When was the last time you heard about a young designer doing sportswear? Not fashion sweatshirts and tees but expertly cut stuff which would hold out for a 5-mile run, high intensity circuits class or hard session at the gym. Probably a long time ago, if ever. The sportswear market is dominated by big brands which have huge teams dedicated to discovering the next big thing in technology which is brilliant, obviously. But it's also why I so admire Charli Cohen, a super fit young designer and personal trainer who, with backing from Lycra, has launched her very own high performance sportswear. Charli is a one-person powerhouse whom I first encountered via Twitter. Her ever-enthusiastic responses and advice are often enough in themselves to leave you feeling a bit more energised and a quick glance at her feed is evidence of her awareness that great communication can take a new start-up brand a long way.
A few weeks ago I finally got to meet Charli in person at the launch of her collection, entitled VIS. It's a year since she completed her degree at Kingston University and the flurry of activity which ensued after being nominated for some of the biggest graduate fashion awards including Vauxhall Fashion Scout, Graduate Fashion Week and the WGSN Global Fashion Awards. Now she's pulled together a pretty slick selection of grey and neon yellow sportswear which feels like the kind of thing which would power you through a particularly gruelling spinning class but also beg to be worn just for the suberbly-flattering-hell-of-it on a rest day. One of the most interesting things about Charli though is that her approach is so holistic; she is just as interested in how to eat well as how to dress to do sport. She comes along at the perfect time really, now that your latest juice combination or fitness class discovery carries just as much cachet as a new designer purchase or ingenious styling combination. I asked Charli a few questions about how she got where she is today and how on earth she manages to bring it all together...
|Yoga/ Dance demo at the VIS launch|
Why did you choose sportswear design?
I was seeking a way to consolidate my two passions - fitness and fashion are often seen as mutually exclusive. Sportswear was a logical outlet and I saw a huge gap in the market for stylish, luxury performance-wear.
You're a personal trainer as well as designer. How does that influence your design decisions?
Movement and physiology are my key inspirations. From a creative perspective, they inform the silhouettes and style lines of my designs. In terms of function, my work as a PT enables me to understand the practical needs of performance wear, how to make the garments ergonomic, supportive and flattering.
Why did you choose to start your own line and how have you achieved it?
I’d never really considered anything else! I started my own T-shirt line aged 15, then had a womenswear capsule collection made before I started uni. When it came to my graduate collection, I decided to create a complete brand identity rather than just designing the clothes - I wanted a strong platform to move forward from after Graduate Fashion Week. I was fortunate enough to be awarded part-sponsorship from Invista (creators of Lycra). This funding enabled me to get stuck straight into my own line a few months after graduating. I was determined about what I wanted to do and it seemed to fall into place!
What sports do you most enjoy?
Weight lifting – I’ve been training for about six years now and I absolutely love it. It’s the ultimate stress relief and the only time I can switch off from everything else that’s going on!
I noticed that your sportswear is Made in Britain, how important and useful is that for you?
Manufacturing my collection in the UK means I can maintain control over both the quality and the accurate development of my designs. I'm also keen to support local industry - fashion manufacture is slowly picking up again in Britain and it's nice to know I can contribute to that in some small way.
How do you balance fashion with performance?
With certain garments – leggings, tank tops etc. - you’re very limited with the silhouette, so it’s about what you can do inside that with colour and panelling. It’s also really important for me to have great, versatile outerwear pieces that can be worn over performance baselayers. Although I create these in functional, technical fabrics, I have far more scope for design and can take more of a ready-to-wear fashion approach to silhouette.
There's been a huge move over the past few years towards sportswear being fashionable as well as functional. I get the impression this has influenced you a lot, can you elaborate?
There’s been a huge movement towards well-being in general – people are now starting to seek a sustainable healthy lifestyle rather than a quick fix. There’s far more fitness and health related content in fashion media than ever before and because we’ve (largely) moved on from diet and exercise fads, it’s not going to go away. Retailers are picking up on this too and an increasing number are adding activewear brands or at least lifestyle/leisurewear brands to their ranges. It’s perfect timing to be doing what I’m doing and that’s very exciting!
What are your ambitions for the future?
Like any brand, I aim to be stocked internationally – a global reach would be fantastic. In a few seasons’ time, I’d like to branch out into accessories and menswear and it would be amazing to collaborate with one or two of the big name brands on footwear or a diffusion line.
You're incredibly entrepreneurial and self-motivated. Do you have any tips or advice for any other young designers out there?
Thank you! My key pieces of advice:
Be super-organised. When you’re running a business (especially a fashion business) if something can go wrong, it probably will. You need to be on top of everything all the time - leave nothing to chance.
Be open to every opportunity: even if you’re not sure it’s right for you or that it’ll lead anywhere, have the conversation and find out more. You never know what might come of it!
And finally, don’t give up! It’s not easy but if you have the talent or product people want, perseverance, determination and passion will take you far.
Charli's VIS collection is available to pre-order now here.
Images courtesy of Charli Cohen