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Why Product Innovation was the Star of Halara’s SoHo Pop-Up

Halara, the athleisure brand turned social media sensation, put its product innovation on display at its recent SoHo NYC pop-up as part of a long-term differentiation strategy.
Photo credit: Halara

The global athleisure market is projected to grow 9.3% each year through 2030, reaching $358.07 billion in total value, according to Grand View Research. The firm noted that “the global shift towards more casual and adaptable attire has propelled athleisure into the forefront of fashion.”

Gabby Hirata, Global Brand President for Halara, agrees with this analysis, and it’s why she’s putting the brand’s product innovation at the forefront of its growth initiatives. In fact, the brand’s distinct approach to product development, which combines machine learning, consumer feedback and material innovation, was the focal point of its recent 10-day pop-up experience in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood.

Located at 470 Broadway, the 3,500-square-foot store was designed to intentionally spotlight the technical aspects of Halara’s products, which span sundresses to workout gear to denim and even a specific model of work pants that has gone viral several times. “Most of the resources at this company are spent on fabric research and development and supply chain,” Hirata said in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “There’s a lot of proprietary work happening behind the scenes to make the product that you see. From day one, everything has been made using activewear fabric or functionality. That is going to forever be an anchoring point for our unique value proposition.”

This value proposition is so central to the brand that it was visually integrated into the core pop-up design. Although there was a fun pickleball-themed corner primed for social media photo shoots, one wall featured storytelling elements focused on the brand’s fabric innovation. And behind a rack of dresses, there was an expansive visual element displaying the Halara product innovation journey — and the specific role that customers play in the process.

Hirata shared insight into one visual element — the evolution of the Twisted Backless Dress — as an example. The skater-style dress is designed with biker shorts attached, creating a fun and functional fashion item primed for everyday use. But more than 10,000 social media comments on the brand’s accounts focused revealed that consumers wanted the dress to be a bit more bathroom-break-friendly. The product team went on to add a pull-down feature at the waist to address this issue, improving the quality and value of the dress design.

“Our job is to scale in a systematic way, analyze those needs and be the best executor in the world to make these products happen — at the right quality and price point,” Hirata said. “If you ask, we’re going to try our best to do it. That’s our core internal operating principle, together with testing and learning.”

Originally, Halara had a design concept for the pop-up that more directly reflected its presence on social media and other digital channels. However, the team ultimately decided against it because “the future of the Halara brand is all about living an active life,” Hirata explained — whether that means playing a game of pickleball or being able to stay comfortable and cool on a day out with your kids.

An inside look at the Halara pop-up, which includes vibrant and sweeping visual elements. Photo credit: Halara

A Framework for In-Store Success

Hirata told Retail TouchPoints that the SoHo pop-up was a “huge success,” with nearly 1,000 daily visitors on weekend days and 33 SKUs selling out by the end of the pop-up’s duration. “We even had customers driving from as far as Philadelphia to shop in person, and some volunteered to support future pop-ups or participate in our next crowd-testing sessions,” she said. “These results highlight the positive reception of our pop-up strategy and the strong connection we have with our community.”

Halara initially decided to invest in brick-and-mortar after seeing countless comments on social media, through direct messages and even in product reviews online. “Among the potential customers who say they want to try Halara but haven’t, one of the top reasons is that they wish there were a physical store so they could try items on and that they were easier to return,” said Hirata. “It is a way for these customers to trust Halara more.”

Due to the SoHo pop-up’s success and ongoing feedback from its customer community, Halara plans to open five more pop-ups across the U.S. over the next 12 months and at least 15 in the following year, Hirata revealed. More than 100 of Halara’s Instagram followers went as far as to comment on pop-up-related posts to suggest the next city where Halara should land.

No matter where the brand goes next, the storefronts will model the SoHo location, which Hirata believes has more of a flagship feel. For example, the space included an experimental area called Halara Fireside Chat: What Moves You, which was designed to host intimate conversations with dedicated communities and nonprofits such as The Opportunity Network.

Additionally, the brand will continue to mine and incorporate feedback from consumers, both online and from the New York City store, to refine the design and flow of future spaces, according to Hirata. “Test and learn is very important to our company culture, so we’ll keep working to answer some key open-ended questions, such as: What is the best way to talk about fabric R&D in the crowd design journey? How can we gather communities in real time and in real life, just like we connect with communities on social media?”

A crowd of eager shoppers waiting to step inside the Halara SoHo pop-up store. Photo credit: Halara

A Year for Brand Development

Halara spent the first three years of its existence developing its operations and ensuring it had a flawless product development engine. “The whole company was focused on building the infrastructure and making a product so irresistible from a value, quality, fabric and R&D perspective,” Hirata said.

However, the year since Hirata joined the Halara business has revolved around developing the brand identity and what the team wants to exude across channels, from social media to physical stores.

The slight challenge in developing this brand identity is that Halara wasn’t created to represent a particular lifestyle or even to be an aspirational brand. “Halara could not be more opposite to aspirational — we think every lifestyle,” Hirata explained. “There’s no single best way to look or live.”

Because Halara’s expansive assortment is designed to address the needs of so many different consumers and their unique tastes and lifestyles, social media has been a “formidable” touch point for the brand’s growth, according to Hirata, with Instagram, TikTok and YouTube being the brand’s top channels. In fact, the brand has gone viral several times for its cute-yet-comfortable items, especially among fitness and mom influencers.

“Any given month on Instagram alone, we have roughly 10 million views or impressions,” Hirata said. “Our engagement rate was what we were known for because we have a variety of content creators that create user-generated content — I know that’s how I saw the brand for the first time — and they’re amazing. These creators are highly engaging because they’re speaking their personal stories.”

But now, Hirata and her team are focused on building the Halara story and its core brand pillars — and the SoHo pop-up provides a viable foundation for that core work. “As we enter year two of the brand equity journey, we’re creating the original playbook for how we can exude the Halara brand filter while still doing everything [in a way that’s] highly individualistic, highly authentic and highly anchored in the job millions of consumers have hired us to do when they buy our products.”

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