Maria Sharapova is wearing bright pink Bala Bangles.
The former professional tennis player, Olympic medalist — avid fan and investor in the fitness accessories and apparel brand — arrived in the Big Apple just in time for the U.S. Open, New York Fashion Week and to lead a Balacize fitness class.
“Having [the wrist weights] on your body, it just feels like part of your body,” Sharapova told WWD. “And having just had a baby, I’m with the pram and I have [the weights] on my arms and I feel like I’m just getting back into training and I don’t want to start too intense. So I put these on my wrists and I’m already starting my workout; I’m getting toned now.
“And the brand makes it fun. You walk into the space and you want to train,” Sharapova said, referring to the pastel-colored pop-up shop in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. The space is surrounded by walls painted in shades of soft pink, green and yellow and filled with exercise equipment (and some clothes too) in similar shades.
“Part of training is to be inspired, to be motivated. As a brand, Bala has created accessories that inspire you,” continued Sharapova, who first invested in the business alongside billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban on “Shark Tank” in 2020. “When [Mark Cuban and I] saw [the bangles] they looked so unique. We thought, ‘this is brilliant and there was so much potential and opportunity’. And they became this amazing brand. It started with one product. And to see them grow, to see them expand. It’s fun to see entrepreneurs have a vision.”
In fact, since Nathalie Holloway and her husband Maximilian Kieslewitz founded Bala in 2018, they’ve expanded into apparel, partnered with New Balance for a limited-edition collaboration, and opened their first physical store, the New York pop-up, which closes in the end of September.
“Now we’re looking for investors,” Holloway said. “Maria and Mark were the only investors we took on, which is pretty crazy for a brand at our stage. But we’re actually about to start a little bit [fund]pick up.’
Bala plans to use the added funds to open permanent retail outlets or studios and expand its product range, including more men’s accessories.
“Because we’re such twisted women right now,” Holloway said. “And some twists on things you’ve seen there, but in our more Ballas way: more functional, more designer-led.”
Despite the resurgence of personal events and exercise classes, the entrepreneur said there has been no slowdown in business.
“We have exercise classes [our store] almost every day and we’ve done very, very well with that,” she said.
And as retailers everywhere struggle with rapidly changing consumer preferences and inflation impacting apparel purchases in recent months, sportswear continues to be a champion. (Lululemon’s revenue, for example, topped $1.9 billion last quarter.)
With the wellness industry expected to be worth $7 trillion by 2025, investors have taken notice. In addition to Bala, Sharapova has invested in wellness brands Therabody, Supergoop and Tonal. And she’s not the only one.
“I think every brand has seen some kind of consumer shift this year, just preparing for a recession,” Holloway added. “But people are still very excited about what’s to come. And we still have a lot of product innovation ahead of us.
Holloway did not disclose financials for the privately held company, but said they had “crazy growth” during the pandemic. “We will not see this again. Now we’re just going to see something like 10, 20 percent, over the previous year. Normal type of growth. So that started the brand and we take it from there.”