Don't say these words to an entrepreneur, especially one who has a passion for powerlifting & crossfit.
"Either look good or feel comfortable, you can’t have both."
In this interview, we speak with Axel Brunn, Founder of Aesparel. It was an absolute delight meeting Axel at ISPO Munich.
Axel is a gentle giant of a man who is taking the athleisure sector by storm, with his new range of stretch shirts, blouses & jeans for the athletic muscular build.
Let's find out about Axel's journey into the world of sports startups...
(YOU WONT BE DISAPPOINTED BY THE LEVEL OF DETAIL IN THIS ARTICLE!)
AB: The founding story behind “Aesparel” is a very personal one and when I tell it, many people say it sounds like right out of a picture book.
It all started with my former job as a management consultant which required me to wear dress shirts in combination with jeans or suits daily. As an avid sportsman with a fable for powerlifting and Crossfit I always had a hard time finding shirts and jeans with the right fit. If you hit the gym from time to time you probably know that shopping trips can become really annoying if you have a more athletic build. So one day when I was trying to get some new dress shirts and a pair of jeans, I was sent to the plus-size section due to my collar- and quad size.
The committed employee offered me an XXL sized comfort fit shirt that looked more like a night dress than a dress shirt and after trying on the fifth pair of rigid and tight jeans that wouldn’t allow me to crouch he stated “Either look good or feel comfortable, you can’t have both.” I went home with nothing but this irritating statement sticking to my mind.
In the evening, I had a chat with some of my gym buddies about finding casual and business apparel just to find out that everybody had his very own story of frustration and failure to tell, no matter if male or female.
So, I decided to contact my old friend from elementary, Marco. Since I knew that he also loved sports and started a career as a fashion designer and I was hoping that he could help me and my buddies find a brand that suits our needs. But as it turned out there was no such brand on the market, yet. Instead, we teamed up together with my girlfriend Dina who is a fitness trainer and yoga teacher and started our own brand to fill this gap and to take a stand for all athletes out there!
AB: This may sound odd, but the first thing we did was to set up our very own gym right next to our office room.
AB: From my personal experience the gym has always been a place for inspiration, learning and continuous improvement.
No matter if you beat your own records, learn a new exercise from a friend or if you have an inspiring chat in a set pause, you always leave the gym with a positive feeling, with new inspiration and as a little better version of yourself.
All features that are pivotal for a successful brand building process! No wonder we quickly agreed that we want to make the gym a fixed part of our daily office life. So, we asked around for used gym equipment and I spent some of my personal savings to build up a small, yet fully equipped bodybuilding, powerlifting and CrossFit gym next door to our office! And it payed off right away.
Stuck formulating your email? Go bench some iron to free your mind!
Feeling tired after a long day of work? Have a workout with your friends to refuel your energy!
Angry at this stupid excel-sheet that just won’t work? Punch a sandbag as if it was his fault!
BR: Only at Axel's place!
AB: Another great benefit is the possibility to invite all our gym buddies, sportive friends and even professional athletes from various disciplines for open-gym workouts. Because nobody can give you better advice on the problems, specific needs and unfulfilled wishes of your target group than your future customers themselves. Also, this way we have the possibility to acquire a great number of body measurements in order to optimise our cutting patterns. But the best part is probably that we have a lot of athletes from different disciplines (from pro-body-building over calisthenics and CrossFit to Ultra-Marathon running and Free-Running) joining our workouts. This way, everybody can contribute his individual strengths and abilities and at the same time learn new techniques and approaches from other athletes.
Also, it’s always funny to see them (and us) trying out a discipline they have never done before! Just imagine a pro-bodybuilder trying to compete in a CrossFit workout – great fun!
AB: The product design process was very time intensive as we had to run through several iteration cycles and reworked specific details of every product multiple times.
The goal was to get a profound understanding of the needs and desires that men and women who are active in sports have in regards of their everyday apparel. Through conversations in our open gym sessions and many visits in CrossFit boxes, gyms and other sporting facilities like yoga studios and soccer clubs we generated a clear picture of what key features our apparel should have. It also helped us define what our brand and apparel will not stand for (i.e. the bulky looking, aggressively styled gym apparel which some bodybuilders have a fable for). In addition, we took dozens of measures to gather a statistically relevant amount of data for the creation of our sizing tables.
The most challenging part was to develop sizing tables and choose materials that suit the different needs and body shapes of a diverse sportive target audience.
To make things even harder, we decided to have a radically new approach towards upper body sizing. Instead of choosing the collar size, which doesn’t say anything about your actual body shape, as our primary sizing measure, we were looking for a more meaningful measure. Thus, we have conducted a correlation analysis of all our different body measures and found out that there are two measures that are specifically suitable to create perfectly fitting upper body apparel: The chest and the waist size. Since we were the first ones to come up with this idea, there were no other sizing models that we could lean on and we had to build up our own one from the scratch.
Also, we had to make a differentiation of the needs of male and female athletes. We found out that male athletes usually have greater fitting problems due to their V-shaped upper body and bigger quads and hamstrings. Also, it became clear that we need to make our jeans extra durable and friction resistant to avoid crotch-splits.
Female athletes on the other side have an even bigger need for flexibility and great freedom of motion. So, we chose the materials and the cutting patterns accordingly and tested them in 3 generations of prototypes under real life conditions until we were 100% sure that we have created the best product possible. Thankfully, after several failed attempts, we finally found a production partner who was supportive and willing to pay attention to our demands even though we were only a little start-up company.
This is also my personal lesson learned: Building up a reliable and long-term oriented supply chain and supplier network and is probably the hardest task for an apparel start-up and should be taken care of as the very first thing, even prior to the prototyping phase!
AB: Our market research has shown that major brands either put their focus on functionality, comfort and great fit (typically sportswear brands) or on aesthetic looks and elaborated optical features (typically causal and business brands). With Aesparel we want to be a rule breaker and combine the benefits of these two worlds.
All our products are designed to deliver the athletic fit, comfort, freedom of motion and functionality of your favourite gym-, yoga- or outdoor apparel while also providing you the aesthetic looks of premium casual- and business wear.
Sounds fancy, right?
But what does that mean precisely? Here are some examples:
You all probably have experienced the issue of dress shirts and blouses that have a great chest and collar fit, but are cut way too wide at the waist, forcing you to cram all that excess fabric into the backside of your trousers. Often the only alternative is to have your shirts or blouses tailor made. We have taken care of this issue for once and for all by inventing the modular sizing table which provides you a tailor like fit right off the shelf, regardless of your build, by giving you the possibility to freely combine chest- and waist sizes.
So, if you just started hitting the gym, you choose M/S (Chest: Medium, Waist: Small). As you keep training and grow more muscle, you can size up to L/S (Chest: Large/ Waist: Small). You keep up your training, but you decide to boost up your calories you may end up wearing XL/M (Chest: Extra Large, Waist: Large) and so on. The same goes for our blouses.
To maximize the wearing comfort and provide a first-class touch sensation, we have selected a 100% cotton stretch fabric. As the name already says, the shirts and blouses are made of a 100% premium cotton; but still have a fair amount of stretch to make sure that you do not experience any inhibition in your freedom of motion.
Thanks to an innovative fabric with Cordura fiber mixed in, our men’s denim is super tear and reaming resistant while still providing a good amount of stretch and the look and feel of traditional blue jeans. Our girl’s jeans come with power-stretch denim that has a superior stretch capability, shape supporting functionality and again, the look and feel of traditional blue jeans. Both have an athletic cut that provides more space for bigger quads and glutes. The women’s jeans also have a higher back rise to prevent slipping down while squatting.
These are just some of the features that we have come up with to make you feel and look as good as you do in your favourite sportswear, even while you’re not in the gym!
BR: Just some of the features! What if Apple did apparel?...
AB: Luckily, we have found great acceptance and support in the German sports community from the very first day of our Kickstarter Campaign. Especially CrossFit athletes, boxes and communities have been a huge multiplier for our brand awareness and sales.
Another great success for us was to be chosen as a finalist and one of the most promising start-ups in the category “Athleisure” at the ISPO Brand New Award. The ISPO (International Sports Fair) is the world’s biggest sports fair and is known to promote new trends in the sports and sports fashion industry.
The fact alone, that the category “Athleisure” was created, is a great proof that there is a growing demand for athletic apparel for the off-gym times!
Finally, one of the best decisions was to set up a testimonial programme. We have started to cooperate with (semi-) professional athletes of all disciplines to carry out the message of our new brand! The feedback was overwhelming and exceeded all our expectations.
Today, only a couple of month since the start of the programme, we have exceptional athletes like Dominik Sky (Calisthenics professional, free runner and successful YouTuber), Andreas Kraniotakes (German MMA Heavyweight Champion), Markus Schierloh (Mr. Universe) and Jeanne Rossarie (World Class CrossFit athlete) acting as official Aesparel brand ambassadors.
Summing up the facts we are really happy about our first steps on the market and about the great support and positive feedback that we got from all sides. Yet it would be an exaggeration to say that starting and growing a new fashion brand is a piece of cake. We have invested two years of hard work, many thousand miles in the car and a lot of our private financial resources to keep the ball rolling.
This includes a lot of work without results (i.e. a 2-day trip to Switzerland for a meeting that gets cancelled 15 minutes prior to the start), making a lot of mistakes (i.e. thinking that setting up an international web shop can be done in 2 days) and dealing with unforeseen problems (i.e. one of our testimonials tearing off both of his triceps during a workout just before a planned photo shooting). But on the other hand, these hurdles and unforeseen events make our everyday work life really exciting and give us a lot of opportunities for our personal development!
AB: We want to become the one brand to supply all the daily apparel needs of athletes and everyone who has a passion for doing sports!
As we speak we have some exciting new products under development, for example new washes for our denim and an athletic hoodie that is functional and aesthetic enough to be worn even at the office!
As we go, we are lucky enough to get more inspiration and product ideas from our fan base than we could possibly even handle. Our midterm goals include jackets, blazers, complete suits and a big variety of elaborate casual apparel.
But to us, connecting with our fan base and growing a community of athletes who have a fable for fashion is even more important than our future product line. We really want to make a difference and always have an open ear for all our customers, fans and cooperation partners.
We even hand out a personalized “Thank you” cards with my private mobile number and Whatsapp contact with every order so that I can get personally involved with the growing Aesparel family!
BR: Well, if you have made it all the way down to this section of the interview then you will agree that Axel provided an outstanding interview, describing everything about his vision for the company and his passion for Aesparel customers. To give out your Whatsapp contact is a touch that I have never seen before. Axel - you are brave!
Here at Kit Radar we think Aesparel is fantastic, tackling an exciting new area of sports clothing.
If you would like to view the products, click the link below:
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