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Startup of The Month for September, Oola is for the pioneers!
Every month, Fashion Technology Accelerator goes deep into the startup world to find up-and-coming interesting fashion tech players: we discover and bring to you the most innovative startups on the field. For this month, we’ve selected Oola Sports. Our team will present the highlights, the best practices and peculiarities of selected companies, to spark and inspire the debate. Enjoy the reading, then!
The vision that motivates Oola Sports to design performance-driven, modest activewear is the belief that every woman has the strengths to push boundaries and can only unlock her full potential if equipped with the right tools.
Oola Sports’ insight has come out of a real necessity: friends Haya Al Ghanim and Amina Ahmadi bonded while training for a Mount Kilimanjaro hike over the difficulties they both had finding sports hijabs and performance garments that met their hiking needs, while being aligned with their values. A market opportunity was there.
As many other women wanting to enjoy the great outdoors, they had found themselves in a tiring hunt to find appropriate athletic wear, that often resulted in mix-and-matching a lot of pieces to make an unpractical outfit.
At the end of the Kilimanjaro hike, the two women went back home to Doha, Qatar, remaining resolute about being able to provide Muslim women with a whole new experience in sports and fitness. They have partnered up with friend and fashion designer, Lilian Gabriel de Almeida Barbosa and founded Oola Sports — producing women wear that performs and comes in modest styles, without compromising on either.
Operatively, they were ready with a plan in mind. Their first step, after the product idea and design came to surface, was the necessity to approach the market: how doing so? After participating to FTA’s training program Fast Track, they launched a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo. Which, for the record, achieved 223% of the initial request, in terms of fund-raising.
But the success’ value wasn’t lying only in the amount achieved. The raisers gave much more than dollars to Oola, they gave market validation to the project, and further insights. The concept and designs have been very well received, as a first stance, and the move generated a tool of content marketing: the type of traction got the company learning a lot about their prospects and consumers.
The story about Oola Sports went through the internet and got them a good buzz, which led to the point that investors showed up and started seeding in the company. All this was adding substance to the small team, which has been subsequently enlarged and enriched by advisors supporting Oola’s vision, nationally and internationally.
The campaign was a mean to expose the project and the brand, as every startup needs to find the appropriate path to ticking all the important boxes to be on the market and validate their project. – Haya Al Ghanim
Oola discovered their target customers, too, deeply enough. These women are career-driven, modest females aged between 25-45, who are frequent travelers and lovers of outdoor adventures. Some of them choose to refrain from participating in outdoor activities due to the lack of proper activewear accommodating their need for modesty. Others, extremely driven to participate in outdoor activities, opt to layering 5-8 pieces of clothing to reach a reasonable solution they can use modestly, though it compromises functionality and style. And this knowledge led to another important point for the brand: the opportunity to diversify and compliment the push-and-pull digital marketing activities with live events.
Alongside the active blog complimenting the e-commerce, which is animated by frequent interviews, stories and updates from both users and athletes, the social media marketing efforts are made stronger by the offline presence that the company is deploying in organizing athletic trials and running events to evangelize the brand.
When we’ve started, it made perfect sense to us to reach out also physically to our targets. Events are in line with our mission to give more women access to outdoor sports, and this way we can grow our community. It also makes business sense. We’re launching new products and the probability of purchase increases with feeling and trying our garments, so we create those opportunities to be in front of customers. Last but not least, we want to get feedback. One of our competitive advantages is that we’re very close to customers and know what they want so we make it. – Amina Ahmadi
Loose-fitting, yet contemporary and elegant sportswear, has been long-time underserved by other market players. The current options are usually too tight, too short, see-through or revealing. And this is another opportunity that paved the way to product-innovation. The choices of materials and technical sports fabrics, combined with minimal graphism, made a huge difference in terms of business development, too.
Our aim is to grow the brand to become the first option women think of for loose-fitting activewear and sports hijabs. We love the outdoors. We want to be comfortable while we exercise. And we want our friends to be able to join, too. Plus, I believe when women experience outdoor activities, they’re more likely to influence and encourage their children to be active. In founding Oola Sports, we can be part of creating a healthy lifestyle for the next generation. – Haya Al Ghanim
For years, alternative functional solutions would mean to layer up various women’s Sportswear garments from different brands or borrow from men’s sportswear as they fit loose on ladies. Nowadays, modest sportswear is becoming more widely known and available, especially on-line. The demand for quality technical wear has even attracted a giant as Nike into the arena, but the market is still very much in its early stages.
Oola is in the right place at the right moment. And it never stops, apparently, as the unwavering drive of Oola’s founders, draw by the positive sentiment shared by their customers, on many levels. Fun fact: several ladies admitted they never had a chance to participate in outdoor activities with their children due to the lack of suitable activewear. Giving mothers the opportunity to run alongside their children outdoors comfortably is one of many reasons they’re making Oola available. Are there new niches to explore? Who knows…