It took just a matter of months for Caroline-Christine Wilhelm, DMSB’10, to spot a hole in the retail market when she returned to her native Europe after working in New York City for a year.
A devotee of high-intensity exercise at studios like SoulCycle and Physique 57, Wilhelm noticed that the colorful patterned leggings and tops filling the New York studios had not made their way to the other side of the pond. Instead a blur of black, gray, and white greeted her at her daily workout classes.
Wilhelm, encouraged by classmates’ praise of her sleek get-ups, set out to change that. In late July, she launched Copé Active, a London-based online boutique of U.S. and Australian luxury and designer active wear. “Think runway for the gym,” she said.
“With one gluten-free café or green-juice bar opening after the next, and a rapidly growing fitness industry, I could see the trend toward a healthy lifestyle had come to Europe,” Wilhelm said during a phone interview from London this week. “With that comes the willingness to spend money on working out. It wasn’t that Europeans didn’t want to have fashionable gym wear; they simply had no access to it. I therefore made it my mission to set up this platform.”
The Northeastern name opened so many doors for me in the business world.
— Caroline-Christine Wilhelm
The real-world experience woven into her academic courses at Northeastern informed her every move. “We weren’t just looking at old case studies,” she said of her undergraduate years. “The coop experience was incorporated in every class.”
In particular, Wilhelm honed her market-research skills. Today she spends countless hours on social media sites like Instagram as well as a myriad websites sleuthing out new brands, and travels weekly to showrooms and active-wear fairs in the U.S. and Australia to select inventory. She and a small team then “test each item to the max”: How does it fit, look, breathe, and last? If it passes muster, she pens an exclusive European deal and imports it.
“Our competitive edge is that we guarantee that we are the first to sell these items, and we deliver them quickly because they are stocked in our warehouse,” she said.
“Sweat Is Fat Crying”
Copé Active, which is self-funded, currently features 15 niche designers, including BlueLifeFit, Heroine Sport, La Vie Boheme, and Yeti. The shop has its own brand, too— black tanks lettered with slogans such as “Sweat Is Fat Crying.” Expansion plans include opening fully stocked stores inside gyms in London, and then Berlin and Paris, two cities, Wilhelm explained, that are flooded with “expatriots from the U.S” already committed to studio workouts.
The site’s blog, produced by two interns, uses the activewear as a springboard to spread the company’s holistic vision. Recently addressed topics include “Tips to Unwind,” “Favorite Food Apps,” and “The Truth Behind Fitness and Nutrition Myths.”
Young Global Leaders
Wilhelm credits Northeastern with helping her realize that vision. “The Northeastern name opened so many doors for me in the business world,” she says. She points to both mentors and her role as a Young Global Leader as instrumental in her development as an entrepreneur. YGL is an international network of recent graduates representing 43 countries who act as ambassadors for the school and advisors to university leadership. Recent YGL meetings in London and Dubai, said Wilhelm, have provided her with irreplaceable support and instruction.
“Having this group of extremely ambitious people surround you is so inspirational,” she said. “Many of us are experiencing similar struggles, whether regarding technological issues or balancing supply and demand. I feel so empowered by this group.”
Join Caroline-Christine Wilhelm on Tuesday, Nov. 24, at 2 p.m. EST, live on Northeastern’s Periscope (@Northeastern on Twitter) to learn about her business and to ask questions.