As part of my prize for winning the Sweaty Betty blogger styling event for their SS14 collection (you might remember it from my previous post HERE), I had the opportunity to interview their design team (Lisa, Laura and Julia) over at SB HQ in Fulham. The picture above is me in full-on ‘interview mode’. Organised over 3 floors, with a yoga studio, a shop, full corporate infrastructure and a strict ban on using the lift, the headquarters reminded me of a mini-Asos office; buzzing, creative, young and very cool! There are fabric libraries, mood walls, rows of iMacs, hair straightener zones, and a growing collection of award plaques…
Below you’ll find the transcript from my interview. There are some fun pictures to go along with it, which give you a flavour of how their ground floor studio-space looks, but this post is really meant for the keen fitness fashion enthusiast. It provides a rare insight into how the people that create our ‘sports looks’ think about the design process. A huge logistical and creative effort gets underway every single season, and as western consumers, we tend to take that ‘in-store-availability’ and ‘newness’ totally for granted; we’re totally oblivious to what’s going on behind the scenes, to get the product onto our shelves. The Sweaty Betty team are developing a world-class approach to the process, and I found it a fascinating experience to get a glimpse of the construction. I hope you enjoy reading it (or maybe just browsing a few of the shots) Faya x
N.B. I’ve redacted Lisa, Laura & Julia’s responses into one ‘Sweaty Betty’ response for the sake of simplicity.
1) IS THERE A ‘SIGNATURE’ SWEATY BETTY DESIGN
There have been so many! We certainly have hero pieces, such as ‘print’ (e.g. our printed leggings). It’s because we design using a high fashion process – we don’t start with colour; that comes as a by-product of the overall range.
Colour is however a key Sweaty Betty signature, with pops of colour, neons, pinks… We’re not afraid of that, nor the subtle, sophisticated palate with an element of something a bit exciting thrown in!
Seamless-engineered pieces are also something we’re known for. Regardless though, they have to be equal-parts functional and fashionable.
2) WHO IS THE SWEATY BETTY ‘GIRL’, OR TARGET AUDIENCE?
Every season we have a different ‘muse’. But the real answer is ‘Kate’. Not Kate Middleton or Kate Moss specifically, but our conceptual girl is called Kate. She’s a thirty-something professional Woman, perhaps a director, or part of the top management of a company, she shops at Whole Foods, she’s very active, very much at the forefront of new things, is most likely to be eating clean at the moment, and has children, but also has help. It’s all about life and balance for Kate. She is an aspirational woman; she’s who we design our clothes for.
3) DO YOU BORROW TRENDS FROM CATWALKS?
You absolutely have to have your finger on the pulse, and we do reference what’s contemporary and relevant, but when we’re designing, we don’t look at magazines or trend sites because we don’t want to be influenced in that moment. The influencing comes in the memory of the time that led up to the design process. So yes we borrow trends, but very much indirectly. In general, we like to immerse ourselves in designers with a really sporty aesthetic, like Alexander Wang, VPL, Christopher Raeburn, Philip Lim; people like that, who are synonymous with sportswear are always on our radar.
4) WHAT WERE THE INSPIRATIONS FOR THIS SS14 SEASON?
Because of the lead-times of putting a collection together, it was actually a year ago that we went through the SS14 design process! It was inspired by the theme of sailing; it’s always based on our founder Tamara’s thoughts around a topic that has relevance to her, and we try to develop variety within the range to make it come into being. That gives it a really authentic story rather than just being a carbon copy of other trends. When you look on the season’s mood board [picture below], we always have a key ‘muse’ at the centre who evokes everything we’re trying to express. Around that, you get individual details more than looks. There’s just one catwalk image on this mood board, and everything else is detail.
5) WHAT IS SPECIAL, AND WHAT ARE THE KEY INNOVATIONS RIGHT NOW?
There’s a lot of new ‘no-sew’ bindings, so you have ‘taped and glued’ lines rather than stitched ones. That’s for the purpose of style AND comfort – you get less chafing, and it’s far flatter than a flatlock stitched seam, which gives it a sleeker look. It’s a flawless-looking design that brings it down to the essentials. Reflective is another really big thing right now. Certain fabrics from ‘Dance‘ Statement are also proper innovations – cotton-seamless, which have become signatures to certain ranges. On the Ski side, we’re very good with four-way soft shell too.
6) ON YOUR SKIWEAR, THE STAKES ARE SO HIGH – HOW HAVE YOU TACKLED THE DESIGN PROCESS IN A VERY COMPETITIVE MARKET?
We’ve been doing it for 4 years now, and it’s really blown the lights out for us. It’s pretty strong to build such a reputation for skiwear over such a short space of time. We still believe that skiwear is like beachwear – it’s an escape. People are much happier to buy bright colours to reflect that unleashed freedom. The snow-reflected white light really emphasises that, in the way that the sand reflects the light onto a bright bikini. The ‘seamless’ design was where we could really play with colour – and it’s amazing that you can go quite wild with colour, especially on the base layers. AW14 will see the introduction of some new product, new ways of wearing, new fits, new materials… we’re very excited about that!
7) WHAT PIECES DO YOU COME BACK TO TIME AND AGAIN?
Well, we all design separate ranges, so there are different thoughts on that one.
Lisa: I design the technical Run statement, run pro and outdoor training core – a lot of the functional stuff.
Julia: I’ve done Dance statement, Swim training and summer Run, and in A/W I will do ski, sport lifestyle, and then will be doing yoga.
Laura: I’ve done Cool-down, Spa, some swimwear, beach sport, yoga retreat etc.
However, despite our individual specifics, there are certain things that come into every range, every season; black pants, the Athlete Workout Vest (although the colour varies season-to-season), there’s often the Adrenaline Capri, the Zero-Gravity Tight… and the fit should be the same every time, just with different style lines.
8) WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHALLENGES INNOVATING AROUND YOUR DESIGNS
The balance is difficult! We’re just the design team (we have separate buying, merch, tech) but we have to do the sourcing as well. That’s fantastic because we get very hands-on with new technologies; we go to our factories (all our seamless is produced in Europe, Turkey, we also have Taiwan, China and Cambodia – the designers get to make sure that the factories stand up to the right moral and ethical standards, and some of these factories are AMAZING), we see our suppliers and eyeball all the product ourselves, but it does add another layer of complexity to the process for us. Ultimately it leads to better innovation and higher quality clothes for the women that wear them.
9) WHAT WOULD YOU CONSIDER ‘ESSENTIAL FITNESS’ ITEMS
Above all else, a good pair of non see-through leggings, which are fully opaque to cater for yoga poses like Downward Dog. We aim to fuse function and fashion from that perspective. We’re in development for a new opaque fabric for the workout ranges too, which is tricky as it’s really important to maintain the sensitive feel of the fabric. We always make sure we deliver a general brief for the fabrics that they have to feel luxurious and pleasant to the touch. We women shop with our hands; you walk along a shop, stroke the clothes and stop when it feels nice – so our fabrics are always beautiful-feeling.
Apart from that, a really good sports bra which can withstand high impact (which has taken a lot of development time on our part) is so important, as are a suitable, correct pair of trainers as well.
10) DO SOME ITEMS SELL BETTER IN AMERICA?
Since we opened the two stores in the US, we’ve found that the statement ranges sell well, rather than the core essentials. That’s something they don’t have so much of. Other companies may be known for essentials in the US, but our prints are quite fashion-oriented and that really seems to go down well with the US audience. They’re also particularly fond of the ‘British Design’ element, as it really adds to the heritage perception of the brand out there, and acts as a USP for us.
11) I RECENTLY WROTE A POST ON DRESSING ELEGANT-CHIC IN SPORTSWEAR – WHAT IS SWEATY BETTY DOING TO DEVELOP THIS AESTHETIC?
There’s been a change in culture where it’s now an event for women to put on their sportswear and wear it proudly at the gym. In the past, ‘Statement Run’ has been all about sensitive, soft fabrics. Now we’re doing a lot more mixed fabrics in any one range, so that you can go to one of our shops, buy different items from the range, and not look contrived and matched, which makes it look a lot more effortless. Mixing Cool-down fabrics with technical ones.
We also work hard on colour palate, to ensure that there are items in the Cool-down range and Yoga range which will fit into the Workout ranges. A prime example would be the Zero Gravity tights and the loose yellow Finsbury sweatshirt from the Cool-down range – people around the office wear it to get that layered look, and it never occurred to us at the start!
The buyers do an interesting exercise too; they lay out all the ranges, then ask the company to come and choose an outfit from it, to see whether there are other outfitting opportunities. It’s a good way to keep us thinking about creating diverse and varied looks.
12) HOW MANY ITEMS ARE THERE IN ANY GIVEN SEASON’S COLLECTION?
About 200-and-something. That’s including all the colourways of an item, like the Athlete Vest which comes in 10 different colours.
13) ARE THERE ANY MUST HAVE ACCESSORIES?
There’s a great backpack coming out soon. Also our Hydrate water bottles are fantastic – it’s frosted, and feels beautiful in the hand.
The neck warmers and ear warmers are wonderful extras too if you’re going for a winter run!
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