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For those who follow the yoga internet, it's hard to believe that fitness apparel brand K.Deer Haute Yoga has only been around for a year and a half. In the months since the brand first launched its line of funky-patterned leggings, the response has been insane: inventory selling out in just a few hours, placements in Shape involving celebrities like Naomi Campbell and Brooke Burke, and the adoration of social media-famous yogis.
"I've been really blessed, but it's been a bit nutty," Kristine Deer, the brand's founder told Racked when reflecting on her accomplishments. "I'm really proud of what I've done, but what I consider success is just the fact that I'm happily running a company with a really high level of integrity."
Humble and soft-spoken, the 29-year-old New Jersey native said that while she has a background in design, she never imagined she'd create a collection so popular that it would crash her website, something that happened when she debuted her line. Deer got into designing workout apparel almost by mistake, but is now being courted by the likes of Barneys, who recently approached her about stocking inventory, and imitated by Lululemon, who has added patterned leggings to its lineup, a move very possibly inspired by the thousands upon thousands of #kdeer hashtagged photos.
Deer attributes much of the success of her young company to the word-of-mouth of rabid fans, but Instagram certainly has a lot to do with it. Deer is friendly with Laura Kasperzak, a yogi with a cult digital following who just hit one million Instagram followers.
Deer and Kasperzak, both from Jersey, met via mutual friends, and Kasperzak started posting countless photos of herself in K.Deer leggings on her wildly popular account. Before long, Deer had orders pouring in, often depleting her stock. Deer now uses Instagram as her main means of communication with clients: It's where she posts discount codes, apparel launches, and company news.
"In regards to community, Instagram makes so much sense. It's all about imagery that makes an impact the right way," she said. "Instagram speaks volumes to communicate our message. It's visual, immediate, and gets our followers engaged when they see something they love. It's great to be able to reach out and support people from there."
An avid yoga enthusiast and instructor, Deer attributes her passion for apparel design to her discovery of yoga in 2009. After losing her job at Converse by John Varvatos when the line closed, Deer "took a nice deep breath and then yoga found me." She went from dabbling in weekly Bikram yoga class attendance to a full-on six-day-a-week practice.
Deer said she attended classes in a pair of old Adidas gym shorts and was constantly distracted by her ill-fitting ensembles. Her unemployment situation halted her from shopping at pricey Lululemon, so she began stitching her own apparel by hand.
"When you put something on that doesn't suit your body, it's extremely frustrating," she said. "I was always very fidgety in class, and I realized it wasn't because my mind was crazy, it was because my clothes were all stretched out and the fabric was all wrong, and that made everything all wrong."
So Deer's sister, a print designer who now works with her and their cousin on the K.Deer brand, brought home fabric for her to play with. She sewed a few dozen pairs of her Bum Bum shorts and posted them to Etsy. The positive reception she received led her to sell more than 800 pairs of shorts she sewed herself in her childhood bedroom. Deer then built a website and tested out more robust production techniques before officially launching her company in 2012.
Currently, K.Deer apparel is still only available through Deer's own website, but the days of her sewing shorts in her room are over. The company has a showroom in New Jersey where its retail appointments are held, and its inventory is made a few miles away at local factories. The brand plans on rolling out kids' leggings this fall—as seen in the adorable Instagram photos Kasperzak posts of her and her daughter— is also in talks with other retailers.
While crazy patterns make K.Deer stand out, the company also prides itself on the quality of its product. The nylon fabric is made with high-quality spandex, which means the print can stretch without becoming see-through and the pants won't pill between the legs, something not every brand can guarantee. The leggings have no seams and are elastic-free, and the material is sweat proof.
All of that does come with a price though: Leggings can cost up to $92 and shorts are $42, but Deer certainly knows the market she's in. Yoga fanatics are more than willing to shell out major cash for the right pair. It's no surprise that the athletic apparel industry has grown four times as fast as the clothing industry as a whole. Ultimately, Deer is a firm believer in investing beloved fitness apparel—not just for the fit, but also for the overall experience.
"We're not cheap apparel. Our designs are 100 percent uniquely ours, and the product is high-quality, so there's value that goes along with that," Deer said. "If you buy something good, you'll spend once and never regret it. I believe that your yoga practice goes beyond your physical asana. When you look good, it makes a difference in how you feel and you can express the greatest version of yourself."