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Style Points: Fenix Sportier brings European luxury to sports accessories
Veteran marketer Lauren Bruksch couldn’t find a racquet bag stylish enough to take from the tennis court to the brunch table. So she made her own, founding the L.A.-based Fenix Sportier label in the process.
Published Apr 04, 2022
Lauren Bruksch had hit the jackpot, but when professional tennis—and the world—stopped on March 8, 2020, she didn’t know it yet.
The founder, CEO and designer of Fenix Sportier, a U.S.-based luxury tennis accessories label specializing in hand-crafted, upscale racquet bags, was in Indian Wells to promote the launch of her new Gameday line. The elegant, stadium-approved clear totes were designed to solve the headaches of fashion-conscious sports fans—the ones who have planned out their game-day outfit from head to toe, but then have to lug around their belongings in a glorified plastic bag to comply with the ‘clear bag policy’ in place at many events.
But suddenly, there were no sports events to attend at all. The BNP Paribas Open—which was set to introduce its own clear bag policy that year—was canceled; it was the first domino in a series of suspensions that would wipe out nearly half a year of tennis, sports, concerts and other live events.
With an abundance of Gameday bags in tow, Bruksch, a veteran marketing executive and an enterprising tennis fan, went back to the drawing board.
The Manhattan Beach, Calif. native had launched Fenix Sportier in 2018, after previously overseeing global branding of Barbie at Mattel for more than a decade. Bruksch went on to lead Palter DeLiso, a heritage American luxury shoe brand that was made in Italy, but was left pondering her next move after the company closed in 2016.
She was working out of her local tennis club, navigating contract closures and layoffs with the sounds of racquet strings and squeaky shoes in the distance, when she decided she might as well take up tennis. But when it came time to pick out a stylish racquet bag to go with her outfit, Bruksch realized that the options available were slim to none.
“I was like, there is not a single bag I want to wear on the tennis court that I would ever wear in the rest of my life,” Bruksch tells Baseline. “And I found that my tennis bag was just sort of this flimsy, floppy and utilitarian thing that I kept in the back of my trunk and it never moved. I didn't want anyone to see it. I carried it to the court. I put it back in the trunk.
“I would have never bought it even into the market, the grocery store, to have lunch with friends. Then it dawned on me. Why don't you just develop and design a bag that you do like? And maybe we'll see what happens.”
Tapping into the same network of Italian leather tanneries and luxury hardware-makers that she worked with during her time in footwear, she set out to infuse European luxury into the world of racquet bags and tennis accessories. After years of sourcing, designing and product testing, a new business was born.
She named the brand Fenix Sportier as a reference to the legend of a phoenix, rising out from the ashes of her previous business ventures, as well as a nod to her son’s initials, F.S.
“And then ‘Sportier’ is a play off of ‘sport’ and ‘couturier’, because I feel like fashion and sports should not be exclusive. They belong together," she explains. “In a lot of ways tennis has always been an incredibly aspirational, stylish sport, and when I was shopping for stuff I felt like it had lost that way.”
To fix that, Bruksch created the Billie Bag, a perforated leather racquet bag that’s lined with luxe suede and features custom zippers—made by the same Italian studio used by Tom Ford and Burberry—which can hold up to three racquets, a phone and few small items, and retails from $1,000 USD.
Then there’s the Major Bag (from $2,000 USD), which looks like any fashionista’s favorite slouchy carryall tote at first glance, but it can also hold tennis racquets in a special compartment, as well as water bottles or cans of tennis balls. Most importantly, it can neatly transition from the tennis court to the brunch table or the airport in seamless style.
As Fenix Sportier took off, Bruksch and her team grew the product collection to include more bags, totes, and accessories—including the clear Gameday bag, which nearly sold out on launch during an Indian Wells trunk show ahead of the 2020 BNP Paribas Open. The appeal of the clear, PVC bag is in its elevated look: it features the same Italian leather trim and custom French hardware as the rest of the brand, and the plastic is also perforated—adding an extra layer of chic, as well as breathability, to a material that is often hard to dress up.
With utility crossover for sports fans, concert goers, and errand runners, the Gameday was an instant hit—and the first signal for Bruksch of her brand’s potential to reach beyond tennis.
In fact, some of the Gameday’s biggest fans came from pickleball, as racquet sports experienced a boom in 2020: the bag’s 12” by 12” dimensions happened to fit two paddles and three pickleballs perfectly. And because pickleball paddles come in all kinds of eye-catching designs, players could show them off in the clear bag—which was also easy to wipe down, a priority during the height of the pandemic.
“Pickleball was originally a pivot because of world circumstances,” she says. “And then I saw a lot of my tennis peers start to pick up pickleball, and I realized there was an opportunity in the same way to also add style into pickleball.”
All the while, the brand still maintains its strong roots in tennis: personalized Fenix Sportier bags were worn by the 2021 USA Olympic and Paralympic tennis teams, and last year they sold as licensed official merchandise at the US Open. Bruksch finally got to make her Indian Wells debut last month, and had to replenish her stock “a handful of times” throughout the event.
It also provided a rare opportunity for Bruksch to watch customers interact with her products, and she plans for Fenix Sportier to be on-site again in Charleston and Cincinnati.
“I'm not gonna lie, there were some people that came up and they'd show the price tag to their friend or husband and be like, $275 for a plastic bag? But there were also a bunch of women that came up, took pictures and just literally picked up the bag without even thinking and bought it,” she recalls with a grin.
“It was so exciting to see and really encouraging. I'm 100% self-financed. I'm a 100% women-owned small business made in Los Angeles and the USA. I am so proudly made here, and that took a lot of work to happen.
“When you're in that daily grind, doing the price tags myself and bagging them and shipping, it's nice to just take a moment and be like ‘Oh, okay, people do like this!’”