I’ve seen some interesting developments in the sportswear sector in recent times. The arrival and fast growth of the ‘Athleisure’ trend, which combines athletic and leisure wear has been at the heart of this. We’ve seen it in Australia where it’s known as Sports Luxe and more and more of us are dressing for comfort and practicality heralding a further move towards less formal wear, even in the workplace. But don’t be fooled into thinking this new trend is about mooching around in soft separates akin to pyjamas or other shapeless clothing. This new trend is as much about looking good as it is about comfort.
I came across new independent Athleisure brand Xavier Athletica which supplies 100% cotton separates for men who like their fashion and don’t want to advertise sports brands for free. I spoke to founder Nikki Lynds-Xavier on what drove her to set up the company and what is most important to her.
I understand that clothing design and manufacture isn’t your background, what was the catalyst that made you switch career and set up Xavier Athletica?
I’ve always been creative and had considered going to Art School instead of Law School but I didn’t think I could make a living as an artist, and being young I didn’t appreciate that there were other careers that it could have led to. So Law it was until I met Sir Gerry Robinson, who talked me into giving up the law and working with him to find businesses to invest in. That’s when I got the business bug, and I knew then I wanted my own, and it was my big chance to at last do something in the creative industry.
As for the reason I chose fashion/sport design and manufacture? Well, I had two light-bulb moments. The first – I was in a large sports store with my husband who couldn’t find any sports kit that wasn’t either oversized and over logo’d or that wasn’t Lycra, head-to-toe Spiderman style.
The second and crucial moment was in my Pilates class when I saw a an Italian businessman looking deeply uncomfortable in what was essentially football kit. It made me realise that there was a gap in the clothing market for men, who usually buy nice suits, and take pride in their appearance.
How important is it to love what you do?
It’s very important. I’ve always worked long hours and as it’s such a large chunk of your life, to spend it being unhappy would make it incredibly hard. Obviously you can’t love every aspect, every minute of the day, but if you like your work, you’ll be enthusiastic, you’ll work hard and be more successful.
Do you think it’s now even more important than ever to have principles, transparency and visible values for clothing brands?
Being a responsible brand was a no brainer for us. As we were starting from scratch we were in the fortunate position of being able to set out our brand ethics, and be clear about what we would and wouldn’t do. So being transparent is easy for us, as we’re proud of what we’re doing, and why we are doing it. And when I explain to people why we don’t want to mass-produce cookie cutter tees in man-made fabrics, they completely get it.
Your brand is a move away from big brand logo sportswear, is this what people are looking for now?
Well it’s absolutely what our market wants. Our men have successful careers; they’ve proven themselves and don’t need to be covered in logos. We refuse to use our customers’ chests as advertising boards. Our branding is deliberately discreet. We are all about the quiet details – like the hidden pockets in the garments for locker keys, or the coin catcher pocket in the track pants, or the cut that makes shoulders look bigger and waists smaller.
Sports brands were amongst the first to really understand the power and commercial opportunities for branding leisure time activities. Do you think the landscape has changed now and men especially are looking for something different from the sportswear that’s been sold to them for so long?
Yes, times are changing. You only need to look to the USA to see the massive new Athleisure trend that the Australians call Sports Luxe. Athleisure is not a word we liked at first but annoyingly it exactly describes what’s happening. Customers want to be able to stay in their kit without the need for sports bags and changing rooms. They want kit they look good enough to have a meeting in, meet a friend for lunch, walk the dog, go to the gym in, and also to mix it up with jeans or a jacket.
One of our customers is the editor of a magazine, he had an important investment meeting and he wore the tailored track pants with a jacket and casual shirt – and looked so cool, he was asked where he shopped. Men want sports clothing that sits effortlessly within their existing wardrobe, and is appropriate for whatever their day entails.
For more info go to Xavier Athletica