How a niche athleisure brand got ‘plus-size’ success

You know you’ve made it when a major athleisure brand gets accused of copying you.

That’s what happened to K-Deer, a small New Jersey-based luxury activewear brand last month, after Gap’s athletic apparel brand Athleta started selling yoga pants nearly identical to its “Signature Stripes” line.

But while the brand may have just been recently thrust into the limelight, over the past three years, it has quietly cultivated a robust community of yoga-loving ladies with a taste for patterned pants. And that, according to its founder Kristine Deer, is because it doesn’t discriminate on the basis of size, shape or silhouette.

K-Deer has been a proponent of the body-positivity movement since its inception, making it markedly different from other brands in the athleisure space. Where most of its competitors shy away from incorporating a diversity of sizes in their marketing, the brand has posted photos of models and fans of all sizes donning its apparel on social media from the start. It recently expanded its plus-size range of offerings too, up to the size 4XL.

“Our message revolves around empowering and inspiring all women, letting them feel understood and appreciated for who they are,” said Deer. “This has helped us touch a chord with them because they recognize how real we are.”

This stance has helped the brand cultivate a community of fans that includes women in their 20s as well as women in their 60s. It’s not surprising, said Sucharita Mulpuru, retail analyst at Forrester.

“The average woman in America isn’t a size 2 or even a 6. So this idea is awesome,” she said. “Specific marketing of plus-size merchandise to plus-size buyers is very, very effective — and social is perfect for smaller, lesser-known brands like this.”

Instagram has been instrumental in K-Deer’s organic growth, according to Deer. It is the brand’s main driver and most often the platform where it first announces news, deals and sales. “It’s visual and immediate, and lets us share an array of human experiences,” she said.

With just about 56,000 followers on Instagram since its launch in 2013, K-Deer’s count pales in comparison to competitors like Lululemon — a giant with more than 1.2 million followers — and Athleta with its 131,000. But what it lacks in numbers, it makes up for in terms of engagement.

Each post by the brand gets hundreds of likes. Nearly 20 different hashtags containing the brand, including “#kdeer,” “#kdeerhauteyoga” and “#kdeerleggings” have been used on the platform over 30,000 times. The brand’s fans also displayed their loyalty when they took up arms against Athleta last month, leaving angry comments on an Instagram photo and also taking to Facebook with hashtags like #IStandWithKDeer and #BoycottAthleta.

“You only stand up for something that you believe in,” Deer said. “It’s an incredible blessing that we’ve been able to build such an honest and transparent relationship with them. We were one of the first brands adding fun and color to athletic wear, before all the bigger companies started jumping on the bandwagon.”

It also helps that K-Deer has always promoted worthy causes. For example, its “Signature Stripes” collection of prints are named after strong, inspirational women who have made an impact on their communities. The brand donates at least 5 percent of profits from the sale of of these items to an organization or cause.

Among other platforms, Facebook is emerging as the place where K-Deer connects with its customers on a more personal level. Pinterest, too, has also become an important forum for the brand over the past year, with K-Deer supplementing its e-commerce website by experimenting with buyable pins.

“Our growth so far has been organic, but we’ve started spending on social over the last three to four months,” said Deer. “At least on Facebook, people no longer see anything unless it’s paid for.”

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