Maria Sharapova is decked out in hot pink Bala Bangles.
The former professional tennis player, Olympic medalist — a devout fan and investor of the fitness accessories and apparel brand — arrived in the Big Apple just in time for the U.S. Open, New York Fashion Week and to lead a Balacize fitness class.
“Having [the wrist weights] on your body, it just feels like part of your body,” Sharapova told WWD. “And having just had a baby, I’m with the stroller and I have [the weights] on my hands and I feel like I’m just getting myself back into working out and I don’t want to start too intensively. So I put these on my wrists and I’m already getting a workout in; I’m already getting toned.
“And the brand is making it fun. You walk into the space and you want to work out,” Sharapova said, referring to the pastel-colored pop-up shop in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. The space is surrounded by walls painted in shades of soft pink, green and yellow and filled with exercise equipment (and some apparel too) in similar shades.
“Part of working out is being inspired, getting motivated. As a brand, Bala has created accessories that get you inspired,” continued Sharapova, who first invested in the business, along with billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban on “Shark Tank,” in 2020. “When [Mark Cuban and I] saw [the bangles] they were so unique looking. We thought, ‘this is brilliant and there was so much potential and opportunity.’ And they’ve grown into this incredible brand. It started with one product. And to see them grow, to see them expand. It’s fun to see entrepreneurs have a vision.”
In fact, since Natalie Holloway and her husband Maximilian Kislevitz founded Bala in 2018, they’ve expanded into apparel, partnered with New Balance for a limited-edition collaboration and opened their first brick-and-mortar store, the pop-up in New York, which closes at the end of September.
“Now we’re looking for investors,” Holloway said. “Maria and Mark were the only investors we took on, which is kind of crazy for a brand at our stage. But we’re actually about to kick off a small [fund]raise.”
Bala plans to use the added funds to open permanent retail locations or studios and expand its product assortment, including more accessories for men.
“Because we’re so skewed female right now,” Holloway said. “And some twists on the things you’ve seen out there, but in our more Bala way: more functional, more design lead.”
Despite the re-emergence of in-person events and exercise classes, the entrepreneur said there hasn’t been a slowdown in the business.
“We have exercise classes in [our store] almost every day and we’ve done really, really well with that,” she said.
And while retailers across the board have struggled with rapidly changing consumer preferences and inflation that’s impacting apparel purchases in recent months, activewear continues to be the champion. (Lululemon’s revenues, for example, topped $1.9 billion in the most recent quarter.)
With the wellness industry expected to be worth $7 trillion by 2025, investors have taken note. In addition to Bala, Sharapova invests in wellness brands Therabody, Supergoop and Tonal. And she’s not the only one.
“I think every brand has seen some sort of consumer shift this year, just gearing up for a recession,” Holloway added. “But people are still very excited about what’s to come. And we still have a lot of product innovation coming.
Holloway wouldn’t disclose financials for the private company but did say they had “insane growth” during the pandemic. “We won’t see that again. Now we’ll just see, sort of like, 10, 20 percent, year-over-year. Normal kind of growth. So that kind of kicked off the brand and we’re taking it from there.”