Leopard leggings, color-coordinated gym wear and the latest trend – figure-hugging shorts – have redefined our relationship to movement and fashion. On a subconscious level, this global trend has also subtly transformed our thinking. The grab-and-go mesh tank with a classic black pair of leggings have come to symbolize the lives we lead today – always in motion, mutable and comfortable in who we are and what we stand for.
More than skin deep, our garments tell the world what’s important to us and the type of lifestyle to which we aspire. Gone are the days when the only time you could feel comfortable was at the end of your workday. The term ‘activewear’ has become so ubiquitous that it’s hard to believe women at one stage needed to be convinced that this was a fashion category.
Somehow Australian entrepreneur Lorna Jane Clarkson had a hunch that women would take to this idea at a time when her vision was met with skepticism.
"It’s hard to reflect and see this as a setback because of what activewear has become, but back in the late 80s I had everyone in my life trying to talk me out of pursuing my vision, and it was tough," she recalls.
Clarkson had always led an active life teaching workout classes, but one day she got creative and started designing her own workout clothes. It’s a story that brings to mind Sara Blakely’s billion-dollar Spanx brand. It began with its founder cutting off the feet of her tights for a more flattering look in her white pair of pants. The trick worked and further down the track Spanx became a household name in the United States.
Finding a purpose
Around a decade earlier, Clarkson decided to tap into her own sense of purpose, ensuring that established sportswear brands like Nike, adidas and Reebok wouldn’t stand in the way of her vision for her eponymous label.
"In my mind, what I was doing was entirely different, so competing with these powerhouse brands wasn’t something I thought about. I was focused on building a new category – and that was activewear," she recalls.
With one pair of Lotus Leggings allegedly sold every minute, the brand’s strength lies in its ability to empower the wearer to feel strong, healthy and active through the power of movement that it facilitates. The idea is that wearing a piece of activewear seamlessly allows you to incorporate movement into your life – the ideal solution for a hectic schedule that might not have a gym session written into it.
"In my mind, what I was doing was entirely different, so competing with these powerhouse brands wasn’t something I thought about."
"We were the first to create pieces you could wear outside of exercise and coined the phrase ‘activewear', because we just wanted our customers to put it on and be active," she says.
Clarkson admits that this philosophy certainly wasn’t in the cards to begin with.
"Promoting my personal life philosophy ‘Active Living’ was never really part of the plan, but as the brand grew, our customers became curious about how I managed to run a business and stay so fit and healthy," she explains.
"So, I started to share some of the things that I did on a daily basis, which was basically to move my body with regular exercise, nourish with healthy food and believe in myself."
The core philosophy of Move, Nourish, Believe, along with Clarkson’s regard for quality, high-performance gear, was exactly what women were looking for.
"I was building a brand that was designed to focus on women’s needs and life’s routines, and I was able to connect intimately with my audience as a female founder," she says. "Our community started to try it for themselves. And it just grew from there."
The merits of staying in your own lane and allowing new ideas to germinate are worth gold for the Founder and Creative Director, who believes that giving yourself the space to nurture ideas and inspiration can snowball into something larger and more meaningful.
"It is tempting to follow the crowd and lose authenticity. However, I believe this is also the thing that can bring businesses and people undone, when they start to look or act the same," she says.
For aspiring entrepreneurs who are keen to turn a passion project into a purpose-driven venture with impact, the value of thinking for yourself and fine-tuning your vision can’t be overstated, she says.
"If we spend more time developing our own unique views and opinions, only then will we realize our own potential, and this is what separates us from everyone else," she says. "When your vision is clear, your passion will carry you through, and you won’t stop until it becomes a reality."
"Successful leaders of today need to be able to lead with their head and their heart."
More than three decades since Lorna Jane formed roots, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly altered women’s wardrobes and the way they shop – plus leadership has also evolved.
"Leadership has changed a lot over the years, particularly post-COVID," she acknowledges. "Successful leaders of today need to be able to lead with their head and their heart. By this I mean making the tough decisions and sharing the vision that will drive the company forward, but also leading with empathy and compassion."
Fortunately for Clarkson, these societal factors are pushing the brand to progress as women continue to explore the potential of a more versatile, casual look while expressing their individual personalities. In fact, she explains how the last two years have been a catalyst for the brand.
"We always knew that activewear was going to be the product of choice when it came to wearing it every day, and the fact that there are so many people working from home now has just sped it up. What would have taken five years has taken just two," she says.
An exciting future
As a frontrunner in this category, embracing technology is continuing to redefine activewear and the way people engage with the products via an omni-channel fulfillment solution.
"The future is exciting as new technology and fabrication drive innovation into the category," she says. "We stay ahead of the market through our continued focus on technology and movement and by delivering products that truly change the way women live their lives – life through daily movement."
As a founder, the work never actually ceases, which Clarkson doesn’t mind.
"The reality is that the bigger your business is, the harder you have to work, but the more rewarding it becomes," she says.
"Opportunities present themselves all the time, and it requires great discipline to stay on track with your original plan while not ignoring the opportunities that can help you along the way."
Clarkson says it’s taken perseverance, discernment and self-belief to get there.
"Opportunities present themselves all the time, and it requires great discipline to stay on track with your original plan, while not ignoring the opportunities that can help you along the way," she explains.
Clarkson has come a long way since in her journey as a female entrepreneur. Over the years, despite the hard work required to tailor the brand to different markets around the globe, her intent has always remained the same.
"I want people to be the best version of themselves, constantly looking to improve, challenge the status quo and conquer those big ideas," she says.
With this in mind, Lorna Jane has come to be the brand that champions and inspires women to become limitless in all their endeavors.
"Every piece we create is thoughtfully designed to enhance an active lifestyle, ensuring the wearer feels confident, powerful and supported in every activity they pursue," Clarkson affirms.
Lorna Jane Clarkson’s leadership toolkit
Whether it’s meditating, cold showers or playing a sport, every leader has their own approach to becoming more mindful. For Clarkson, being fully present with each task at hand is incredibly important.
"Be present in everything you do, whether it is leading a team discussion or working across the business to solve a problem," she suggests.
In digital environments replete with thought distractors, independent thinking is a valuable asset that can be nurtured in silence. Being intentional in carving out time to think can go a long way toward generating out-the-box ideas that can lead to new developments.
"It’s important to change your environment, experience new things and then create time and space to think." she says. "Allow yourself the space to draw on an idea or inspiration so it can snowball into something much larger and create something entirely new."
Stay committed to your vision
Had Clarkson focused on the actions of her competitors or jumped on every opportunity that crossed her path, she may have lost sight of her own vision and purpose.
"It doesn’t matter who you are or what industry you’re in, there will always be competition," she says. "You just need to stop looking at and worrying about what everyone else is doing and choose instead to follow your heart and do your own thing."
Do your homework
When it comes to delivering on the brand promise on a global scale, Clarkson doesn’t shy away from delving into research.
"Do your homework on each market and understand how your product offering can set you apart from the competition," she advises. "Build a business with elements that are scalable to ensure each new market can help you maximize economies of scale. But mostly, have fun with it, learn new market drivers and cultural nuances to give your brand a truly local feel."
Move, Nourish, Believe
As the living embodiment of the active living philosophy – the backbone of the brand – self-belief (Believe), movement (Move) and consuming healthy foods (Nourish) are Clarkson’s daily non-negotiables. Maintaining these simple habits builds strength in the body and mind.
"It takes a lot of things to be an entrepreneur, but I think the most important thing is a strong and powerful belief in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, your idea, and your ability to make it happen, then you can be sure that nobody else will," she says.
Surround yourself with the right people
Oprah Winfrey’s famous quote about surrounding yourself with people who lift you higher is especially important for thought leaders and entrepreneurs. Whether it’s your friendship circle, mentors, family or colleagues, having this support is invaluable.
"To be surrounded by an incredibly strong and loyal team of like-minded people every step of the way is critical," Clarkson says.