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Here’s What It’s Really Like To Start-Up An Activewear Label

Here’s What It’s Really Like To Start-Up An Activewear Label

Frustrated by a lack of workout gear that performed well during exercise AND looked cute, Katia Santilli and Vera Yan took matters into their own hands and launched Nimble Activewear in 2014.

“We had found that the truly technical, performance pieces on offer lacked the feminine aesthetic that we wanted, and many of the fashion forward pieces were lacking in the technical elements that we needed from our workout clothing,” Vera said.

“We’d constantly be worrying about sweat marks, waistbands falling down, itchy seams and worst of all, see-through tights!

“The combination of aesthetics and functionality is not something that we have lost sight of and forms the basis of each of our collections.”

The entrepreneurs, who have been friends since high school, haven’t looked back since, with the opening of their flagship store in Bondi Beach in 2016 and their latest collection gracing Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia this year.

As two women who live and breathe exercise gear, you’d expect the pair to be perpetually in workout mode. That’s not quite the case, as we learned when they took us behind the scenes of running an activewear label. 

Nimble Activewear was one of 6 athleisure brands to show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia this year. Photo: Dominic Loneragan.
Nimble Activewear was one of 6 athleisure brands to show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia this year. Photo: Dominic Loneragan.

What have been some of the highlights of running the business so far?

VERA: I love having the freedom to implement ideas – we have an amazing, but small team and as a young company, we can be very agile and innovative which is exciting. I also still get the biggest buzz from walking down the street and seeing someone in Nimble Activewear!

KATIA: We were recently announced as a finalist for the 2017 Retail Awards – In-Store Experience category. There are five finalists in the category and to even be considered in the same category as the other big brand names (the other finalists in the category are West Elm, Kikki K, RM Williams and Lush) is a huge honour. 

And the low lights?

VERA: As a start-up, all of us in the business are required to wear many hats and take on any tasks that are thrown at us. Although this is part of what makes coming to work every day really exciting, at times this can also make you feel incredibly overwhelmed!

KATIA: Yep I agree, being under-resourced and not being able to do everything that you want to do can definitely be frustrating at times!

What were you doing before running Nimble Activewear?

VERA: I have a corporate background, and before Nimble Activewear I worked in investment banking and then as a lawyer.

KATIA: I have a fashion background and was living in London working for Burberry before we started Nimble Activewear – before that I was working at Puma.

Vera and Katia at their flagship Bondi Beach store.
Vera and Katia at their flagship Bondi Beach store.

How many hours per week do you spend on email?

VERA: Too many! Unfortunately sometimes I can spend up to 1/3 of my time on emails – something that I am trying to cut down on.

KATIA: I really try hard not to spend too much of my day on emails. I get into a habit of checking them first thing in the morning and then switching them off and checking them again in the afternoon so I can be productive with my work throughout the day. A lot of the tasks I do in the business can be long and time-consuming so I really need to focus my time on this. I’m lucky my communication with the factories is mostly over the phone or in person for our local factories, and with our off-shore factories I use WhatsApp and WeChat to communicate with them. This eliminates a lot of emails for me.

How many hours per week do you work?

VERA + KATIA: Generally somewhere between 60 to 70 hours, though it can really vary depending on what we have on that week.

What’s the average length of your working day?

VERA + KATIA: We generally get into work around 8am and leave anywhere between 6pm and 10pm depending on what we have on – where we can, we do try to get home for a home-cooked dinner at least twice a week.

How do you fit fitness into your life?

VERA: I try to fit in some form of exercise most mornings – I love starting the day with a workout and find that it really does help to clear the mind and start the day focused.

KATIA: The mornings work best for me as I can get tied up in the afternoons and evenings. I love practising yoga first thing. There are a lot of great studios around Bondi so it’s really easy for me to get into work after I have finished my workout. When I can fit it in I do love a lunchtime yoga class. My favourite class is a Yin yoga midday class at This Is Yoga in Clovelly, taught by Mel who is fantastic! The class focuses on holding postures, breath work and meditation, so I leave it feeling refreshed and revitalised, ready to take on the rest of my afternoon.

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Written by Ilona Marchetta

Ilona Marchetta is an expert in interiors and sustainable living.
She has a deep appreciation for beautifully curated spaces, and is completing a Statement of Attainment in Interior Styling through Sydney Design School. Ilona is passionate about artisan pieces, sustainable living, and the impact of design on mood and experience. She holds a degree in Arts / Communication and has worked in media and corporate relations for more than 15 years, now with a focus on human behaviour as a change manager.

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