Deskside

This London-Based Fitness Brand Is About to Take Over the US

Sweaty Betty founder and Creative Director Tamara Hill-Norton makes workout wear you can go out to lunch in. In collaboration with Sweaty Betty.

By: Noah Lehava
Styling: Noah Lehava
Photography: Alec Kugler

In recent years, it’s been à la mode for every fashion brand to launch a fitness component, whether or not they have had a history in the athletic space. Yes, athleisure is here to stay, but its popularity has been arguably more within the sartorial sense than it has been focused on performance. It’s fitness brands like Sweaty Betty, who have dominated the fitness and fashion space since 1998, that hit both marks: great, stylish design and high-performance technology to back it up. We have to give credit to Tamara Hill-Norton, founder and creative director of Sweaty Betty, for carving out the niche market that’s common ground these days. But what sets her brand apart from the rest? Technology, company culture, and, of course, style. We caught up with the founder to talk about the importance of finding balance, not being a morning person, how fitness gear has its own place in the wardrobe, and how Sweaty Betty is about to take over the US.

 

What the first few days of Sweaty Betty were like:

“There were so many challenges [in the first days of Sweaty Betty]. I’d never done anything like this before. I had a job as an assistant buyer in an underwear company, so I had a love of fashion and product, and had a natural affinity with the fashion fitness category. I had never taken on a shop before, done any lease negotiations, purchased any of my own stock, or raised any money. I was buying other brands before starting our own label. The hardest thing was to convince [other brands] that my concept was going to work.

“When I managed to get the store, we were in a part of Notting Hill that, at the time, was not a nice place to be. In some ways it was really fortuitous. There were a lot of American expats living in the area. They used to come in next door to the 7/11 to buy their milk in the mornings and then they’d see that I was a sports store, so they would pop in. Now if you go there, that part of Notting Hill is so incredible [now]. We were really lucky. The whole area was being rebuilt three years after I took on the lease.”

 

More than technical clothing sets them apart:

“We’ve learned how to make really beautiful technical products. A lot of the high street [brands] are trying to do their activewear collections, but they don’t necessarily have the history, knowledge and experience to make stylish product that performs. We are a London-based, British brand, so we have those style credentials London brands often have. It’s all about the effortless cool look that comes with layering. We just don’t take ourselves too seriously. I think there are so many brands out there where it’s all about the strong athlete and we are very much about being balanced and having fun, dancing and having lots of drinks when you want to, but then also working out and having mental balance as well.”

The stand-outs:

“I think fundamentally the product has got to shout for itself and we have found success with what we call our Bum Sculpting leggings. There are two in particular: our Zero Gravity legging, which is made of an Italian fabric that is very compressing and sculpting. And our other one is the Power, and that’s a bit more stretchy, but also super sculpting. We love experimenting with new fabrics and new silhouettes, and our outerwear is really strong at the moment, as is our knitwear.”

 

You don’t have to be a morning person to be successful:

“I’m so not a morning person. Everyone reads about all these people who just have this amazing morning routine, and the smoothies they make and meditation they do when waking up. It’s getting to a point, in my household, where we have nice mornings and I don’t shout at my kids [laughs] but I think it’s always quite stressful. Yes, I make myself smoothies and I add moondust; I love all the ouija stuff with the spirits and the powers. I pray that they help me through the day. And I make sure the kids have eggs for breakfast because otherwise they’ll just have really sugary cereal, so that’s always my constant battle. Luckily for me, because I work in this industry I can literally just put on my leggings and trainers and cycle into work. I cycle along the river, it takes me half an hour to get to work, and it’s great.”

Work environment is the key to balance:

“Working with people you really like, so you have fun at work, and creating things together [is important]. I think that’s taken a long time to get to where I feel really comfortable with everyone and I don’t get stressed out that people are not doing things my way. We all work in a very collaborative way. I do work really, really hard, but it doesn’t feel like that because I’m enjoying so much working with the people I work with.”

 

Her definition of chilling out:

“Having cocktails with friends. I love doing that. But also exercise, like yoga. The normal things—eating chocolate [laughs]. I’ve only just come across the Nordstrom dark salted caramels, oh my god, they’re so good. They’re amazing.”

Her before-bed wind down:

“I will make myself a cup of peppermint-and-licorice tea and read. I don’t check emails. I have a pact with my 14-year-old daughter that she will be in bed at 10PM and I will stop my emails by 10PM. I try to chill out. I don’t watch tv really, and so it’s more about relaxing, chatting with my husband, and then always reading before I go to bed.”

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