It's no secret that the influence and popularity of sports attire has become such a big part of the world of mainstream fashion in recent years, with retailers and designers turning items originally designed for functional use turned into fashionable staples.
The latest retailer to capitalise on this trend is OKAYLA, and online retailer that ensures activewear has more of a fashionable purpose - but with comfort and flexibility.
For this week's '5 Minutes With...' profile, the Retail Gazette spoke to the founder of OKAYLA, Samantha Crutchlow.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background before OKAYLA.
I wanted to be a fashion designer since I was aged 14 in my design & rextiles class.
I received a distinction on an Art & Design Foundation course at Demontfort University, Leicester followed by 2.1 in Fashion Design & Technology at Manchester Metropolitan University. I have 10 years experience designing womenswear for suppliers and retailers in the UK.
My first career highlight was re-locating to Hong Kong for three years to work for a key manufacturer. My second career highlight is launching OKAYLA.
What got you into the retail sector in the first place?
I wanted to create a brand to sell products direct to the customer. I've been designing since leaving university, but it's not until you establish your own brand that you can have ownership over the pieces that you design.
The OKAYLA style is in-keeping with how I like to dress. I'm designing product that I love and I like to buy key pieces in great fabrics with a twist. There are limited affordable brands that I feel cover this.
Describe your role and responsibilities at OKAYLA
I wear all hats at OKAYLA. My title is Head of Design and Sales, but I am responsible for everything regarding the business.
This includes design, fabric sourcing, fitting, marketing, online selling and distribution, attending tradeshows, photoshoots, lookbooks, and website design. The list is endless when running your own business.
How has your previous experience aided your current job?
I have found it extremely useful that I have worked in all sectors of the industry — supply, retail and manufacturing. University teaches you the ground work but the work experience is priceless.
My role in Hong Kong was extremely challenging, juggling lots of responsibilities and long working hours but I don't think anything can prepare you for setting up your own business.
Attributes such as self-belief, determination and self motivation are key as many days I work alone and it's hard work to create a fashion brand.
What was your main inspiration for starting OKAYLA?
There's no better satisfaction then doing something you love and then see other people love it too.
After returning to the UK from Hong Kong, there seemed like no better time to take on the challenge. I had discussed a business venture alongside my business partner prior to leaving the UK but I wanted to gain experience in Hong Kong. When I returned home, the timing just felt right.
How is OKAYLA different to other activewear retailers?
OKAYLA is a sports-luxe fashion brand, so the collection is aimed at the fashion sector instead of the activewear market. The styles are intended to be worn from day to night, not specially for exercising.
Although we use sportswear references, each season we will update the collection with a new spin relevant for OKAYLA.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
I face challenges everyday as problem solving is a big part of the job.
Currently as a new womenswear fashion brand, we're looking to raise brand awareness as online selling is extremely competitive. If we can crack this, then I'm confident that OKAYLA will be successful.
The most rewarding?
The most rewarding part of the job is hearing positive comments about OKAYLA, receiving positive feedback from a happy customer or seeing people engage with you at pop-up shops or trade shows as they love what we do.
There are so many aspects to the job, so each small step forward makes it all worthwhile.
Can you talk about any upcoming projects that you’re working on at the moment?
We will have our first showing at London Edge on February 12-13. I'm so excited to see the reaction there to our new spring/summer 2017 collection.
What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?
As a small fashion brand, the depreciation of the pound is a worry as this has led to all costs increasing. When you don't make huge volumes, this can have a big impact on prices.
What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?
I would tell them to gain as much experience as possible at the beginning of their career working within different sectors and learning from others.
It's good to have a few different roles on your CV so you continue to be challenged, and when the time feels right, take the plunge.
Financial backing is required so it's a good idea to work this out upfront and gain advice from others. Networking and speaking to a business advisor to gain guidance along the way is recommended.
Finally, self belief is really important and remaining focussed about what you want to achieve. Building a brand takes time and patience so putting in place small stepping stones along the way to get there is key.