You won’t believe this, but the velour tracksuit is cool again
On a sunny morning in Commerce earlier this year, Suzie Kondi was elbow-deep in velour. The petite Australian expat is often found here, fine-tuning her signature tracksuits — her eponymous brand of “all day wear,” as she calls it — and when we met her, she happened to be wearing a gold-colored one.
Speaking with her pattern maker, Kondi pulled a strand of beach-blond hair away from her retro aviator glasses and discussed the finer points of her ideal tracksuit: the length of the top, a subtle piping detail along the sleeves’ seams, the height and shape of the waist. “It’s hard to get it exactly right,” Kondi said, “especially with something that ultimately looks so minimal.”
Her brand seeks to create the perfect tracksuit — something a customer can wear with sneakers all day, then, in a COVID-19-free world, swap in high heels to go out at night. After years of ideating and tweaking her designs, Kondi finally manifested her calling card. It’s a two-piece velour tracksuit with a pullover raglan-sleeve top and high-waisted pants with an ever-so-slightly Paul Poiret-esque flared ankle. The tracksuits come in a range of custom garment-dyed colors, mostly neutrals, pastels and gem tones, all of which are painstakingly developed by Kondi at Almore Dye House in North Hollywood. (Tops and bottoms retail separately for about $195.)
“When it comes to dressing, I want to put something on in the morning, and I don’t want to change,” Kondi said. “I want to drop my daughter off at school, go and work out, go to the office, go to lunch, then dinner, and I want to wear the same thing. So I thought, ‘I’m going to make a tracksuit that’s chic and cute that I can feel good in.’ My mantra this whole time has been, ‘Don’t change for anyone.’”
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That Kondi would produce her tracksuits in Los Angeles should not come as a surprise, as the county’s garment industry has a strong reputation with cut-and-sew factories. But the intriguing thing is that Kondi’s tracksuits were produced at Keep It Here, the same factory made famous by producing tracksuits for Juicy Couture.
After all, few 21st century fashion trends so far have been seared into memory like the tracksuit from Juicy Couture, a brand founded in 1997 by Gela Nash-Taylor and Pamela Skaist-Levy, two friends from the northern San Fernando Valley. In the early aughts, their signature matching velour and terry separates earned viral fame.
A Juicy Couture tracksuit became the off-duty look of choice for Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Rachel Bilson and most young starlets photographed leaving a Starbucks in West Hollywood. With Hollywood’s endorsement, soccer moms and teenagers across the country began a regular rotation of Juicy separates. The Juicy tracksuit pants were precariously low-rise, often with a “Juicy” logo emblazoned across the rear end, and the tracksuit jackets tended to be finished with rhinestones, gaudy embroidery and all the trimmings typical of that decade’s logo mania. These tracksuits were more than a trend; they were a status symbol.
“It was wild,” said Patrick Stewart, owner and president of Keep It Here. “There was a time around 2006 when we were receiving four or five semi trucks a month filled with velour. We were doing so much it was unbelievable.” After 2008, Juicy Couture’s popularity waned, and there was a time when Stewart saw tracksuits disappear from his manufacturing orders. “Velour was definitely dead for probably 10 years, at least the last 10 years,” he said. “Then I met Suzie and saw what she wanted to do, and it was one of those smiling moments for me, like, ‘Wow. It’s back.’”
Kondi’s tracksuits differ from Juicy Couture, however, in two fundamental ways. They are devoid of embroidery and ornament, and they feature a high waist intended to flatter multiple body types. The Kondi tracksuit is a straightforward, elegant proposition that transforms based on the wearer’s choice of accessories and shoes — a tracksuit you wear, not a tracksuit that wears you.
In just two years of being officially open for business, it seems Kondi’s brand has struck gold. Compared to last year, according to Kondi, her average daily e-commerce sales have doubled. This fall she will introduce cashmere tracksuits and an expanded men’s range. And she will extend her pop-up store in Amagansett, N.Y., originally scheduled for July and August.
Demand for her brand has already outstripped Keep It Here’s capabilities, and Kondi has moved production to Mola Inc., another Los Angeles garment factory. Kondi has not retained any of the established New York public relations firms, opting instead to grow through organic word-of-mouth and social media. Noteworthy fans include Julianne Moore, Naomi Watts, Zoë Kravitz, Sienna Miller, Jemima Kirke and celebrity stylists June Ambrose and Kate Young.
“The Kondi proportion is new and interesting,” said Young, who met Kondi in an office building as the two shared an elevator. “Suzi is her own best advertisement. She always looks so cool in sneakers and big glasses and a tracksuit and, like, a giant fur coat. We met because I told her she looked cute.”
Retailers are catching on. Net-a-Porter came first, launching Kondi’s spring and summer 2020 collection earlier this year. “The shapes are flattering and relevant for all ages,” said Elizabeth von der Goltz, Net-a-Porter’s global buying director. “The brand has playful designs but is still super chic and so comfortable. … And the brands that originate from Los Angeles are very popular for us globally. We see a lot of shoppers with connections to the West Coast, and the Los Angeles customer market overall has grown tremendously for us over the last few years.”
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“Part of me feels really guilty that the industry has been taking such a hit but we’re having a moment,” Kondi said. “But I think it’s because we’re in that really specific category of making people feel dressed up while they’re working from home, the idea that they can put something comfy on but also feel cute and put-together in it.”
So while there might have been a collective fashion hangover after the rise and fall of Juicy Couture in the 2000s, Kondi’s upward momentum might suggest that women still very much appreciate a well-made tracksuit, especially when more people than ever are working from home. A quick scroll through Kondi’s tagged photos on Instagram corroborates this. Her following knows no age, no single profession, no single origin.
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“It’s crazy,” Kondi said. “Yesterday we had a crazy sale in Mobile, Ala. And then a woman in Russia sent me a photo of herself wearing her tracksuit with heels to go to the opera. What can I say? Track is back.”
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