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Wilton Duo Launches Fitness Fashion Boutique

In two short years, Maxine Berg and Lindsay Prospect grew their workout apparel business, Jade, from dream to the reality of opening their Darien store. In the process they won loyal customers and evolved from novices to savvy community retailers.

When Wilton residents Maxine Berg and Lindsay Prospect were brainstorming names for their women’s activewear business, one things they heard was that you can’t go wrong with choosing a flower or color.

“We tossed around so many things. Lindsay likes blue, so we tried ‘Sapphire.’ Someone suggested ‘Peridot.’ We knew we weren’t going the “Wilton Workout Wear” route. We wanted something special. Then someone suggested ‘Jade,’” Berg explained.

Prospect added, “We Googled Jade, and learned it’s associated with peace, harmony, health, balance. That sealed the deal. What else goes with fitness and yoga and health, better than that?”

That was two years ago. Since then, Berg and Prospect have grown their business from an idea shared by two retail novices, into the reality of their new Darien store.

“The store was always our goal,” Prospect explained. “We started with trunk shows because neither one of us had any experience in retail.”

“But we were both very good shoppers,” Berg added, making the duo laugh. “But it helps. We had this vision of what we could create and what we wanted it took look like.”

Moms itching to get back to work

Before starting Jade, the two women were friends who occasionally bumped into one another on the tennis court or crossed paths because they had kids around the same age. They’d both stepped out of their respective career paths after starting families—Maxine was a former litigator in New York City, and Lindsay had been a consultant in the insurance industry with an MBA—but each was looking to get back to work, although not in the professions they had left behind.

“I had done the travel and the hard work, and didn’t want to be away from my kids,” Prospect said.

A chance meeting spurred a conversation between the two women, and they discovered they each had been contemplating the same thing.

“I told her I had been thinking a lot about an idea I had for a business, that I would love to open a store, and sell great workout clothes. She wrote me a very long, well-thought out email a few days later, saying, ‘I have had that same idea for a while, would you consider talking to me?’ I was ready to do something but had never thought about a partner,” Berg recalled.

They wanted to focus on high-end fitness wear that gave people options different from stores like Lululemon. Using their business experience, they did some market research and spent time with the small business counselors at SCORE, who mentored the two women as they developed their business plan. They also took a well-known course with fashion and retail industry expert Mercedes Gonzales on opening a retail store. “We really tried to do our research,” Berg said. “We didn’t just want to jump into it, we wanted it to be real and successful.”

They spent a lot of time finding exactly the right product, going to apparel showrooms and trade shows. But knowing that they didn’t yet have enough experience to invest time and money into opening a store at that point, they came up with the idea of a mobile trunk show. They rented small venues and did amazingly well at mini-pop-up styled sales, and started making frequent appearances at fitness clubs and other locations with their specialty apparel lines.

Their dedication paid off, as they rapidly developed a loyal clientele and were able to grow rather quickly. Along the way, they’ve had to be quick studies as they picked up valuable experience.

“We had a few pieces from some of our workout-wear lines that were more lifestyle. They weren’t meant to exercise in. Those things went flying off the racks. So we said, ‘Let’s expand a little, instead of just being fitness people.’ We jumped right on it. Price wasn’t really an object. It wasn’t too expensive, but they were casual-wear items that I don’t think customers expected to see. People who came to our trunk shows expected to buy yoga pants, but fell in love with a $148 jacket—we sold out of those on day one,” Berg recounted.

A perfect store location

With a large customer following and an apparent knack for finding their market niche, both women felt it was time to open a brick-and-mortar store. The duo knew that they wanted to open a Jade store in either Darien or New Canaan, as neither town had a larger fitness apparel retailer.

They found a spot in Darien’s Goodwives Shopping Center, a location they call ideal for several reasons—there is no other boutique or clothing store in the shopping center, and they’re close to other locations that will attract a similar customer base: Flair fitness studio, the Andrew Stefanou Salon, Stop & Shop, several upscale restaurants and a new fitness club called Koko.

“We had this vision of exactly what we wanted. It’s like when you’re looking for that perfect dress, and you never find it? Well, we found it. We got kind of lucky. This is a great community, a great shopping plaza, connected to an awesome fitness studio. As opposed to being some stand-alone in just some town, we’ll be someplace that’s very unique and where there’s nothing else like us,” Berg said.

They had hoped to be open officially by now, but construction on their space was delayed a bit. They’re currently operating out of in temporary digs in the Goodwives plaza that they’re calling a “pop-up store,” right next door to their eventual location as it’s being built. When it’s finished, their 500 sq. ft. retail space will be nestled nicely alongside Flair’s new 3,500 sq. ft. fitness studio.

“People will be able to come into our store through our front door or from Flair. They’ll have two beautiful, huge studios, showers, it will be a really beautiful space,” Berg said. Both Jade and Flair are targeting an opening right after the New Year.

Emphasis on quality items, service

Both women agree that the time they spent on researching quality brands to carry has paid off.

“We try to find boutique-y lines. You really won’t see these in another store. We don’t have an exclusive with many of them, per se, but nobody else around here carries them. And they really are such great quality—these are yoga pants that if you treat them nicely, they’ll last forever,” Berg said.

Among the fitness wear lines Jade carries are Zobha, Lucy, 15Love, Nux, Ion, Rese, Beyond Yoga and PrismSport. Their lifestyle best sellers include Hard Tail, Pink Lotus, Green Dragon, Jana, Barbara Lesser, BodyFit, Capote, Gypsy Daisy, Language, Coobie and Yoga Jeans.

“Our success is really based on the knowledge of our lines—we know our lines inside and out. I can take a look at your figure, and I can narrow down from eight styles of pants to the three I think will look right. I know how they fit, I know who’ll they’ll look good on, and we can help in a very personalized sort of way,” Prospect said.

Her partner added, “So much of what we want to do is really customer service related, like the old fashioned stores. When we get things we think specific people will like, we try to let them know. We’ll see items at trade shows we think someone will like—we saw one top for a customer, we knew she would love it, even if it’s something we don’t carry. We got it for her, and she loved it. It made her happy. We try to do that, to make our customers happy.”

One of the things Berg says should make local Darien customers happy is that Jade was able to pick up Lucy’s line of workout clothes after the popular Darien location of Lucy recently closed. “People in Darien will be very pleased about that.”

It seems Darien shoppers already are happy with what they’re finding at Jade.

Jo DeLuca—who teaches several Zumba classes a week at Flair and other fitness spots in Darien, and is a self-described “Darien mom”—shopped the boutique one recent afternoon. She said she has lots of regular students in her classes who she knows will love the fitness apparel they’ll find in Jade.

“This town needs independent retailers, and it’s such a great fit. I’ve been in other gym and exercise clothing stores, and I couldn’t find a single thing I wanted to buy, but I can find 20 things here I want to get. This is stuff I haven’t seen anywhere else. I think they’re going to do fantastic.”

Jade is located in the Goodwives Shopping Center, 25 Old Kings Highway North, in Darien. They also have a webstie, www.jadeactive.com.

Susanne Schmidt November 29, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Congratulations girls!!! I wish you all the best! Susanne Schmidt Wilton

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