Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Co-founder Chelsea Early is driving the rare domestic dancewear manufacturer to growth with custom designs for ballerinas.
Luckyleo was born out of an injury Early suffered while dancing with Ballet Arizona. She had been creating dancewear for herself and her fellow dancers as a hobby, but turned it into a business when a career-ending injury prevented her from continuing to dance professionally.
"I was told that I would have to get surgery every year to correct the issue in my foot if I kept dancing," Early says.
She'd gotten such positive responses from her dancer friends for whom she had created dancewear that she decided to start Luckyleo in Arizona with her sister, Heather Walker, along with their mother, Karen Saari.
"My sister was a ballet dancer as well," Early says. "She was working at a sandwich shop, and we kind of talked and said, 'Why don't we just start a company?' We knew the industry so well, and we really wanted to stay connected to the dance world in some way."
In 2016, the partners decided to relocate the company from Arizona to Colorado, and in May, Luckyleo moved into 3,253 square feet at STEAM on the Platte, a former warehouse that Urban Ventures and White Construction Group converted into office space in Denver's Sun Valley neighborhood. "It's very cool here," Early says. "It's the perfect fit for our business. Wood floors are a staple for ballet, and they've got gorgeous original wood floors everywhere."
Early says Luckyleo was founded on the belief that each dancer is unique and deserves dancewear that is as distinct as they are. Every garment is entirely handmade in-house, a rarity in the industry. All of company's prints and products are designed by Walker and Early and are exclusive to the Luckyleo brand. The company ships its garments to individual buyers in more than 40 countries via its online platform.
Among Luckyleo's customers is child prodigy Sophia Lucia, now 16, who started to dance at the age of two. Lucia has been featured on a number of popular television shows, including So You Think You Can Dance and America's Got Talent. Another is Juliet Doherty, who Early describes as a "movie star in the ballet world."
With its move to STEAM on the Platte, Luckyleo is anticipating expanding its wholesale business, which has garnered interest from the Chinese, Japanese, and South Korean markets.
"It's a little unusual for dancewear to be made in the U.S. at all," Early says. "We make everything in-house. We really focus on the integrity and quality of our products."
Challenges: The most difficult decision the Luckyleo's founders have to make is how many people to bring on staff. Orders ebb and flow with the seasons, Early says, so at certain times of the year there are more orders than at others. "We don't do contract work -- we have all of our employees here full-time," she says. "That's a priority of ours. We are always thinking about how to improve production flow and methods so that things are created more efficiently."
Opportunities: The founders' experience as dancers continues to open doors for Luckyleo. "We are so closely connected with that world and still have the opportunity to be friends with many prominent figures within the industry," Early says. "There is a lot of opportunity where our past as dancers has boosted our ability to grow because we have all these amazing contacts and they help us promote our dancewear."
Needs: Luckyleo designs its own prints but outsources the printing of its fabrics to a company in Portland, Oregon. The company would like to start having its fabrics printed in-house. "Purchasing a large printer is a big expense but something we're excited about," Early says.