Beija-Flor Jeans Turn Browsers Into Believers
You'd think that the seemingly unstoppable athleisure trend would strike fear into the hearts of every denim brand out there, but the mother-daughter duo behind Beija-Flor Jeans believes the consumer craze for casual, easy-to-wear clothing actually is contributing to their company's success.
"The athleisure trend is really all about comfortable clothing that can be worn all day, everywhere," explains co-founder Emilie Whitaker who launched the brand in 2005 with mother Kathy Moca. "From the beginning, we have sourced only the most cutting-edge fabrics that allow comfort and fashion to co-exist."
The Beija-Flor team is serious about its fibers and fabrics. Sourcing only from Brazil, where all of its products are manufactured save for a new corduroy line, the company uses recycled, eco-friendly REPREVE and Megaflex with Lycra and Tri-blend technology by Tavex. "This advanced fabric technology enables us to create extremely flexible and soft jeans that won't sag or stretch out like many of our competitors'," adds Whitaker.
Beija-Flor also uses T400 and DualFX, which add a high-performance factor, and Emana, a smart yarn with infrared technology that is designed to improve the appearance of cellulite by absorbing body heat and transferring the heat waves back to the wearer to stimulate skin. The effects are said to last through endless washes. Slipping into a pair of jeans sure beats signing up for cosmetic surgery.
Whitaker says her family long has been in the textile and apparel business. Her grandfather worked for Dan River Mills, which is what brought the clan to Greenville in the 1960s, and her mother owned a women's boutique for 21 years, where she was the principal buyer, transitioning later into an independent sales rep for several apparel companies.
Eleven years ago, Whitaker and Moca decided they wanted to find a great clothing product made in Brazil and bring it to the United States. "Initially we were importing a line of naturally colored cotton apparel, but in the process we discovered the incredible properties of Brazilian denim that really differed from what was being offered in the U.S. jean market," says Whitaker. "As we investigated, we found that in addition to the unique fiber content, Brazilian jeans were much more flattering to curvy figures and seemed to be made to better fit the natural shape of a woman's body."
That aha! moment touched off a thorough search for the right production partners in Brazil and also commenced the fabric technology education of Whitaker and Moca. They sold their first style, the Jennifer, direct to consumers up and down the East Coast at jeans parties. Then they began wholesaling to independent boutiques across the country. E-commerce came next, followed closely by the launch of the Beija-Flor brick-and-mortar shop in the heart of Greenville. There's now a second store in Nashville, and BeijaFlor now employs 12 staff members, a number that Whitaker says is constantly growing. The company also offers five additional styles in different cuts, lengths and properties: Audrey, Kate, Kelly, Nicole and Sarah.
The company's latest business model is its "try-at-home" program, which Whitaker says evolved through customer feedback via the "live chat" feature on the website. Shoppers were constantly asking for help choosing the right size and style of jeans that run between $120 and $178 apiece, she explains, so "it just made sense to give the customer more of a selection in their first delivery, mimicking the level of personalized service we offer in our brick-and-mortar stores." In-store shoppers always take two pairs of jeans into the fitting room, and one is guaranteed to fit, Whitaker adds, which is highly unusualin the denim world.
Customers who sign up for the try-at-home program give a Beija-Flor denim advisor some information about their height, size and lifestyle, which guides the employee in choosing four pairs of jeans that the customer might like. Shoppers get to hang onto the pants for a full week and send back only the pairs that they don't want (or can't afford) to keep. In soft launches, more than half of customers kept two or more pairs of the jeans, with some buying all four pairs that arrived at their doorsteps. According to Whitaker, the conversion rate for the program is around 80 percent.
Beija-Flor, which means "hummingbird" in Portuguese, cares as much about manufacturing responsibly as it does about creating the best-fitting jeans possible. The company manufactures at a single Brazilian supplier that owns and operates an on-site washing facility in order to prevent environmental contamination, notes Whitaker, who visits the factory several times a year to ensure the vendor is compliant with social and environmental standards.
"This factory has received many awards for their environmental concerns, processes and technologies, and is also incredibly committed to safe and fair working conditions which I can personally attest to," Whitaker adds.
In addition to corduroy, Beija-Flor has branched out into ponte leggings and launched two skirts this spring, with a newly designed trouser and knit pant scheduled for a fall debut. With an expanding line of products, repeat customers always have something new to discover. "Women fall in love with our fit and become ‘Beija-believers' for life, returning to buy their favorite style (or styles) in the newest wash or fabric available," concludes Whitaker.
— Jessica Binns