Sweaty Betty is one of the most iconic and stylish activewear brands for women out there. Co-founder Tamara Hill-Norton recognised a gap in the market for sportswear that would keep women looking and feeling great, and since setting up the first Sweaty Betty store in Notting Hill in 1998 they've expanded to 50 stores worldwide. We asked Tamara to share the story of how she made it.
After being made redundant from my job as a buyer. I took the opportunity to evolve the concept I had long been contemplating: as a sport enthusiast, I felt there was a gap in the fashion sportswear market and I wanted to fill it.
I started to work on a business plan with help from my husband Simon, now CEO of Sweaty Betty. He'd been to business school and worked as a management consultant, so he pulled together the numbers, I researched products, and we received funding from friends, family and the bank, before eventually finding a site for our first shop in Notting Hill. We continued to open shops around the country filled with beautiful clothing in technical fabrics for multiple sports and beyond.
Then in 2009, I began to realise that our own label was selling better than other brands and decided to focus on this, designing original collections seasonally - you’ll never find the same thing at Sweaty Betty.
When we started out with one shop in Notting Hill, I was working seven days a week on the shop floor. I was very proud and passionate - the business was my baby and I wanted to do everything independently.
We now have over 50 shops globally from London to Los Angeles, plus a support office filled with our design, ecommerce, marketing, finance, product and operations teams. Personally, I’m now married to Simon, with have three kids and a dog Ennis, so it’s safe to say a lot has changed! One thing that hasn’t altered is that London is still central to Sweaty Betty - it’s where the business is based.
There were two moments that come to mind that changed things. The first was two weeks after opening our first store in Notting Hill when the Evening Standard named Sweaty Betty as ‘one to watch’. I opened the first shop in November and my only staff member decided to quit, leaving me to run the entire store on my own, so this definitely came at the right time.
The second came much later, when in 2009 I decided to shift the direction and model of the business. Initially growing by selling other brands, I decided that, despite the manufacturing risk, selling our own label was demonstrably more profitable.
My top tips for entrepreneurs
- Get out there and know your market. In hindsight, it was a great experience being on the shop floor; I learned a lot about the customer.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I was very independent at the beginning and wanted to do everything myself. However, over time, I realised this isn’t always possible. When we were looking to launch our own label, I started working with a talented consultant who was used to dealing with small growing businesses like ours and was able to set me on the right road and increase my confidence.
- Learn to switch off. Exercising and practising yoga really helped me dealing with stress and my workload.
Looking back at my first days in business, I’d also like to give my past self these former pointers:
- Keep going! Yes your assistant has quit the day before opening but you will power through, and that time on the shop floor will ensure you know your customer better than anyone else.
- Take time off. Start going to yoga classes to switch off and take time away from work.
- Invest in the right people, whether at home or work it’s all about being part of the right team and supporting each other
- Fabrics are as important as aesthetics. You need to create a line 100% dedicated to and inspired by modern women, a range that will make them stand out while they exercise and that will keep them looking cool, feeling amazing and performing to the highest standards.
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