How Dubai's Hautletic is finding their niche in fitness fashion

The founder highlights activewear trends and the importance of mindfulness in our workout wardrobes

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - October 16th, 2017: Hauteletic store owner Priya Bhatia. Monday, October 16th, 2017 at Galleria Mall, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Thirty minutes, every day for 30 days. That's all that is required for the Dubai Fitness Challenge, which started on October 20 and ends on November 18.

The goal is to help make Dubai the most active city in the world – and while it may not top the list just yet, it is on the right path, according to Priya Bhatia, founder of Hautletic, a new multi-brand boutique in Dubai that stocks stylish, high-performance activewear. "Everyone's doing runs, or group events such as yoga, or Tough Mudder or Spartan – it's much more mainstream than it used to be, and people are really focused on working out now," she says.

The Dubai Fitness Challenge, believes Bhatia, will help motivate residents to challenge themselves because it doesn't require an unreasonable commitment in terms of time. "When you tell someone they have to work out for 90 minutes, all the time, to get any results, it just makes it very inaccessible, especially when people are busy. But the moment you tell someone it is proven that all you do need to do is half an hour, it just makes it so much more achievable – you're removing the chore out of it."

Activities promoting fitness are gaining traction all over the world, especially among younger generations. Compiled in 2013, the Nielsen: Les Mills Global Consumer Fitness Survey discovered that millennials accounted for 48 per cent of regular exercisers, and participated in more gym-based activities than other generations. Now, four years later, Bhatia says this is no passing trend – it is a global lifestyle shift.

"The standard sort of expense that someone will have now is a GuavaPass or a ClassPass, or a membership at a gym or studio. I think people want to experiment more now, which is why the traditional gym is disappearing, and there are more studios where people kind of dabble in different types of movements because they want it to be more fun, and because it's part of their everyday lives," she says.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - October 16th, 2017: General view pictures of the Hauteletic store. Monday, October 16th, 2017 at Galleria Mall, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

And with this change in lifestyle comes the formation of a niche retail market, which is why terms such as "athleisure" have been trending in the fashion industry. The word has even found its way into the Merriam-Webster dictionary, where it is defined as "casual clothing designed to be worn both for exercising and for general use".

Enter Bhatia’s Hautletic: a store that aims to bridge the gap between ready-to-wear and fitness apparel, and that stocks many international labels that are otherwise unavailable in the region. “The range that we have is not only leggings, tanks and sports bras. We also have cool pieces that people want to wear throughout the day or even [when they go] out – like trackpants, which have become more acceptable in all aspects of life,” she says.

Bhatia's journey with Hautletic began in 2014. She had quit her job with Mac Cosmetics after working there for 10 years. "I loved the job, but I was just tired of that schedule," she says. "I was travelling all the time, I had terrible hours, I was super unhealthy, I couldn't sleep properly – I was just destroyed. So I quit and decided to take six months off and just not do anything."

Finally having time to spend on herself, Bhatia turned to fitness and began working out twice a day. "I was living in workout clothes. But I got bored with what I was wearing, and realised I was buying things because they were available, not because I liked them," she says. After researching online, and finding stellar brands that weren't available in this region, Bhatia formed a business plan. She would acquire labels that she admired and become a distributor, helping to stock them at local stores. "I don't think retailers were necessarily understanding the category – they were a little confused as to how to treat it. You can't just put it on some racks in a section of your store," Bhatia says. "So I just started doing pop-ups myself, so I could understand the market."

The entrepreneur could interact directly with customers at these community pop-up markets. “It was super-interesting because you really saw how women reacted to various fits. Their reactions to leggings, and those moments of joy when they tried something on and were like: ‘Wait a second, I look good.’ And I think that sort of takes away the anxiety of working out, because you have a lot more confidence. I then finally decided it was time to just bite the bullet and go back into retail.”

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - October 16th, 2017: General view pictures of the Hauteletic store. Monday, October 16th, 2017 at Galleria Mall, Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National

After waiting nine months for her dream location, Bhatia found it: a space in the Galleria Mall on Al Wasl Road in Dubai. Sleek interiors, combining an industrial theme with pops of electric yellow and framed boxes housing succulent vertical gardens, set an upscale tone for the boutique, which also contains a refrigerator of Kold Press juices. She reveals that the most important feature of the store, however, is not its architectural brilliance (Hautletic has won a retail design award from Identity magazine), but rather, its fitting rooms. "For some women, leggings are as traumatic to try on as bathing suits, so the biggest priority for me was really big changing rooms – they're well-ventilated and comfortable, and there are four-way mirrors in there so you can actually look at every angle," she says.

While trackpants may be trending, leggings, Bhatia claims, are the champions of the fitness wardrobe. "Leggings have basically imitated denim. You know that feeling of finding the right pair of jeans? It's the same now when you find the right pair of leggings. People love them, and they're willing to spend for quality. We have some brands that are at the Dh700 price point, and we haven't had issues in selling them." Seamless leggings, according to Bhatia, are currently all the rage (she recommends designs by British brand LNDR and American brand Alala), and the most popular legging silhouette is the ankle-length 7/8 that women find more wearable outside the gym, than the capri.


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The store has also just received a shipment of multipurpose gym bags that can double as handbags by New York-based Transience. It is this versatile feeling that is at the heart of the Hautletic aesthetic, and if you look closely, you will notice that even the store interiors are adaptable. "The design is completely modular: every rack hooks on and off the ceiling, so we change the layout of the store, and open it up for events," Bhatia says.

In the upcoming months, she will be hosting discussions at Hautletic, covering mindfulness, well-being and fitness. "We help debunk scary myths, so we do talks with experts on supplementation, digestion, pain management and even sleep. A lot of women need a place where these topics exist," she says. "I wanted it to be a really comfortable social space that has good energy."