Style of Sport wants you look great while you playAugust 12, 2013: 11:31 AM ET
Can this NYC startup cover all the bases?
by Varun Nayar
FORTUNE -- Claudia Lebenthal is not your everyday entrepreneur. True she graduated from Stanford, but she majored in art and has spent the past two decades doing creative work with myriad publications. Still Lebenthal, who comes from a family of financiers — her sister is Alexandra, the "New Queen of Wall Street" and CEO of the family's near century-old firm, Lebenthal & Co. — has big, business ambitions of her own: Building a sports lifestyle empire.
I recently met Lebenthal for coffee in downtown Manhattan to discuss these plans, which take shape around Style of Sport, a chic online magazine she originally founded last year in the run-up to the Olympics. The newly evolved site focuses on sports, and their intersection with fashion, design, and art. Before I even introduced myself, Lebenthal, wearing a pair of blue and white striped pants (both sporty and chic, of course), picked me out of the crowd. "It's funny how you just know the people you're suppose to meet even though you haven't met them" she said with a smile as she sat down and ordered an iced cappuccino.
Lebenthal has worked almost exclusively with digital images and visuals over the course of her professional career. Born and raised in New York, she returned from her years at Stanford to work as art director at the now-defunct 7 Days, a Manhattan weekly founded by New York magazine's Adam Moss. When the publication folded in 1990, Lebenthal moved to Conde Nast, where she was Allure's photography director, and then she moved to visual director stints at the company's Women's Sports & Fitness and Self magazines.
In 2006, having worked at Conde Nast for about 14 years and in search for a change in scenery, Lebenthal co-created a large format sports-themed photography book titled "Stoked: The Evolution of Action Sports" with friend Daniel Stark. For Lebenthal, the book marked the beginning of a more independent phase of visual content creation: "When you're a creative director, you're generally executing someone else's vision" she says, "there's a certain point after which you feel like you're compromising your own point of view".
Lebenthal—who says her sports lifestyle online magazine is inspired by Tory Burch's website and fashion line—was initially launched under the title Sportology, but after partnering with Acadaca, a web-based technology solutions company, Lebenthal's creation got a much needed makeover, evolving into a sleeker looking platform that launched in March. Lebenthal sees her website as a way not only to provide a service but to create a culture as well – "a destination not just to shop, but to spend time and be entertained", she says, "I like the name Style of Sport because it can be turned into an adjective. As in – 'Oh, that's so Style of Sport!'"
In its current form, Style of Sport is a stand-alone site for sports-related content – curated, edited, and designed by Lebenthal herself (in addition to a couple of contributing writers.) Posts range from reviews of sports gear like designer running shoes, paddleboards and snack bars to an explainer on kinesiology tape to a gallery of snowboard photography.
Lebenthal's not focused on monetizing the site yet, and she declines to provide any metrics on traffic. Though she expects Style of Sport will become an e-commerce destination in the future -- the site currently links to websites where products can be purchased -- she wants to first focus on "gaining traction through social media, partnerships, and building an audience" for the site.
What kind of audience? Lebenthal imagines drawing a following of readers (and potential shoppers) much like herself – those interested not only in sport, but also in fashion, art, and photography. As for the question of whether Style of Sport has any future as a print magazine, Lebenthal's answer is a resounding yes, "and a magazine the way I want to do a magazine, not a dumbed down publication, but a chic, glossy, journal of sport." In the next few years, she even sees Style of Sport growing into a chain of high-end boutiques akin to Colette in Paris and Saturday Surf in New York.
Until then, she has smaller-scale retail ideas in mind. "Limited edition partnerships are really popular right now," she says, referencing successful fashion–sport collaborations like Milly and Sperry Topsider, and Pret-a-Surf and J.Crew where more well-known brands have teamed up with smaller, lesser known lifestyle brands. "By doing a small capsule collection, you partner with an established brand, and put your name with their name in it – creating an interest you can tag to audiences on both sides."
Although all this may seem like quite a leap for a fledgling website, Lebenthal is undaunted. "I think everyone is interested in the sporting lifestyle, but no one is really putting it together in one place." For a domain as large as sports, it's difficult to anticipate where consumer interest will be strongest; Lebenthal plans to start small and see where her customers take her. For her, it's more about creating a Style of Sport culture, as opposed to a Style of Sport business—she hopes the latter will follow the former. If that does happen, it will be an inspiration to business-minded art majors everywhere, and another chapter for the Lebenthal family as well.