand is hoping to bring seamless production on shore at some point, but has found that few factories in the L.A. area possess the necessary advanced machinery to produce the garments at scale.
Capretto believes the DTC collections are a good way to gauge consumer interest in new, trend-forward styles—and they will also serve to fund her passion project, Outfitted. The charitable initiative relies on partnerships with local organizations serving young, underserved athletes, she told Sourcing Journal. The Athletics MVMT aims to supply sport groups across the country with new uniforms, collaborating with teams on the design process.
This spring, Capretto backed Outfitted’s first project herself, partnering with Compton, Calif.-based 1 Shine Youth’s Divas dance program for young teens. “We went and asked the girls what they thought of their current uniforms—what they liked and disliked, which materials they prefer,” she said.
Over the course of five visits, Capretto’s team worked with the girls to create new designs, picking fabrics, creating technical sketches and settling on color ways. “It was basically the way I would break it down for someone coming in to build a brand,” she said. “They got to experience the whole ideation stage and all of development.” The uniforms were custom measured for each dancer and delivered prior to the team’s championship competition, where they sashayed into first place. Now, Capretto says she’s looking to partner with the group’s North Carolina chapter.
“My main focus right now is to grow the private label, but I personally enjoy doing this,” she said, noting that teams of all kinds could be a part of the program’s future. “It was a great experience, a great way to give back, and I’m eager to do more of it.”