The health and fitness industry is on fire; boutique gyms are opening up across London, activewear has become de rigueur and avocados have eclipsed the Kardashians on social media. For January’s Underground Session we decided to take a closer look at the UK’s fitness boom and find out how young brands can make the most of it. Our panelists included Pip Black, co founder, Move Your Frame; Ashleigh Stirling, community connector, Lululemon; Russell Bateman, founder, Skinny Bitch Collective; and Rob Martineau, co founder, TRIBE. Here’s what they had to say…
How has London’s fitness scene changed in the last 10 years, and why is now good time to be part of it?
Pip first launched Frame studios in 2009, she reflected, “back then people in Shoreditch didn’t work out, so we had to work harder to make working out cool. We started building our following by linking our gym with other lifestyle areas e.g. 80s was a big thing, so we started doing Jane Fonda workouts and then there were the trampolining classes to Lady Gaga…Today there’s more competition, but there’s also a bigger demand. Frame now has 3 studios across London and a 4th in Victoria about to open.”
Tribe launched 6 months ago following a run that Rob and his two friends Tom and Guy embarked on: 1000 miles across Eastern Europe for charity. Commenting on the current fitness scene, Rob noted, “there are so many new health and fitness concepts opening up in London, which is great as everyone is keen to try new ways to workout. What’s really helped us is that there are plenty of likeminded brands to partner with, which has been really helpful in building up our community.”
London’s changing attitude to health and fitness, is probably most evident in the large, highly engaged communities, health and fitness brands have built around them. Between them our panelists have hundreds of thousands of followers. For each of the panelists, a strong community is at the core of their brands.
How have you built your brand's community?
Ashleigh’s job at Lululemon is to build great relationships with studios, instructors, athletes and the media. For Lululemon, community is key: “it’s at the heart of everything we do. We’re all about building great relationships in local areas.” Before Lululemon decides on a location for a new store, they launch a pop-up showroom to see what the market’s like. During their pop-up showroom, they’ll be looking to see whether they have an interested community in that area, which they can build on.
Tribe also tested a pop-up shop to help build their community. In January they launched a training hub in Old Street Station. During the two weeks it was open they hosted a series of runs, workout classes and events, which ended being completely sold out. Rob said, “it was amazing to have so many people walking past and checking our store out. By hosting classes we were able to meet with our customers face to face and learn a little bit more about them, and in turn, tell them about us. It was a great way to build a community in an area we hadn’t explored as much.”
Skinny Bitch Collective (SBC) takes a different approach. Instead of trying to get as many people as possible involved, SBC has an invitation only policy. As a one man band, SBC’s founder Russell can’t put on 20 classes a week. Instead Russell hosts 3-4 sessions a week, and builds the hype around them by curating who can attend. He picks attendees based on the companies they work for – choosing brands he wants to be associated with. He then spreads the word by posting images of their workouts on social media. Russell has said that shot of Millie Mackintosh can lead to 100’s of class requests. “Hype is key to business… humans crave excitement, so you need to keep offering them that.”
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur looking to get started in this industry?
According to TRIBE, the key is just getting started. “Get out and meet people. Don’t be scared of talking to the big brands – partnerships are a great way to build up your following and often they’re just a really friendly group of people. You’re never going to be ready, so best just to get your brand and product out their as soon as you can and get learning.”
Pip from Frame agreed. “You’ll never crack it first time, so be prepared to keep changing and iterating. It helps if you’re passionate about what you’re doing, as it will be hell for a few years. If you want a 9-5, stick to a 9-5.”
What’s the best way of spreading the word?
Rather than spending money on a PR agency, Russell relies on word of mouth promotion – and it works. SBC has probably had more media coverage than a lot of the celebrities and models he trains. When it comes to sharing content online, Russell has a simple rule, “if it looks good to me it goes on.” He doesn’t pander to anyone, and makes light of any backlash he gets: “Controversy is not a bad thing. Don’t be afraid of it.”
Rob noted that Instagram has been more important than any other social platform for Tribe. Pictures of their runs and runners have gone down really well. They often lead to people tagging their friends in them, and the buzz spreads.
For Pip, posts need to be funny or informative to have value: “it doesn’t matter if it looks good if it isn’t funny or useful, without one of these two things, a post won’t get as much engagement.”
Looking forward to 2016, what trends are going to kick off?
“Multi-functional kit is going to be a big thing in the world of apparel,” predicted Ashleigh, “people are looking to declutter their lives and that includes having a little bit less in your wardrobe.”
Sword fighting got Russell’s vote – in fact, he’s just launched SBC Fight a new branch of SBC, which is focussed on weaponry and armed combat – from daggers to num
chucks: “when you put a girl and a sword together the smile is ridiculous.”
“Small equipment you can take around with you,” Pip thinks will take off. Frame has been using gliders in their classes, as you can always get a great workout wherever you are. “Resistance bands are also great for this,” she added.
“Getting outdoors and exploring the world around you,” Rob believes will continue to be bigger in 2016. “I think people are starting to realise they can get more out of nature and the world around them, things like rock climbing and group runs through wild and wonderful landscapes”
And finally, who’s your ideal brand ambassador (real or fictional)?
Rob: Forest Gump – he’s a strong athlete.
Rusell: FKA Twigs, she knows how to move.
Ashleigh: It’s all our incredible staff that are our ambassadors
Pip: Joan and I, because our brand is based on us – we’re not super humans or movie stars, we’re normal people and we want to make it keeping fit accessible for people like us.
We’d like to say a big thanks to Pollen and Grace, Pact Coffee, Vita Coco and Moju Juice for supporting this event. All ticket sales went to The Good Gym who are a community of runners who get fit by doing good deeds in their local communities.
Get in touch is you’d like to be involved in our next Underground Session:firstname.lastname@example.org