Elevating a brand to the desired level of sophistication can mean, in some cases, burning the original idea to the ground.
Such was the case for Marcello Leone, CEO of the Vancouver-based clothing company RYU (Respect Your Universe) and member of the prestigious Leone family who founded the eponymous boutique (though it is now under new ownership). From the ashes of what RYU once was—an athletic company with quality product lacking style—emerged a brand of sleek technical apparel engineered for both multi-discipline athletes and everyday workers.
Since day one, Leone’s strategic long-term vision was to reinvent the athletic apparel industry. He believes that athletic wear is as important as the jean was 25 years ago: a go-to garment with nothing but growth expected in the sector. Projections aside, the fact that stretchy pants and zip-ups have crept into our closets as an acceptable outfit choice is obvious. We live in a world where feeling good and looking good are congruent, and with active wear becoming more comfortable, practical, and stylish, it’s a gravitational pull for the masses.
To make RYU stand out in an already crowded marketplace, Leone married sleek Italian style with innovative training apparel. “We wanted to be different than the iconic brands we’re competing with: timeless and clean, not your stereotypical athletic wear,” he says. “We made sure that everything has a technical component to it—whether it’s style or fabrication, everything had to have a game-changing detail.” The repurposed DNA of RYU is reflected in its “beautiful tough” philosophy. Inspired by the concept that beauty is strength, determination, honour, and respect, Leone says the gear is built tough enough for your hardest workout, yet attractive enough to wear throughout your day.
RYU’s newly opened flagship retail store on West 4th Avenue in Kitsilano further reflects that ethos. The two-level store is open and airy, using a grey, black, and white colour scheme with highlights of wood—emanating feelings of both elegance and endurance. The space features a nutrition bar, seating areas with charging stations, and free Wi-Fi. All employees are equipped with roaming iPads so that the in-store experience can be tied in with the virtual one, providing instant information about how the garments were made and how to best take care of them.
Much like training for a marathon, getting RYU to where it is now was a slow and steady progression. It took months of strategy and overhaul, evaluation, and preparation. At RYU’s soft opening, a video showing the basis of its rebranding played against the concrete wall. There is a connection between marginal gains and overall success, the video said. Between looking good and feeling strong. It felt like the moment a runner takes his position at the starting line. Foot at the ready. Breathe in. Go.
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