With Mission Statement, her line of chic “high-performance” apparel that launched in October, Hilary Swank — yes, the two-time Oscar-winning actress — is onto something.
She’s not the first celebrity to launch a collection in the space popularly known as athleisure: Beyoncé has Ivy Park, Kate Hudson has Fabletics, Carrie Underwood has Calia — and that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. And, though noteworthy, the fact that she’s setting a precedent for celebs linked with lines (many of whom are cool with contributing their name and calling it a day) is just icing on the cake. (“I’m doing everything,” she said, regarding the business side of Mission Statement, during a recent call from L.A.)
What the brand really has going for it is that it backs two trends that are on the upswing in the athleisure market: a lifestyle component and a look that skews more “ready-to-wear” than “yoga-ready.”
“To me, athleisure still feels like workout wear, and it’s gone about as far as it can go,” said Swank. “Women are ready for the next level of athleisure. I think what we’re doing is creating something new.”
Swank first had the idea for the line 10 years ago, inspired by her own need to go from her workout to the rest of her day without looking like she was wearing gym clothes. “I spent a year taking meetings and cold-calling people, saying, ‘Hi, I’m Hilary Swank. I have an idea, and I’d like to sit down with you,’” she said.
That led to connections, which led to learning the business and the type of team members she wanted to be surrounded by. From there, she scouted her current factories in Italy and Portugal, and befriended the local artisans she now employs. “I know all of their names and specifically what they do with my company,” she said. “I think that’s important.” Today, she’s actively seeking investors in order to expand the direct-to-consumer line. She called menswear, children’s wear and a brick-and-mortar store strong possibilities for the future.
“I really want to know the business inside and out,” she said. “I want to understand it, I want to grow in it, and I really want to build something that I can be proud of.”
Mission Statement — which Swank runs with Carolyn Risoli, who launched Marc by Marc Jacobs and has a long history with LVMH, as well as a co-designer in London — seems to be the right path.
For starters, its message makes it a prime candidate for following in the footsteps of Nike (which seeks to bring inspiration and innovation to everyone, as all are athletes) and Lululemon (with its manifesto centered on living a healthy, hopeful life), leading brands in the space that have successfully connected with like-minded communities.
“One of the incredible things that has come from doing what I do is that people come up to me, and they say, ‘You’ve come from nothing and you’re living your dream, and it’s inspired me to never give up on mine.’” Swank said. “I wanted to continue a movement of women inspiring other women. That was the underlying purpose of the brand.”
To support that purpose, she maintains a regularly updated feature on Mission Statement’s website that highlights three diverse women who have persevered in some way. “It helps us to feel connected and that we’re not alone in our struggles,” she explained.
Considering the saturated market — there’s Kit and Ace, Tory Sport and Sweaty Betty, for starters — reaching shoppers through a relatable message has become key to survival. Athleisure is decidedly booming (in 2016, it reached $45.9 billion in sales, an 11 percent increase from the year prior, according to a report by The NPD Group), but brands that read like outliers in the space — including Urban Outfitters (which phased out its Without Walls athleisure line in 2016, just two years after its launch) and Theory (which scrapped its standalone activewear line, Theory Plus, last year) — have failed to thrive.
“More and more, what sets you apart is what’s going to earn you business,” said Gabrielle Porcaro, the senior fashion and market editor of Women’s Health. “People want to know more – especially if they’re going to be spending $125 on a sports bra. In the case of Hilary’s line, they’re happy to know, ‘I’m giving my money to a brand that celebrates women.’ Post-election, that’s huge.”
Many are also keen on the brand’s extraordinarily polished look, especially given the pieces’ comfort and functionality. “We’ve engineered technical fabrics of the highest standards that allow women to perform at their highest potential,” Swank said. The resulting styles include fit-and-flare frocks, knitwear and jackets that could easily pass for casual wear — many could even work for work.
“I’m calling our stuff ‘aesthetic wear,’” said Swank, throwing another name into the growing list of “elevated athleisure” descriptors that already includes “athluxe” and “femleisure.” The trend no doubt has a lot to do with the widespread move to a casual work environment.
According to the results of a Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor Survey released in February, 71 percent of consumers wear casual clothes to work at least once a week and 69 percent prefer to wear the same outfit throughout the day. Those stats fare well for a company built on versatility, especially one that offers styles like easy dresses and skirts. (After all, casual setting or not, wearing leggings to work doesn’t always fly.)
“I want people to work out in it, I want people to hang out in it, I want people to go out in it, and I want people to feel like they’re living their fullest potential in it,” said Swank, of her designs. “You know that great saying: The definition of luck is when preparation meets with opportunity? 10 years ago, nobody would have been ready for it. Now is the time.”