An Apparel Start-up is Attempting to Reinvent Workout Gear by Making Room for Your Cellphone and Keys


    The Way of Life Athletic Company believes it has a way to shake up the athleisure market which is estimated $44 billion and to challenge the dominance of sportswear juggernauts including Under Armour and Nike.

    The company which is known as Wolaco, is building a fan base by addressing a well-known problem for exercise buffs who usually wear skin-tight “compression gear” athletic clothing.

    Wolaco specializes in men’s athleisure. It makes hoodies, shorts, and workout garb that come with slim, secure pockets to hold various items like keys or cellphones. That way, the wearer of the garment does not have to worry about losing them.

    Terry White, its co-founder, who used to play lacrosse in college at Harvard, remarked that athletes were in dire need of performance gears that were specially designed. The company has developed various products, including hoodies and pants, with what the co-founder calls a “hyper-focus” on durability, function, and comfort.

    “In my opinion, the most overlooked area of the athletic apparel market is the everyday person,” the 28-year-old New Jersey native told CNBC in a recent interview. “We are interested in catering to the everyday consumer and how an active lifestyle fits into what you truly experience, instead of what professionals are wearing during primetime on game day.”

    ‘The only shorts you should wear’

    Funded by a Kickstarter campaign around three years ago that blew beyond a proposed goal by around 400 percent, Wolaco has now enjoyed above $1 million in revenue.

    The apparel of Wolaco has received high praise from its early adopters, such as Tony Richardson, the former NFL running back, who has been a firm supporter of the company since the beginning.

    “These are the only shorts you should wear,” said the former New York Jet and three-time Pro-Bowler.

    Richardson, a triathlon runner, spoke highly of the design of Wolaco. “They allow you to keep things close, right at your hip. If I need to pull something out, it’s right there,” said Richardson, talking about the pocket that was built into its shorts.

    Wolaco is still a small fish in a very large pond that is dominated by the likes of Adidas, Under Armour, and Nike. And its gear retails at a premium: the compression shorts of Wolaco are $50, versus the $14-35 of Under Armour and Nike’s roughly $20.

    It suggests that the company is heavily betting on the functionality and qualityof its apparel — and that the consumers will be prepared to fork extra cash in order to wear the Wolaco brand.

    “Our loyal customer base, mostly comprised of millennials, has proven that they are willing to pay an incremental premium on a higher-quality product that is essential to their daily active routine,” said White in an email to reporters.

    He also discussed the use of Wolaco of “high quality” products, which are domestically manufactured.

    “To command a higher price point, there needs to be perceived exclusivity, brand prestige, benefits or functionality that justifies the price,” stated the CNBC contributor and small business expert, Carol Roth.

    “If they can do that, premium pricing is warranted. If not, customers— even if they buy once —won’t buy again,” added Roth.

    Wolaco is pinning its bets on an internet-based strategy to develop its brand and eat away at the market share of its competitors — and has designed an aggressive timetable to get to the next level.

    “We have a 1-to-3-year window to capitalize on an online approach,” said White, adding that the company is polishing a brand via its website, a growing presence on social media and Amazon.

    “By leveraging social media and online advertising, we can claw at market share,” White added.

    Roth revealed that for a relatively unknown brand, “marketing is everything. You can have the best product in the world, and if nobody knows about it, you don’t have a business,” Roth said.

    Conversely, Roth continued, “you can have a marginal product that, if it has the right marketing, can endure for quite some time.” For a start-up like Wolaco, “with the advantages of the web and social media, companies of all sizes can reach a target market fairly easily and cost-effectively.”

    Evan Betts, a Wilhelmina model and fitness expert, is another regular user of the products of Wolaco.

    “There is something about Wolaco’s construction that makes me feel like I can perform at my best,” said Betts.” I believe they have the sustainability to go places.”

    Wolaco domestically manufactures its products, providing for a quick turnaround on orders and an emphasis on oversight. The company is also increasing its presence in brick-and-mortar retail with a physical store in New York, and will soon introduce a women’s line.

    Start-ups that grew too fast or tried to do too much as reality outstripped ambition are paving the road to success. At least for now, White is positive that the strategy of Wolaco can help launch it into the big leagues.

    “Once you try it, it’s pretty much impossible to go back,” he said. Wolaco is “solving a very tangible problem, but we have only scratched the surface.”