The emergence of athleisure in the last decade and change has created a whole new realm of garments, toeing the line between dedicated sportswear and stylish articles you can take outside the gym. And for many who live a lifestyle driven by their commitment to fitness, athleisure has cemented itself as the only viable option. We spoke to Demarcus Thornton, co-founder of Fitnuss LLC and a current owner of BIINK athleisure to hear about his entrepreneurial journey in the world of athletic wear, the importance of marketing and the future of the brand.
Demarcus Thornton Shares His Journey Starting BIINK Athleisure
A bit over five years ago, Demarcus had just sold the real estate company he had founded and built with partner James Densmore II when they entered the Snap fitness franchise system with Fitnuss LLC. In four years as a franchise, they created 35 units and became the largest franchisee under the Snap umbrella. By 2021, Fitnuss LLC had earned the position of the largest 100% black-owned fitness company in the US.
Demarcus and his partner James joined BIINK in 2017, a year or so after it had been created by a group of Australian founders in 2016. At that time, they were the first Americans involved in the brand, but have since bought out the other founders, becoming the brand's sole owners in 2021.
Some elements of Australian style and silhouettes differ from their American counterparts, so Demarcus and James have been constantly evolving the brand to fit the American consumer. “We’re spending a lot of time creating more of an American culture," Demarcus tells me, adding that they have been prioritizing reaching out to and collaborating with American Olympic athletes. "We want to step in as an American brand and do what we can to help those athletes," Demarcus tells me, noting that many US athletes don't make any money from their performances unless they medal.
As part of their commitment to uplifting their community, they've also allocated $20,000 of their marketing budget to use in collaboration with HBCUs across the US. Especially with the opening up of NIL deal opportunities for college athletes, Demarcus and the team are making sure that the athletes at HBCUs have an opportunity to make money on their likeness.
"We understand that fashion is a big statement about who you are and what you represent," remarks Demarcus in our discussion of how they create the BIINK collections. In a conversation with Gary Vee, Demarcus recounts how he used the phrase: "We different." This entrepreneurial individualism has become one of the mainstays of the brand's ethos to this day. "We’re the square peg in a round hole, you don't fuck with us," Demarcus smiles to me, emphasizing the individuality that drives the brand's culture.
For a long time, BIINK's target audience was made up primarily of bodybuilders. While they certainly still aim to target a fit audience, Demarcus tells me that they're working on pivoting out of being a brand deemed just for bodybuilders. To Demarcus, the typical BIINK buyer can be boiled down to someone who "has a lot of drive." They've also frequently sold to influencers and those with their own personal reach, which has saved them a lot of money on marketing dollars. The products and the customers have spoken for themselves.
They see it and then everybody else wants to wear it.
- Demarcus Thornton
As far as the design process goes, Demarcus tells me: "We try to locate local designers and give them a chance to design." His partner James is instrumental in the ideation behind the design process. "James, he often comes up with a lot of the design concepts, and then forwards that over to the design team," Demarcus notes.
The Future of BIINK
Right now, Demarcus is super bullish on the brand's "LMTD" collection. Every piece in the selection comes in a—you guessed it—limited quantity. The pieces are more branded and exclusive than some of the other collections. “We think that’s gonna be the piece of the future for us," he tells me.
They've got a LMTD tee shirt in the works, which will be the first tee from the exclusive line. The new shirts will release in April, and comprise the brand's first unisex tee, first shirt to be offered up to 3XL and will be available in 5 colors. Demarcus believes the new piece can even transcend what is their current most popular tee: "We think our LMTD tee can surpass the Cardinal."
Advice for Entrepreneurs
I was curious also to hear some general advice from Demarcus for fledgling entrepreneurs. Immediately, he responds: "Patience."
After another moment of thought, he adds: "Patience and focus, I can't decide which one of those is more important." He goes on to explain how sometimes young entrepreneurs get ahead of themselves and are unrealistic about where they're at in their journey. That's why patience is paramount above all.
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