The sportswear revolutionary
If you needed any proof that the fashion and fitness worlds have begun to merge, look no further than Net-a-Porter.
The popular online boutique’s fitness-wear options have been selling so well that they recently released a separate site, Net-a-Sporter, dedicated solely to this particular division of the apparel market.
In Australia, Lorna Jane Clarkson has this market cornered. Over 25 years she has built her business from a small at-home enterprise into a multimillion-dollar brand with 156 stores internationally and an entire health and wellness movement — called Move Nourish Believe — to go with it.
Now, the Lorna Jane brand and its fashion-forward offshoot, Uniquely Lorna Jane, has been picked up exclusively for department store representation in Australia by David Jones, which is planning to expand its range of women’s activewear to cater to an ever-increasing demand.
“For some time we’ve noticed an increasing lifestyle trend in Australia where activewear has evolved from garments of functionality to fashion wear that doubles up as casual wear on weekends, ” says David Jones general manager of womenswear Sophie Clark.
Clarkson agrees that the synergy between fashion and sportswear is stronger than ever before. “Even though functional fashion has always been at the core of what Lorna Jane is about, with Uniquely Lorna Jane we wanted to create a sports-luxe range aimed at women who want to take their outfit from an early morning yoga session to coffee with friends, ” she explains.
“I think there’s a natural fit between fitness wear and fashion — we’ve seen Chanel put sneakers on couture runways and Vogue featuring sports styling, and I think that’s proof that activewear has well and truly entered the fashion realm. The Uniquely range is perfect for the fashion lover who wants to take her activewear to the next level, as it’s full of embellishments, metallics, vegan leather, faux fur and quilting.”
Raised in Queensland, Clarkson was a dental therapist by day and fitness instructor by night when Lorna Jane was first created. She gave up her day job to launch the brand and while she says she never hesitated for a second, she also never expected the business to take off quite so phenomenally.
“From the first day I started I knew I’d found my path and my reason to exist, ” she says. “I started because I couldn’t find anything on the market that I wanted to wear. I needed something that was functional, fashionable, and which actually inspired me to be more active. I literally took matters into my own hands and started designing and sewing my own. When the women in my gym class first saw my designs they loved them and wanted them for themselves but it wasn’t until the orders started rolling in that I realised I had a business.”
The activewear category has transformed immeasurably since Clarkson first started out. Lorna Jane was a pioneer in shifting women’s gym wear away from the uninspired surrounds of sporting goods stores and into the aspirational lifestyle realm.
“When I started, wearing your exercise kit on the street was virtually unheard of, ” she says. “I wanted to make things that women would be proud to wear beyond the confines of the gym or the yoga studio.” Clarkson talks about an entire lifestyle philosophy, Active Living, encouraging women to find a balance between health and fitness and their business lives that takes the brand beyond simple apparel, much in the same way that Donna Karan’s Urban Zen initiative fuses fashion with the idea of conscious or mindful living.
It’s a concept that has particularly strong traction in America. Lorna Jane entered the US market in 2012, with 23 stores now dotted throughout California alone (Ragtrader recently reported that US company Urban Outfitters were looking to buy the brand).
“Never in a million years would I imagine I’d eventually have more than 150 stores around the world, ” she says. “But I’ve always approached everything I do with passion and determination and I honestly believe anything is possible if you’re willing to work for it. There’s no such thing as dreaming too big.”
Lorna Jane/Uniquely Lorna Jane is available at David Jones and lornajane.com.au.
© The West Australian
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