This was the vision shared by three longtime friends almost five years ago, all with extensive fashion backgrounds and a dream to create a brand of their very own, one that tells a different story.
Seems simple enough, and yet what Maggie Winter, Jacqueline Cameron and Max Bonbrest noticed was a gaping hole in an otherwise flooded fashion market. The trio, who met in college, imagined a versatile wardrobe for the busy woman on the go that could be worn all year, rather than flash-in-the-pan, chuck-it-out-next-season high-fashion pieces.
Their motto, “simplify everything”, became the kicking off point for AYR (“All Year Round”), which dropped its first collection in early 2014 and has been on a mission to make women feel comfortable and confident in their favourite pair of jeans ever since. What they couldn’t have anticipated however, was AYR’s almost overnight success, becoming a cult favourite apparel brand among women who embody the “everyday effortless hustle” lifestyle.
HOW IT BEGAN
“It was a really rapid succession of idea, opportunity, challenge,” chief executive officer and co-founder Ms Winter told news.com.au of AYR’s inception at this month’s Lead Summit, a fashion and retail industry event in New York.
“Jac (Cameron) and I were talking about how fast fashion had impacted our wardrobes and we wanted to create the antidote to that. We wanted really purposeful brands that service the modern woman who knew exactly what she wanted and didn’t have time for any bullsh*t, and that’s the idea that turned into AYR.”
But it was a chance meeting with Andy Dunn, CEO and co-founder of Bonobos (an e-commerce-driven apparel subsidiary of Walmart), that led to the launch of the ladies’ digitally native brand, hatched under parent company Bonobos. Ms Winter admits Mr Dunn’s interest in their approach “changed our lives”.
“I met Andy for coffee one morning and he predicted that retail brands would become digital and that it was going to be huge. He wanted to bring his experience to the customer,” she said.
With Ms Winter, a fashion alumna with nearly a decade of experience merchandising at J Crew, and creative director Ms Cameron, former senior designer at Madewell, already at the helm, Ms Bonbrest came on board as brand marketing vice-president to help get AYR (pronounced “air”) off the ground.
Six months later, in February 2014, the female-founded brand — now beloved by the likes of Chrissy Teigen, Emma Stone and Karlie Kloss — was born.
By late 2015, they had established demand and distribution. AYR was promptly spun-off as a separate, direct-to-customer company and, today, the brand designed for the millennial urban consumer is independent and majority founder owned. Bonobos, which was one of the first big digital clothing brands, maintains a minority stake and Mr Dunn remains an adviser.
WHAT IT OFFERS
AYR focuses on no-nonsense essentials such as denim, T-shirts, dresses and jackets, all priced from $US55 ($77) to $US645 ($906). But it is its best-selling, often sold-out jeans — declared “a gift from the denim gods” by Vogue — that first skyrocketed AYR to fame. With a 600-person waitlist before it even launched online, the second supply of the brand’s iconic Form jeans sold out in less than a week.
With early hype like that, and of course the old-as-time tale that you never want something until you can’t have it, AYR quickly became the “anti-fast fashion” label on every modern female consumer’s mind.
Now with bricks-and-mortar stores in New York City and Los Angeles, the designers continue to stay true to their “all year round” promise, delivering a core collection of trend-resistant staples in quality fabrics that blend seamlessly into one’s wardrobe. Offerings range from weekend denim and outerwear to killer office attire.
“We want to lead the change by creating the brand of choice for a new generation of strong, smart women,” AYR’s website boldly states.
“We’re anti-trend,” Ms Winter explained to Fast Company early this year. “We’re not into putting out new collections every six weeks, then marking down the old one.”
Instead, each week AYR releases a batch of new, non-permanent collection items in a limited quantity, allowing the designers to learn from their customers based on their responses to the weekly drops. This also informs the direction of the core collection.
“The idea is that making a long-lasting investment influences not just how we look at our company but how we think about our brand’s place in a woman’s life. We want to make an investment in our customers,” the CEO and co-founder said.
As contemporary brands such as AYR continue to emerge and soar, Ms Winter says her team is always focused on “profitability” — of course. But five years on, and the trio still approaches their beloved brand the same way they approach their friendship.
“Life is changing for women rapidly in every single space,” she says. “Professionally and socially there’s resistance and we see that in every one of these spaces working among us.
“They’re so self-defined and I think … the greatest thing that’s happening right now for us is that we’re able to connect directly to a customer who is merging; she’s only increasing in power. She has so much choice and she has so much access and that’s the most exciting thing about what we’re doing right now.
“And women remain at the core. That said, our jeans are the best in the market and people are talking about them.”