Athleisure is more than a trend; it’s a lifestyle. And it’s here to stay.
To bring you up to speed, athleisure is the reason why you might have noticed more and more sneakers and sporty gear usually reserved for the gym, out on the streets. It’s the hybrid of “athletic” and “leisure wear” — and it’s redefining the way we shop.
What might have seemed like merely a passing fad when athleisure was first spotted on the streets in 2014, quickly gained momentum by the following year. According to a recent article focusing on athleisure in Business Insider, "Athleisure is the new casual." And it signals a fundamental shift in how North Americans dress, also spawned by health trends like spinning and smoothie bowls.
Miel is a brand of seamless bras and underwear built for all-day wear. Its edge? The use of innovative new fabrics and knitting technologies (i.e. how fabrics are woven and manufactured).
Launched by Colombian sisters Valeria and Camila Velandia, this line of athleisure-inspired lingerie is fulfilling a need in the marketplace that wasn’t previously there: “all day, every day” underwear that appeals to active women of all ages. “Miel” means honey in French, an ode to Camila and Valeria’s current homebase of Montreal, Quebec, where they manage all the day-to-day operations of the brand.
Valeria explains: “As sisters, best friends, and fellow moms who have always worked, traveled and exercised together, we continually faced the same problem: how to stay fresh, comfortable and sexy from morning to night, without having to change underwear a million times a day. This quest led us to identify a gap in the market between ‘active wear’ — not the best choice for work or a night out — and ‘lingerie,’ which is often impractical and uncomfortable in the gym or office. And so we set out to find a solution for busy yet stylish women on the go.”
These truly are “the sweetest things,” as Miel’s tagline promises.
Our undies are just as perfect for your yoga routine as they are under the little black dress you throw on after class before heading out for drinks. In short, we deliver ‘all day, every day’ underwear that appeals to active women of all ages.
The entrepreneurial Velandia sisters were born and raised in sunny Colombia, but a love for other cultures fueled their wanderlust early on. Between the two of them, they have lived in Germany, the U.S. and Australia. With a passion for healthy living, fashion, and the sunny outdoors, launching an active-based lingerie brand was part of these sisters’ DNA.
Today, Miel’s entire range of underwear, bras, and camisoles is available on its ecommerce site, MielSisters.com, as well as at brick-and-mortar shops across North America. They are currently poised for worldwide expansion, starting with across the pond: As of this March, Miel will be available at Urban Outfitters in the UK.
We caught up with this powerhouse sister duo, as they explain their journey from sweet idea to full-fledged lingerie and activewear brand, and how they maintain their edge in a competitive (and sometimes fickle) industry.
From Idea To Product Launch
All Images Courtesy of Miel Sisters
Miel officially launched in 2008, pretty conservatively, way before athleisure made its way into our lexicon.
Valeria explains: “At the end of 2008, after months of research, tradeshow hopping, testing, samples, etc., we came out to market with the first three essentials of the Miel collection (our "NANA” bra, “Luna” thong and hipster IRIS culotte; these remain staples in our line).
"We started locally, with the independent fashion stores in Montreal and grew our distribution organically. We promoted our line in some of the key boutiques and made them fall in love with the comfort, design, and freshness of Miel.”
And then, the “pinch me” moment occurred: the sisters knew their business idea was about to become a reality.
“After our rep in the West Coast took the collection to our first ever trade show, she came back with a crazy amount of new accounts. It was a great moment of accomplishment. It was the realization that the market had indeed welcomed us with open arms!” Boom.
Defining A Niche In A Competitive Market
Thanks to an uptick in the number of athleisure products available, sports bras now represent 20% of the bra market (according to an article in Bustle about the current athleisure phenomenon), signifying a huge opportunity for Miel but also signals that they have a lot of competition.
Lingerie — and in truth, any industry — can be tricky business when you’re not focused. So Camila and Valeria ensured Miel stood out on its own, with a crystal clear positioning and product offering.
Valeria elaborates: “What distinguishes our underwear is that we make sure to use the best fabrics (like microfiber, Spandex, and cotton) in different parts of each product to ensure comfort and the most flattering fit. Our fabrics are protected with Guardin™, a plant-based, built-in antimicrobial protector against stains and odors. Miel also integrates seamless and flat-seam compression in different areas of each garment, wherever stretch or support are required.”
This explains Miel’s elevator pitch: underwear and bras that combine technical prowess with fashion-centric and street style inspiration.
Both Camila and Valeria have fashion experience — Camila studied Fashion Merchandising, Valeria has a Communications background, while their combined experience spans retail, styling and merchandising — so it’s natural for them to be inspired by the upcoming season’s shades and styles.
“Every season, we feature new bursts of color that are always in sync with what’s happening in fashion and on the street.”
“In this day and age, women want to look stylish and feel comfortable no matter what they are doing and where they are doing it. With new fabrics, finishes, and knitting technologies, we have developed a product suitable for all environments, so you don’t need to change three times a day. Our brand was developed to support a woman’s daily activities at home, in the office, at the gym and out on the town.”
Miel is currently sold online, as well as across North America (in all 10 Canadian provinces and 1 of the Territories, as well as over 25 states in the U.S.).
Its brick-and-mortar footprint is split among independent fashion stores and specialty lingerie boutiques (this represents about 90% of their sales), while online, its collection is available through Anthropologie’s website and some smaller e-tailers (and of course, the complete Miel collection can be found on their own online shop).
According to Valeria, Miel’s current sales are split almost equally between the U.S. and Canada, with a market share of 60% for the United States.
International expansion alert: This spring, the collection is making it way to the UK at the Urban Outfitters store on Oxford Street in London. “This marks our first time being available in a brick and mortar location, in the European market.” In other words, they’re hitting the big leagues.
Focusing On Digital
“Our online sales are growing by the day and we’re putting a big emphasis (and allocating budget) to continue to cultivate this market,” Valerie explains.
Although brick and mortar represents a large part of its sales, one of Miel’s biggest clients is an online-based retailer (anthropologie.com), which tells the sisters a lot about consumer behavior: that online is extremely important for Miel. “Ideally, we will captivate this clientele.”
Trade Show Experience = A Secret To Success
So as we learned earlier, exhibiting at a trade show is what led Miel to land its first accounts and start establishing itself in an already competitive industry. Today, they continue to attend trade shows, in both the lingerie and activewear industries.
“Trade shows are the biggest window to our industry,” Valeria says. “They are a great way to meet with our first customers — the store owners — and learn from their experiences in the stores. We improve and grow the collections based on the input we get from these experiences.”
The Miel sisters present the collection in more than 10 trade shows (including Curve and Active Collective) during the two key buying seasons.
“Trade shows are also a great way to get a feel for what the competitors are doing and where we are placed in the industry,” Valeria says. “And the best way to develop strong relationships with other brands for further collaborations, loyal buyers and the media.”
Advice To Aspiring Entrepreneurs
As for other budding entrepreneurs, Valeria shares this wisdom: “Building a great brand is not about logos or slogans. It has more to do with focus, discipline and hard work — and thousands of small decisions. It has far less to do with inspiration and creativity than one might expect.”
And part of the challenge is also knowing what projects are a good fit for you and your brand.
“It is often about having the courage to turn down opportunities that are not aligned with your core principles so that you can stay true to your vision and values.”
Yes, many people say not to sweat the small stuff. Camila dispels this myth: “Every successful entrepreneur that we know does sweat about all the details, all the time. They’re working all the time, worrying all the time, and fine-tuning all the time.”
It is often about having the courage to turn down opportunities that are not aligned with your core principles so that you can stay true to your vision and values.
Another important piece of advice, care of Camila: “Choose something you are proud of and passionate about.”
It might sound cliché, but it’s the truth! Camila continues: “The best part of our work (besides working together) is when we hear from our customers that our underwear is the most comfortable they’ve ever worn, and they share their appreciation about finally being free from underwires, panty lines and unflattering cuts.” The genuine input and feedback from customers is what keeps Miel growing and expanding.
The Future For Miel
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Valeria and Camila are eager to focus even more on their important digital consumers by developing a stronger social media plan and presence, online contests, as well as partnerships with renowned fitness, health, and wellness experts and influencers. The goal is to develop an active community of like-minded women looking to learn from each other, who love life and who are passionate about looking and feeling their best.
Their collection and product offering is also expanding, with two new styles making their debut in the Spring 2017 collection. They will also be playing with new mixes in their color offering for Fall/Winter.
Even with all these sweet achievements, Miel sees its share of challenges:
“The biggest challenge is building awareness and helping dispel the myth and misinformation in the fashion and beauty industry that you need to be uncomfortable to be sexy. But once women try our Miel products, the rest is effortless.”