TECHNATION200: Fashercise is an amalgamation of an online luxury sportswear shop and a fitness and lifestyle blog. Founder Alexandra Vanthournout tells Toni Sekinah how she fused the two sites – and why a post about porridge is the most popular on the site to date.
Two years ago Alexandra Vanthournout had a health scare, which left her temporarily unable to move one arm. After she subsequently gained weight, a friend suggested that she start running.
Vanthournout says the decision to do so saved her life. She went from nothing to running 10k races and has even done a few half marathons. It was also a pivotal point in her career as it facilitated her transition from a freelance fashion journalist to a professional blogger.
Now she is the founder and creative director of Fashercise, a fast-growing startup looking to “bring high fashion to your workout”.
Fashercise combines an online boutique selling stylish sportswear with a fitness and lifestyle blog. According to Vanthournout, the ‘Fashercise woman’ is in her mid 20s to late 30s and looking for a bit of fun when working out – and is definitely into her health and wellbeing.
“Fashercise is about having fun while getting fit and feeling good while being active,” she says.
With a focus on looking stylish, Fashercise clothes can multitask, so that a woman can go from a yoga class to brunch without needing to change, says Vanthournout.
But Fashercise is more than an online shop with a simple blog tacked on. Of course, if a visitor is primarily interested in buying sportswear, they can click straight to the shop and browse the high-end sports bras, leggings and tank tops.
But if not, they can just read the regularly updated blog posts, which fall into six categories: wear, move, eat, listen, tech and wellness. The quality of the blogs helps lift Fashercise above competitors.
A recent post informs us that Serena Williams has designed a pair of Nike trainers just in time for Wimbledon.
The posts make the site sticky and encourage repeat visits. “People come back to the site over and over, not because we have new stock, but because there is something new to read. With online shops, once you’ve been on it there’s no reason for you to come back the next day.”
And, by writing about a host of fitness brands, the Fashercise magazine has built up credibility among its readers for recognising good rivals.
“Our customers love it when we write about the ten best running shorts for example, but if the 10 best are all ones that we sell, no one is going to take us seriously,” Vanthournout says.
The content of the blog is monetised so Vanthournout and her business partner Camille Roegiers earn money every time a reader buys an item after clicking through from a link in a Fashercise post.
“Because we use affiliate marketing we end up earning money on both sides of the story,” she says.
The other side of the story is the shop, stocking everything from body suits to golden boxing gloves from 17 up-and-coming designers.
Vanhournout is a champion of young designers because “for them a single mention can make a huge difference.” She also wanted to create a place where people could easily buy from these designers without having to go to each website individually.
While the revenue from the shop is the bread and butter for Fashercise, Vanthournout says the affiliate marketing stream is a welcome addition.
The two sides are linked because a visitor can see a Fashercise item in a blog post and put it in their basket with two clicks. The decision to blend of ecommerce and written content was a very conscious one.
Vanthournout says: “I’ve always been a big fan of a good mix between editorial and ecommerce. It’s important to have that synergy.”
The third revenue stream comes from advertising and brand partnerships. In June, Fashercise teamed up with Benefit Cosmetics for a month-long promotion, with each customer receiving a sample product with their order. The same sample was also placed in the goody bag for one of the running club sessions.
Fashercise is not an online-only proposition as Vanthournout and Roegiers hit the streets of London every fortnight to lead a group of 20 readers-runners for the Girls Gone Running club.
This connection with ordinary women was developed in the early days of her first professional blog alexloves.com.
She started that in 2009 when she was at a loose end because freelance journalism jobs were hard to come by. Among other topics, she writes about fitness and documented her run training when she first started.
Those posts generated a lot of engagement and were very popular. “I wasn’t the fastest but it didn’t matter,” she recalls. “It really resonated with people. That a normal girl can do this.”
Vanthournout realised there was a gap in the professional blog market where a normal person looked at sports from a stylist point of view.
So she started Fashercise as a commercial blog which she could monetise “unashamedly” and to fill the gap she saw.
One night in a pub, she was telling Roegiers she had noticed a trend of an increase in the number of young designers creating sportswear collections.
Roegiers happened to be a fashion wholesaler, so the two joined forces and relaunched Fashercise with an integrated shop in 2014.
Fashercise was built in WordPress by design agency Delivery of Thought. “It is completely custom built for us,” says Vanthournout. “They did more than just the design, they gave us the branding as well.”
Vanthournout is happy with the number, length and frequency of site visits. Despite dozens of posts featuring glossy photos of athletic models and striking sportswear, the most popular post to date is in fact a recipe for chia porridge. On a whim one morning she took photos of her breakfast and turned it into a blog post.
That post was mentioned by vlogger Viviana Does Makeup. “The first time she mentioned us in one of her videos the website crashed. We had 17,000 people at the same time.”
Fashercise is bootstrapped but going forward Vanhournout would like to move the stock from her spare room and the office from her kitchen table, which will require some investment. She would also like to upload fresh content daily from expert contributors. And in the next couple of years she wants to develop of collection of men’s luxury sportswear. “All of our brands seem to be developing a men’s collection,” she notes.
But for the moment she is happy with the success of Fashercise. “I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved. This is the first proper business for both of us. I think we’ve done incredibly and fingers crossed it all keeps going the way it is,” she says.
Alexandra Vanthournout – CV
Creative director and founder, Fashercise
Freelance fashion journalist
Press office assistant, Louis Vuitton.
MA, fashion journalism, London College of Fashion.
BA, Media studies and journalism, University of Westminster.