Julia Straus was the Chief Executive Officer at Tula and was credited with bringing the brand into the spotlight. She previously was the Vice President, Business Development and Partnerships at BaubleBar. Straus currently serves as the Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director at Sweaty Betty and has taken the brand to new heights, especially during the pandemic era.
Straus has a long-standing reputation for building successful brands with impressive accomplishments. Being raised by entrepreneur parents, she always had the knack to do things differently.
Straus always had the entrepreneurial spirit running through her veins and had her first working gig when she was merely a child; she sold her art at art sales. “Entrepreneurship is very stressful and my parents hoped I would do something more predictable. They loved working for themselves but felt like security came with a corporate job.”
Julia heeded their advice and enrolled at Princeton University as a History Major and an Art Minor. While at Princeton, Straus drank up liberal arts with almost 12 varied courses and truly explored different subject areas. For her post-graduation, she worked in finance at Lehman Brothers and Goldman Sachs before pursuing her MBA at Harvard Business School.
Deep within, Straus always wanted to work at a startup and help brands grow while catering to the people’s needs. After working through various jobs, she eventually ended up at PopSugar and later, BaubleBar as Director of Partnerships. BaubleBar, at the time, was a small company of 20 employees, Tula on the other hand, was being virtually operated by three founders. “I had hit a plateau at BaubleBar and through a mutual friend was introduced to Dan Reich, who was helping me bring BaubleBar on QVC. He told me about Tula over a phone call and at the end of the call, I asked if I could meet him.”
Tula has three Founders: Dan Reich, Ken Landis and Dr Raj, a Practising Doctor. However, they needed someone to run their operations and head the company. Straus recalled, “I am so thankful to them for trusting someone who had no experience in beauty. They believed in my well-rounded background and saw my motivation in going to the very beginning of a startup.”
With Straus heading the company, Tula did exceptionally well via QVC and its eCommerce platform. It became a favourite for women in their 20s-30s, who saw Tula as their first step towards a more serious skincare regime.
Julia faced many challenges at Tula, including differentiating the brand in a highly saturated market for cosmetics. Having a reputation of being on QVC while also actively engaging with bloggers/influencers and strategic partnerships with PopSugar, Physique57, and Health Magazine helped boost the brand image and get recognition.
In 2018, she was offered the role of Managing Director and CEO with British Activewear Brand, Sweaty Betty, and she has made great strides with the brand ever since.
Straus revealed what attracted her to the brand in an interview; she said, “We really wanted to make this a product that allowed women to express themselves, to play with colour, to play with print, and to make sure that the brand wasn’t preaching and wasn’t saying, ‘You need to look like this. You need to go do this to be fit.’ Actually, it is [saying], ‘Why don’t you go have fun and hang out and be active and be social with your friends, and here’s a product that’s going to allow you to do that.’ So it’s always been a brand that approached it a little bit differently and believed that you can actually be very serious about your fitness without taking yourself too seriously. ”
In the 2020 recession, she dubbed the term ‘leggings effect’ wherein women prioritized their fitness and health in the pandemic and turned towards purchasing leggings and fitness gear, which in turn positioned athleisure for success in 2020.
Straus thinks that Sweaty Betty is different from other brands as she says, “Brands need to be able to express what they’re here for, and how they relate to customers beyond the product. And I think for us, our purpose is to empower women through fitness and beyond, we are focused on the female customer and empowering her to live her best life.”
But for Sweaty Betty, it all comes down to their customers; they are keen on trying to get their consumer’s views and improving their products. Straus said,” Although it’s data-driven, every product to market starts with listening to customers and having ears to the ground, including its latest launch, a performance hijab.”
The idea to start a range of performance hijabs came from members of their team as it would empower all women to play the sport that they like or exercise in clothes that they are genuinely comfortable wearing. “Nike and Under Armour offer one and they’re often sold out. We’re thinking of the entire head-to-toe wardrobe for the entire customer base of active women,” said Straus.
Total revenue for Sweaty Betty was at $110 million in 2019. Even though the stores were closed for most of the year, sales grew 60% in 2020, totalling nearly $175 million. Its International business represents approximately 40% of total sales with triple-digit growth in North America in 2020.
“We met our active customer when we opened our first boutique in Notting Hill in 1998 and sweated with her ever since and that’s a very special relationship,” recalled Straus fondly.
By 2019, Sweaty Betty had established 49 brick-and-mortar stores across the United Kingdom, with a presence in several areas and now has a total of 55 standalone stores. Straus was tasked with helping Sweaty Betty grow its omni channel presence.
But the pandemic of 2020 taught Straus the importance of building a digital community and not losing sight of their message to empower women, especially during these trying times. “We changed our social media strategy overnight to include more home workouts, self-care and mindfulness content as a way to support our community.” With the easing restrictions now, the online community continues to remain vibrant.
Straus hopes to continue the momentum in 2021, as Sweaty Betty’s partnership with Nordstrom expands into 99 doors in Q2 in North America. She hopes to transform the world of activewear with comfort and health reigning over the coming years.