From the source: Pip Edwards, PE Nation
COMPANY PROFILE: PE Nation Founded by Pip Edwards and Claire Tregoning in March 2016, online retailer and activewear brand PE Nation has 100 stockists around the world and ships to more than 80 countries, with a social following of more than 60,000. The brand is now set to expand its offering, with swimwear, yoga and denim to launch later in the year.
Inside Retail Weekly: PE Nation only launched a little over a year ago! What has the past year been like for the business?
Pip Edwards: We launched March last year. It’s been a huge year, Basically, it was launched, we sold out some things in a couple of hours, others in a couple of days, the response was really overwhelming and awesome. We built momentum straight away, we launched into international, so quickly, we moved over UK and Germany and obviously Australia, so that’s been massive growth and we’ve got PR agencies in those countries as well. We’ve now grown from the business just being Claire and I to now being 15 staff, which is an indication of our rapid growth. It’s been exciting, we’ve definitely been riding the wave and striking the iron while it’s hot.
We set up structure so we could handle the growth. We knew we wanted to be a mass brand, we were always going to be global and a household name – it was always our mission from the start. We’re now operating full steam ahead. We’re definitely looking at expanding in the US and have operations over there, so that’s exiting, definitely with an ecommerce push, which is where we’re seeing all the wins.
We’ve done loads of collabs, which are quite important to the brand. PE Nation is a look, we’re a vibe and an aesthetic that is quite different to what’s going on in the active space. Something that completes that look is the right trainer, which determines whether you’re sport or street. We partnered with Reebok before we even launched. This started six months before we even had product in the market. We launched the collab in January this year and we sold out in six hours.
It was the most successful collab they’ve done, so we’re backing up with another range of shoes in January. It’s a testament to this look, this feeling.
IRW: What plans do you have for the year ahead?
PE: Obviously we started as a start-up but now we’re in a fully-fledged business and it’s about getting the right staffing and structure. We’re a young team and so now we’re becoming a more senior and experienced team. We’re pulling in resources and staff globally to help us with the aggressive growth we have planned. It’s now about getting the right people and the right skillset.
That’s a big part of the growth next year, and then also, the US. It’s a beast and takes time for people to crack.
IRW: How do you see your ecommerce side of things evolving? Tell me about the relaunch of the site.
PE: We relaunched our site a month ago, we have a dual website which is split into the US.
We have a lot more people in the business focusing on ecommerce, it’s where the wins are for us and it’s definitely the way the landscape is going. I do still believe in offering something tangible to our customers and looking after our existing retailers. It’s hard times out there for bricks-and-mortar, but it’s still so important.
You never know how things are going to take off when you start a business, it’s trial-and-error and with the amount of traffic coming through, we needed a better backend. Visually, we needed it to look quite forward aesthetically, it needed to be in the right zone. I definitely think it’s way more functional, but that’s being adapted every day. We’ve got our team working on better ways to be more consumer-friendly. It’s not an area I have a forte in, so I’m taking on board a lot of advice and getting mentoring and information from others.
IRW: There are so many players in the activewear space and there are so many huge international sporting brands coming into the country now. Where do you think PE Nation sits in the landscape?
PE: The sector is saturated and it’s huge. We had an SEO guy do analytics for us and we looked at where we’re tracking compared to all the big guns – we’re not even on the radar. We haven’t hit the tip of the iceberg yet and we can already see the potential. It’s so great.
The activewear sector is very saturated, there’s a lot of crap out there and there are a lot of brands that come in for different reasons. I don’t think there’s not a lot of quality, personally. Where we set ourselves apart, is not only do we have an authentic stamp on the aesthetic, we pride ourselves on the quality of product. When we say it’s functional for sport and street, we’re legit doing that – I don’t think a lot of other brands are doing that. Our products have things like sweat wicking and all those performance qualities you need when you train, it’s just that we make those performance pieces also look street. That’s why our products get you from A to B to Z in a whole day without getting changed.
I feel like we forged a bit of a path and it’s about evolving [in the activewear category]. Now it’s about the lifestyle shift globally around health and fitness. It’s at the forefront of everybody’s minds, so now it’s about how does that work day-to -day? We’re listening to all our different types of customers. That’s why we launch denim in January and other categories that support the street/sport movement.
IRW: So you see PE Nation evolving beyond just activewear?
PE: If you bring it back to the actual skills and talent in the business, our forte was never activewear – our strengths were in denim and fashion, it’s where Claire and I built up our experience. The launch into activewear wasn’t strategic, it’s about how we dress, it’s our personal style and what we wear every day anyway. It was an organic thing for us to design activewear that’s functional and fits our lifestyle.
The beauty of it is the way we style what we wear is in a street sports way, so it was a natural thing for us to do denim, cos that’s how you wear it during the day. You go to the gym in a crop top or singlet, take off your leggings and put your jeans on and you still get on with your day – that’s how we operate. Denim was a natural progression for us.
In terms of other categories, we’ve also got accessories, yoga and tennis. We’re going into sport categories quite specifically, but they will always have a fashion element, because that’s where our background is. Swimwear is launching in October.
IRW: You’ve worked with some amazing brands during your career – Ksubi, General Pants and sass & bide. What lessons did you learn from your work at those companies that you brought to PE Nation?
PE: I think I was lucky to work across those three iconic fashion brands that are very diverse. For me, Ksubi was such a passion project, it was really grassroots, it was a bit of a cult, we were amazing friends and super tight. What I learnt from that was we never strayed from our vision – we were who we were and we didn’t compromise on that. The business fell down, but what has kept them alive, even under different management, is that ethos and cult following.
My time at sass and bide is where I got into the creative side of the business, I learnt how to understand creative briefs and how they operate. For me, sass and bide was about learning how design impacts the commercial side of the business, but it was high-end fashion and design-driven. That was important to understanding the design process.
When I went to General Pants, the amazing thing about that was it taught me was how to understand the bottom line, return, the customer, the demographics and working from a mass retailer was important to understand how it translates and why they needed the product. If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have understood why we needed activewear and another brand in that space. I just knew I was that customer that was lacking in the sector. It taught me about customer focus, I learnt about design at sass and bide and a vision and reason at Ksubi.
IRW: PE Nation has already built a cult following in such a short period of time, which was probably helped when Khloe and Kylie Kardashian were seen wearing your clothing. What do you think is behind building that following?
PE: It nearly killed me, but it was Instagram. We launched the account four months before any of the product launched. It was so curated and so pure, it gave me time to really give context to what we stood for that was different to other brands. It was about the design eye, the colour palette, the retro feel and I was able to formulate the brand visually without compromise in context before the product launched. So when it landed, people knew how and why it all fit in. Instagram was a great tool for us as a brand.
There was a screaming involved when we saw the Kardashians wear our brand. It’s crazy, the whole family is all over it, it’s mental. It’s just a testament to the product, they love the product, they wear it again and again and they keep coming back. Product is king. They must get shit thrown at them all the time, so the fact they keep coming back to us and they’re re-wearing stuff from five seasons ago is just crazy.
Pip Edwards will be talking about how PE Nation engages with millennials at the next Inside Retail Academy event in Sydney on 12 September.
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