Carbon38 pioneered the multi-brand luxury athletic retail concept.
Photo Courtesy of Carbon38
In the first episode of Apple TV’s new show Physical, starring Rose Byrne, it’s evident how fashion and workout wear converged since the fitness boom in the 1980s. Fast-forward to today, when wearing athleisure styles crept into some corporate work attires. No one was poised better to capitalize on this emerging trend of blurring the lines between street and gym wear than Carbon38 founder Katie Warner Johnson. The CEO blended her Harvard degree and fitness trainer skills to launch the premier luxury athletic multi-brand retailer with a mission to boost other female-led brands along the way.
Upon graduating with a BA in art history and architecture, Warner Johnson deferred a job offer from Deutsche Bank to continue her other passion, ballet. That dream was stalled due to several injuries, but rather than fall back on finance; she became a coveted fitness trainer in Los Angeles. “I was a fitness instructor and thus lived in spandex,” says Warner Johnson of how the brand was hatched.
Katie Warner Johnson, Founder and CEO of Carbon38
Photo Courtesy of Carbon38
“I got to know cool, up and coming brands, the majority of which were run by women. I found these brands wanted to go after the major players in the activewear space, but rather than do that; my thought was to stitch together the micro-players and crowdsource our way to success.” An invitation to the 2012 Women 2.0 startup conference weekend in San Francisco helped cement the idea.
The name sprang from the CEO’s passion for the periodic table, and in 2014 the brand launched with five brands. “Carbon is one of the most abundant elements in our bodies, and it felt compelling for the business I was beginning to create,” she explains. They have worked with over 260 brands to date, 75% of which are run or founded by women. “It is important to me to support fellow female leaders – Carbon38 exists because of them,” asserts Warner Johnson.
The site carries Adidas by Stella McCartney, LoveShackFancy, Balmain, Reebok X Victoria Beckham and Sweaty Betty, among others. The looks promote a style that blends activewear’s DNA with fashion ready-to-wear silhouettes, an empowering look for modern women.
The fitness pro dialed into her finance acumen culled from college experience, growing the company from $0 to over $50M, raising successful funding rounds, and hiring the right industry leaders to support the vision.
The fitness universe was a community long before social media and the internet was buzzing with them. It proved to be the retailer’s first marketing vehicle, with Warner Johnson serving as the first brand ambassador. “I served as our first ambassador, wearing the newest styles on Carbon38 to my morning fitness classes. By the time I made it home from the studio, we had hit our daily sales goal.” She credits the ambassadors with Carbon38’s founding and success.
The company has a network of thousands of fitness instructors in 23 countries serving as ‘evangelists for the brand,’ as she puts it. “Today’s consumers can spot a fake endorsement in one glance. When there is a genuine bond between brand and partner, consumers feel it, believe it, and buy into it. Cultivating an authentic ambassador network has been our mission at Carbon38.”
Recently, the brand launched the ‘At Our Core’ campaign that highlights the female ambassadors’ roles and social …….