Founded in March of last year by industry veterans Pip Edwards and Claire Tregoning, the brand has seen impressive success in a short period of time, garnering attention from eternally pap’d celebrities like Kylie Jenner and selling everywhere from Net-a-Porter to Urban Outfitters. A diverse array of publications, including Vogue and HypeBae, have also given their endorsement.
But according to Edwards, it was more luck than intentional planning that landed the brand its popularity. The idea stemmed from a long lunch conversation she had with her friend and former colleague, Tregoning — the duo had previously worked together on the design team at Sass and Bide. “We wanted and needed something comfortable, functional and stylish to wear that reflected our own personal style,” she said. “It was born from our own active lifestyles as mothers, businesswomen and fitness enthusiasts.”
After settling on a name — P.E. for physical education, but also Edwards’s initials — they spent a year developing the brand. “It had to [offer something] more,” said Edwards, of their thought process. “There were too many active brands out there already.”
Indeed, there are currently more than 60,000 “sport and active” items available in the U.S. womenswear market, according to retail analytics company Edited. In addition, new activewear arrivals increased by 12 percent in the first quarter of 2017, compared to the quarter before.
P.E. Nation’s “Star Squad” lookbook
Activewear is also the leading category in year-over-year apparel sales growth, per the latest study by Euromonitor. On average, it grew 6 percent more than other categories, including accessories and footwear. Although performance sportswear falls under that, the Euromonitor team noted that it was sports-inspired apparel that was really driving this growth.
That’s precisely what Edwards and Tregoning decided to tap into. “Claire and I both have a real tomboy-ish aesthetic. We love oversized boy’s fits and are very inspired by ’90s streetwear,” said Edwards. Those influences are apparent across their collections, whether you’re looking at their active or “off-duty” pieces: bright color-blocked sports bras complement side-snap pants, thick gold embroidery fit for a rap video graces hats and waistbands, and giant, in-your-face lettering harkens back to a time when showing off your labels was all the rage.
“We want to offer products to get [the customer] from A to Z, not just A to B — [but] it needed to have an edge to it that was cool and street so that you could legitimately wear it all day,” she said.
The rise of that street appeal is harder to quantify, but can be seen in mainstream consumers’ embrace of brands like Supreme, as well as the resurgence of brands like Champion and Fila. In the first two months of this year, compared to last, the hoodie — a streetwear staple — saw a 197 percent stock increase on the mass market. Even more surprising, the style saw a 138 percent increase on the luxury market, per research from Edited.
P.E. Nation’s “Star Squad” lookbook
This is good news for a brand like P.E. Nation, which features prices in the $100-$400 range, well above the average for a hoodie ($49.95) or activewear ($39.99).
Along with its online shop, P.E. Nation has 82 stockists, a combination of online (the aforementioned Net-a-Porter, Urban Outfitters and Shopbop) and brick-and-mortar (New York’s Kith and Bandier boutiques) stores. According to Edwards, the brand’s home country of Australia has been its strongest market thus far, with the U.S., U.K. and New Zealand trailing closely behind. “We have sold to more than 80 countries around the world through our own online store, so I guess you could now call us global,” she said.
Training jackets and leggings are its best sellers across the board, said Edwards — so much so that P.E. Nation is currently unable to keep up with the demand.
This is not so surprising, given its size. After launching the company last year with just a two-person team, it now has 12 people onboard — a big jump for the timeframe, but still a small operation in the grander scheme. Both founders are involved in all aspects of the business, whether it’s finance or production, though Tregoning focuses more on the technical design aspects and Edwards weighs heavier on all things marketing and creative.
Part of that involves running the P.E. Nation blog and “radio station,” a Soundcloud channel updated with music mixes to inspire customers’ workouts. The blog takes a more personal approach than most that are run by a clothing company, especially those in the activewear space, giving readers an intimate look into the day-to-day life of the brand and its founders.
In the last few months, the team has begun testing out the brick-and-mortar world. They held their first pop-up at Westfield Bondi Junction in Australia this December and went on to collaborate with Selfridges on another successful shop-in-shop the following month. Alongside their regular collection, they sold 25 pieces exclusively through the department store. “It was a great way to see [what] the response to a store [would be],” said Edwards. “I think it is important for the customer to touch and feel the product.”
P.E. Nation’s “Star Squad” lookbook
But there are no plans for a permanent space just yet. For now, the designers’ focus is on further building out their newer swimwear, denim and accessories categories, looking into collaboration opportunities and cementing the larger lifestyle P.E. Nation hopes to sell. “Athleisure has finally come into it’s own,” said Edwards. “You don’t have to choose active or street — it lends itself to both.”
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