Launching online in 2013, Active in Style has become the capital’s go-to destination for the latest activewear labels from around the globe.
Dedicated to sourcing the most functional, coveted and fashion-forward designs from leading industry brands, the fashion retailer, now in its third year, has begun generating an impressive £1.5million annual turnover.
Enjoying a 20% month on month growth rate, with plans to relocate to Kings Road in Chelsea, and launch the Active Man, a standalone ecommerce store dedicated to men’s activewear, Active in Style is shaping the capital’s athleisure scene, catering to both the performance focused and style conscious consumer.
As an official partner of Welltodo’s first Business of Wellness Summit; a day-long event bringing together influencers and change-makers to discuss the future of the wellness industry, Active in Style will lead a conversation focusing on the future of the athleisure sector.
Ahead of the groundbreaking summit, we sat down with the brand’s founder Caroline Lucey to talk about selling a lifestyle, identifying new trends and achieving longevity in an increasingly competitive market.
On identifying a gap in the market…
When we first thought about launching Active In Style nobody was wearing activewear in the UK. It was nothing like the athleisure trend that we’d seen in Australia and we weren’t even sure if it was going to work.
Luckily, within about six months everything changed. Consumers started getting onboard with the concept of wearing leggings for a workout as well as for breakfast, and eventually people started wearing activewear for comfort.
We began noticing a few other activewear brands really pushing the fashion-performance criteria in Australia and the US, and after watching what Style Runner was doing in Australia, we thought maybe this is the time to set up a multi-brand platform for the UK.
Launching Active in Style in the January of 2013, we worked hard on getting brands like Vie Active and Onzie onto the site quickly, and then continued to add other ‘stand out’ brands in order to build up our portfolio.
On breaking down barriers in the UK…
Initially, I did worry about the British market (or lack of it).
I remember thinking “how am I going to get British people to buy a £40 sports bra”. I soon realised that we needed to get our customers to buy into wellness as a lifestyle instead of just buying into individual products.
I started looking for influencers to work with in order to push the aspirational lifestyle, but unlike some of the Australian influencers who had hundreds of thousands of followers, finding UK influencers with the same kind of profile was really hard.
I remember asking “who do people follow here?”
And then there was the media. Magazines in the UK didn’t have fitness sections back then, let alone health and fitness editors, so I was having to deal with beauty editors who didn’t really understand or know where to place products.
But fast-forward four years and it’s completely different. Suddenly people get it, and products that we once struggled to sell are now so popular women are coming to us all the time asking when we’re getting them back in stock.
On Positioning the Active In Style brand…
When we set up Active in Style no other business was doing what we were doing. There weren’t any online, multi-brand retailers of boutique activewear brands.
At the time, we felt like our competitors were sports stores, although we saw ourselves very differently.
Our consumers are willing to spend £100 on a pair of leggings. They are the everyday woman. They have jobs, children, and exercise 3-4 times a week, but they’re also trying to buy into this fashionable lifestyle, so they’re very middle market.
Because of this our products have to be fashionable and functional.
There are brands that we have looked at stocking because everyone else is stocking them, but if it’s not a product that our customers would feel comfortable wearing and washing a couple of times a week then we won’t stock them.
If a product doesn’t stay up properly or a bra doesn’t give you any support it isn’t really activewear.
We always take functionality into account when we’re stocking brands and we hope that’s what sets us apart from all the new retailers that have now entered the market.
On driving sales and scaling the business….
Scaling the business is our main focus, so increasing sales and building new partnerships are key.
We use partnerships in order to help with the marketing and brand awareness side of things and we also have plans to work on collaborative products as well as our own products in order to generate more margin.
Wholesale is great, but you’re only ever working with around a 50% margin, so trying to find ways to increase that margin is definitely key.
Our new partnerships with Third Space and Xtend Barre are really great for us because they provide us with access to their market. Plus, they allow us to have stores in places where otherwise we would have to create and lease ourselves, and that’s a really big expense.
On overcoming challenges…
The wholesale business is tough.
Essentially we are a platform, so as much as we can beautifully brand our platform and do all the right things to promote the Active In Style girl and the ‘wellness’ lifestyle, we’re still working with someone else’s product, so if they switch that off or sell to ten other people we lose our USP.
It’s a huge challenge and we’re always battling against that, but selling a lifestyle is part of our expertise and we’re proud at how hard we’ve worked on it.
However, it’s definitely getting more difficult.
Working with Instagrammers doesn’t have the same power as it used to and I worry about how our consumers perceive their lifestyles. To them, it’s not realistic to be able to work out twice a day whenever they want, or to have all this activewear – that’s not who our girl is.
Our girl is earning her own money by working five days a week and she is trying to squeeze things in around that, so we try and engage with them in ways they can relate to.
On the athleisure scene moving forward…..
I definitely think the activewear market will continue to grow. Some of the smaller brands may struggle to keep going, leaving the stronger brands to move forwards, but with the number of fitness studios and other wellness venues opening, people want the apparel to go with it.
However, I see it becoming much more integrated. It will become less of a novelty and people will begin to slot it into their everyday lives.
At Active in Style, we always talk about people’s activewear wardrobe. We believe that our customers have an active wardrobe as well as an everyday fashion wardrobe and we see that growing.
They don’t just own three pieces that they exercise in, they have matching trainers, bras and accessories, and with high street brands like Gap and Zara launching activewear it will open up the market and make even more people view activewear as an option in their everyday wardrobe.
On Pushing the Men’s Activewear Category Forward…
We’ve always wanted to do menswear, but have held off in the past due to the limited number of brands available.
Now more and more labels are starting to crop up so it makes sense to be riding the tip of that wave.
We’re aiming to launch the Active Man towards the end of this year, as a stand alone dedicated website separate from the Active in Style site.
Stocking a curated collection of men’s brands from around the world including some big names as well as smaller boutique labels, it will have its own look and feel that depicts the Active Man and his lifestyle.
Previously men have had a sort of “oh I’ll just chuck on any old thing on” attitude towards activewear, but now we’re finding that more men are buying into the lifestyle and they want three pairs of trainers in different colours or a proper sweatshirt.
I really think the market is growing and we’re really excited to grow with it.