By Karin Eldor, Forbes.com
Athleisure isn’t a moment, a movement or even a trend: it represents an evolution and a casualization that’s not only acceptable today, but also a look that people aspire to. Look at the numbers: activewear currently represents 24 percent of total apparel industry sales and is forecast to grow through 2019, according to the Future of Apparel study released by The NPD Group in August 2018.
Street-meets-sportswear brand P.E. Nation identified a whitespace in the growing athleisure market that spoke to the need for function and fashion, while featuring high-end details and performance-driven designs.
Launched in Australia by former colleagues and best friends, Pip Edwards and Claire Tregoning in 2016, P.E. Nation has already skyrocketed to the international arena, having expanded from activewear to streetwear, snow gear, and accessories.
The brand is currently available in over 250 retailers globally (including Nordstrom and Bandier, as well as e-commerce sites like Shopbop, Net-A-Porter and Revolve), in addition to its own e-commerce site. And while the brand is experiencing tremendous growth, new opportunities for further international expansion lie in the fashion and denim lines launching in July of this year. (Edwards formerly worked in PR and Design for denim brand Ksubi, so P.E. Nation’s move into jeans is a natural fit.)
One of the keys to P.E. Nation’s success? Tapping into a gap in the current activewear market: “Everyone was wearing their gym gear but it still looked like they were going to the gym. And then from there, it just became more of what we love to wear, that was functional and fashionable, and that suited our lifestyles as working mums. We made a real point of our designs being very high-end driven, following the color trends, and really sticking to the fashion inspiration, but being functional as well,” Edwards explains. And Edwards’ more than 135K Instagram fans can agree that she lives and breathes the P.E. Nation lifestyle as the “P.E.” in the brand name, which is also a play on “Physical Education.”
I spoke with cofounder and creative director Pip Edwards, whose background includes a Bachelor of Commerce/Law and a three-year stint at PricewaterhouseCoopers in risk management, about the branding elements that helped take P.E. Nation from Australian label to global powerhouse, and why her advice to founders is to “wear your story.”
Eldor: I love how P.E. Nation is geared towards juggling a fast-pace life. How do you manage to juggle life as an entrepreneur and a working mother, and maintain a work-life balance?
Edwards: I’m still learning the juggle! I have a lot of help from my family, they’re very understanding, but I make time for a lot of things. I’ve got non-negotiables, which are the things that I’ll never miss out on, like my son’s school events and activities. That mother’s guilt really plays on you, and I think when you’re so busy trying to set up a business, you do sacrifice a lot. My second non-negotiable is training, because training is for my mental health and sanity and if I don’t feel strong and feel good, I’m not going to get on with my day. So I always do that in the morning. And then the rest is a work in progress, but I’m conscious of it and I think being conscious of the balance is the best that we can do.
Eldor: I love how branding is so important to P.E. Nation, and how people can spot a P.E. Nation item from a mile away. What steps did you take in terms of design and marketing, to ensure this elevated type of branding?
Edwards: Branding and identity are really important, which I learned from my previous job at Ksubi. Whatever way the product turns when you’re wearing it, at some point you’re getting a glimpse of the brand or what the signature aesthetic is, and that’s really important. So from far, you always know that it’s P.E. Nation. And that’s actually the best branding.
Eldor: You’re intentional about that, in terms of design and marketing…?
Edwards: In the product design, it’s always got to have certain elements: it’s the stripes, it’s the color-blocking, it’s the way the color palette is put together, and then in the styling it’s the attitude and the tomboy. And in terms of the marketing, the beauty of what’s happened — more so in Australia, we’re working on it in America — but obviously where we’re from, we already have a voice piece, and someone that as a founder personifies the brand. So I bring it to life and I think that’s totally invaluable, to humanize the brand immediately. I don’t think there are a lot of activewear brands that actually have a speaking founder, who actually lives and breathes legitimately what we stand for. It’s not fabricated. It is what it is. So that authenticity is there and I think people can see it.
Eldor: How did you make it so aspirational?
Edwards: That wasn’t an intention. I don’t believe you can strive for something like that, I really believe you strive for what makes you tick. You strive for what makes you smile, you strive for what makes you feel. And I think when that passion overrides everything, that’s what makes other people want it too.
It’s not, “hey we want to be the coolest brand” in fact, the ethos behind the brand is that it’s for every woman, it’s not about cult status. It’s about making every woman feel amazing, like taking on the P.E. vibe — she’s confident, she’s bold, she knows her fashion, she’s into her fitness. She knows herself.
Eldor: What tips do you have for someone who’s partnered with their best friend?
Edwards: The amazing thing with Claire and I, is that we actually started working together years ago for another business, Sass & Bide. We worked together for five years, so our working relationship started before the friendship. If you have a working respect and a working trust, that’s everything. We’re quite yin and yang, what she does I cannot do, and vice versa. So there’s a very clear delineation of our roles and it’s respected. We’re two-for-one, a package deal.
Eldor: What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
Edwards: People often ask about what success is, because a lot of people think “how can I become successful?” That’s not the driver. And I think for women who are trying to start, fund or create businesses, it’s about their passion, what do they want to do every day, what are they prepared to commit to doing every day. And maybe you need a skill-set along the way and experience, but I really believe it’s passion over everything.
Eldor: What are your 3 biggest tips for female entrepreneurs looking to launch their own ventures?
1- Know every single area of the business, from the critical path from design to production to marketing to sales, for example. It’s really important to understand how the dynamics of all those departments work, because sometimes people only come from one area, and they have to actually understand the whole process.
2- Stay in your lane, stay true to who you are, and don’t deviate given the market trend or whatever it is. Find your voice, wear your story, and stick to it.
3- Be real and if it connects with you, then it connects with others.
People want to hear a story, they want to hear the background, so wear it, live it, breathe it, own it. This is the life that I’ve traveled, this is the journey I’ve gone on, this is where I am, take it or leave it. End of story. Wear your story. Be proud of it
Pip Edwards is exclusively managed by The Fordham Company.