The fascinating thing about free markets is that there’s always opportunity—even in what some might think of as an overcrowded space like athleisure wear.
“No matter what I was doing, I always found myself wearing workout clothes because of the convenience and comfort level. But, it never felt like an outfit and it definitely wasn’t transitional,” states Lindsey Carter, the founder of SETactive, an elevated everyday direct-to-consumer activewear brand. “I was obsessed with finding a look that I could ‘do it all’ in. Instead what I found was that there was room in the market for clothing that was equally functional and chic.”
I wear a lot of athletic wear (and even more these days), but what struck me about SETactive’s pieces were the subtle detailing in the brand’s proprietary SCULPTFLEX fabric (a microfiber nylon and spandex blend) and the overall fit. The sports bra and leggings offer a good amount of compression, but didn’t give me a headache or make me feel like an overstuffed sausage by the end of the day. Another selling point for me with the leggings specifically was that my lady parts didn’t telegraph through—something any regular legging wearer can relate to and was an issue that was top of mind for Carter to solve.
“These were problems that I experienced firsthand and was determined to address,” Carter says. “Our seamless fabric was specifically made for us. I went through roughly 90 samples before arriving at the final product. Our factory in China makes this fabric exclusively for us—no one else can get it.”
Carter was going to launch another line to expand the brand’s offerings—then the pandemic happened.
“Some people enjoy a more relaxed feel so we were going to introduce LUXFORM, our ultra-flexible yet form fitting cut and sew blend that has an incredibly soft hand-feel and offers a little bit of compression. We wanted it to look like SET, but not be seamless.” The launch of this line (like many things) is TBD.
“Two major things differentiate us from other athleisure brands,” explains Carter. “The quality of our product will always be a priority. Each piece is made with high quality material, thoughtful design, and minimal branding, so that SET can serve as the building blocks for any outfit.” Another unique aspect of SETactive is their limited edition colorways that don’t follow seasonal trends. “We want our consumers to be feel comfortable, confident, and be able to style SET for anything, from the workday to a workout.”
Prior to SETactive, Carter had a stint in production followed by working as a social media and marketing manager for several companies before launching her own social media company. “While I absolutely loved coming up with strategy and being creative, eventually I decided that I wanted to shift gears and apply what I had learned managing other people’s brands to my own brand—and that’s how SET was born,” she tells me.
With an investment of $ 20,000, which she slapped on a credit card, Carter launched SETactive in 2017 as a ‘community first’ brand.
“What that means is we watch what our community buys, listen to what they say, and see what they share, and we use all of their feedback to help drive innovation,” explains Carter. “We love involving the community to help us pick new colors, evolve our business model, and design future products. Because our community genuinely feels like they are part of SET’s growth, the second they receive their packages they’re extra excited to tag us in their outfits (sometimes with the tags still hanging) to show us how they’re styling their SETs”.
SETactive’s latest colorways were dropped as the pandemic unfolded. “Our community had been waiting for that drop since the end of January. I struggled with being genuinely sensitive to what was going on around the world, but also empathizing with our community to deliver what they’d been waiting patiently for,” Carter tells me. Before the brand went forward with the release they polled their customer base whether the brand should go ahead as planned, or should wait. “They pretty much unanimously agreed that they wanted the product.”
Having direct contact with your customer base as a direct-to-consumer brand has its perks. “There were so many unknowns when we launched,’ shares Carter. “When would the virus be over? Is our shipping factory going to close? How can we shoot fresh content while maintaining social distancing? All in all, our team has gone above and beyond to come up with creative solutions for anything thrown our way. I’m really proud to say it was one of our best launches to date.”
Like so many businesses, the pandemic hit SETactive hard. The brand’s SCULPTFLEX leggings and sports bras are made overseas in China. “Those factories actually saw their biggest impact in December-February. That meant our latest colorway drop was delayed by three months, and we had no new product to release during that time,” Carter tells me. While those factories have now reopened, the brand’s Los Angeles manufacturers, where they make all of their unisex sweats and where they are developing their LUXFORM fabric are also now shut down.
“Not being able to release those two things is a hard pill to swallow,” states Carter. “But the health and safety of our workers is by far our main consideration. I’m trying to stay focused on how exciting it will be to release them when this is all over. Between no in-person collaborations, a freeze on all photoshoots, and the many material changes we’re facing with our manufacturing partners, this has not been easy. Fortunately, SET is a dynamic start-up company, and we’ve learned to thrive in times like this. We’ll undoubtedly get through this and be stronger for it.”
As soon as the pandemic hit the United States, the brand immediately kicked into action to shift the messaging to be more resource-based.
Carter tells me, “We’re coming at it from two angles: trying to give our community more ways to cope and stay connected by highlighting ways to take care of physical and mental health, and trying to support some of the entrepreneurs and small businesses we know and love like therapist friends, physical trainers, and nutritionists who are offering telehealth services.”
SETactive recently released an IGTV home workout and hosted an IG live meditation. “We’ve shared and tagged tons of small brands and local restaurants that we want to support, and compiled lists of charities we’ve donated to in case our followers have the means to do the same. We’re also constantly checking in with our community to see what they need and how we can help.”
Carter and her team also launched a series of interactive Zoom chats called “SET CONNECT” that will air each week. The idea was originally conceived to discuss entrepreneurialism or how the SET team comes up with their designs or runs their Instagram account. But the coronavirus offered an opportunity to pivot.
“This past week on SET CONNECT we hosted Emma Rose Leger, Sophie Suchan, and Nitsan Raiter to chat with them about their path to becoming influencers. We also have a few exciting names confirmed to co-host some future sessions with us such as Alexa Losey talking all things mental health and Ming Lee and Aoiki Lee Simmons (daughters of Kimora Lee Simmons) on how to stay positive during this time,” Carter tells me.