So much for worrying about brand dilution. Today, luxury sports bag company Caraa is launching a collaboration with Gap chain Athleta that puts its name on bags nearly one-third of the price of its core collection.
Caraa has been easing into retailer partnerships since launching as a direct-to-consumer brand in 2015. The Athleta collaboration, set to run through 2018, is composed of five styles — a tote, a backpack, a yoga bag and two versions of a pouch — all priced under $150. It’s Caraa’s largest partnership to date. In 2017, the brand released a limited-edition bag with Equinox, which retailed for $225.
“We’re looking for partners that can help us get more scale,” said Caraa CEO Aaron Luo. “With Athleta, we wanted to learn from them.”
Caraa and Athleta had a trial run of sorts during the 2016 holiday season: Athleta sold a small collection of original Caraa bags, which sell for up to $850, in all nationwide stores and online. The bags sold out immediately, serving as the impetus for the collaboration.
“Our customer comes to us for beautiful pieces that perform,” said Jana Henning, Athleta’s vp of merchandising. “Caraa offers the same thoughtful details, design, performance and versatility.”
For the long-term partnership, however, creating styles that could be sold at prices on par with Athleta’s larger inventory was key. “We pride ourselves on our honest retail prices,” Luo said. “We utilize factories that work with the world’s leading luxury brands, and we source a lot of materials from the same manufacturers and mills. And we wanted to do it without compromising.”
The solution came down to simplifying, by eliminating the bells and whistles found in the core collection and focusing on those Caraa-signature design features that make most sense for the Athleta customer. The Everyday Vinyasa Tote, for example, features a separate compartment at its base for sneakers, a laptop sleeve, a double handle so it can be carried as a shoulder bag and two zippers that allow the user to easily transport a yoga mat. To compare, Caraa’s best-selling Studio Bag can be carried three ways, and has pockets and compartments for everything from wet clothes to sneakers to a gym pass. The Studio Bag is made of “luxury waterproof nylon;” the Athleta tote comes in a custom neoprene.
The Caraa x Athleta bags aren’t available for purchase on the Caraa site, but they are being promoted on a “collaborations” page and on Caraa’s social pages. “We’re in it together,” he said. “We want to collaborate with Athleta to tell the story.”
Outside of collaborators, Caraa is now selling through retailers including Nordstrom and Reebok. In addition, it’s been selling a small selection of styles on Amazon, seemingly unscathed.
“Amazon is a force to be reckoned with,” said Luo. “Because of their size and how they use data to create new products, you can’t beat them. But we’re creators, and we are innovators. We spend our time focusing on design. By the time they go to copy it, we’re on to the next thing.”
As for the Athleta collaboration, he said he will see it as a success if it resonates with customers across both brands — and if it sticks. He pointed to Nike, which collaborates with brands for extended periods.
“Maybe this is a new type of commerce,” he said.