By Gabby Neal
First of all, in terms of starting your own business, how does one recognise a gap in the market? What was the moment that made you want to actually explore active wear?
Pip: After both working in the fashion industry for a very long time, Claire and I were actually chatting over a long lunch. It all started with the name, my initials, and the rest kind of rolled out from there. We didn’t sit down and analyse the market or try to identify a gap – we created a brand that fit our own lifestyles, as busy, working mothers juggling the office and children, plus everything else in between, we wanted something fashionable and comfortable and product that spoke to our style and aesthetic. Everything we do is organic and must relate back to who we are and what we do … being authentic is key to our business.
In saying that, it’s a hard market to crack, considering you’re competing with the big players like Adidas, Nike did you have a backup plan?
Claire: There was no back up plan! If you have a back up plan, then what are you really going for? It’s got to be all or nothing in this current landscape. Having your own business is really hard – it’s non-stop and you’re pulled into areas of business that you might not have been in before, but it’s all about having the right team and staying true to your brand.
You’re both clearly very active and outdoorsy individuals, so in terms of the product itself and its design, what elements did you feel were missing in other designer’s products?
Pip: It wasn’t necessarily that other designers were missing anything, just that there wasn’t anything that had an aesthetic that directly appealed to Claire and I. P.E Nation is very retro, it’s super street, with a fashion edge but it has performance qualities. Claire and I are inspired by 80s and 90s streetwear – the music, the style – and we brought that to life in P.E Nation. Basically, P.E NATION is multi-functional, and that suited our multi-faceted lifestyles. We figured if it suited our crazy busy lives, it would suit a lot of other women’s needs too.
On the back of that, do you have any funny or interesting (interesting to us, maybe not to you) stories behind particular products or designs?
Pip: The very first piece that was ever designed was a spray jacket that was based around our LOVE for the retro ski aesthetic. The vibe really started about that jacket, and we called it “The B- Easy”.
And just out of curiosity, where did the obsession and interest in block colours come from?
Pip: This signature look of P.E Nation really comes from our unique design eye that Claire and I share. We see things in lines, perspective and colour blocking. We have the same eye for all things, colour and lines – it’s our intuitive aesthetic. We love architecture, music, design, travel, landscape and art – we are inspired by so many things around us and everyday life, but we always keep coming back to colour blocking during our research phase. It’s the heritage to it that we love too, and the old school collegiate vibe. It’s is so synonymous with a lot of sporting activities – tennis courts, basketball courts, football fields – the strong lines and geometric shapes and natural court colour blocking are very P.E.
So, now onto the nitty gritty – Have you had any regrets or mistakes with PE? If so, care to elaborate?
Claire: When you’re a start up business, anything can go wrong and there are challenges every step of the way. From production to sampling to staffing – it’s a constant learning curve but the most important thing is how you respond to those challenges. Learn from it and do it better next time.
Pip: There are never any regrets, but more learnings to use for next time, becoming quicker to react, and then being in a position to plan for it. Planning is everything. Planning, forecasting and re-forecasting are all very important to the longevity and health of our business. When growth has been so quick, the business is constantly shifting, so we always need to check in on it so that we know where we are at, utilise the data at hand, and plan for even greater growth.
As a result of this though, you’ve clearly learnt lessons along the way. What’s the one thing you’ve learnt throughout this journey?
Pip: Trust your fucking gut. Think about all the fucking possibilities, because if you believe it, it can happen. Think big picture and all the connections around that, and always think about the future and forward business – keep the business moving, it’s a work in progress and is all about it’s evolution and relevancy.
Now you’ve also done a few collabs, Reebok for one – who’s next and what’s the dream?
Pip: We actually have our second collab coming out with Reebok in February – our first one sold out the first day we launched! This time, we have two colourways in both men’s and women’s sizing. We also have a collab with New Era, a capsule with SoulCycle in the US and a couple of pretty major collabs for later in the year. We are inspired by other businesses doing epic things and if there is an opportunity to work with them, and the fit is right, then we’re all for it!
So now onto yourselves, what does a day in the life, say on a Tuesday look like for both of you at these various times?
6am: Both: Wake up, cuddle children, kid’s drop off, pilates, breakfast and coffee at the office
9.30am: Look over emails
10am: Usually a meeting of some kind – we work across design, digital, finance, marketing, sales, production, fits, external meetings – so every day is about checking in on the progress of the departments and assisting where needed.
2pm: A late lunch at our desks probably. Usually a salad and eaten whilst on the run between emails and meetings.
6pm: Pick up kids and dog and try to settle into “mum” mode – dinner, homework, family time.
10pm: TRY TO FALL ASLEEP IF NOT ON MESSENGER TO CLAIRE OR VICE VERSA
What is your favourite PE. Nation piece to date?
Pip: The Resilient Legging – a high rise flattering fit that I cant get out of.
Claire: The Flash Hit pant – an awesome street piece that I love to wear with a tank and trainers.
Using only three words, how would you describe the PE. Nation individual?
Both: Tomboyish, confident, fun.
And lastly, how does the duo behind P.E Nation work out in P.E Nation? What’s your go-to to keep in shape and stay sane?
Pip: I’m completely and utterly obsessed with pilates, it has changed both my mind and my body – though I do still like a weekly cardio boxing session to punch out any stress and will occasionally do a soft sand run.
Claire: I do pilates as well, plus running after two small and busy humans! If I don’t have a lot of time, I will stream a LEKfit sculpt session, it only goes for 10 to 15 minutes, so it’s a good way to squeeze in some activity if you can’t commit to a longer session.