Ever been mid-pose in yoga class and wondered if your leggings are see-through?
Premium member Nadia Tucker, was a new mum (and wearing a lot of activewear) when she decided to do something about inferior leggings. Along with co-founder Stevie Angel, they’re disrupting the activewear market with their line of Australian made, premium active and swimwear (that isn’t see-through!) in sizes 6-26 including maternity options.
They’ve sold over 40,000 pairs of tights in the past two years, turning their initial $20,000 investment into a $2million dollar business. We sat down with Nadia to find out how they did it.
You and your business partner, Stevie, met as new mums and bonded over coffee dates. At what point did you think, we have to start an activewear line?
The playground coffee dates usually followed a gym or yoga class. While chasing toddlers up and down slides (and hitching our see through tights up while doing so) we talked about the activewear we were buying and the fact that we were continually disappointed by these products. Products that looked beautiful on models in photos but didn’t perform in real-life on bodies without model proportions.
We weren’t alone. Our early research confirmed our belief that women who were pregnant or wore larger sizes were being underserved by the activewear market. We spoke to girlfriends and many of them shared their experiences of pants that rolled down when they downward dogged, that they resorted to wearing men’s t-shirts and shorts and that they did not feel like they belonged in a gym or studio.
The average sized woman in Australia is a size 16. We went searching online and in retailers for her but quickly realised she’s lucky to find tights that fit and function well enough to workout in and when she found them they were often segregated in the back corner.
Not having access to to clothes that make you look and feel good when you workout is a significant barrier to participation in exercise. We believed women deserved better. Once we recognised the need for a brand like Active Truth it was a case of ‘someone needs to do this, and why not us?’
So we created Active Truth, a size inclusive activewear (and now swimwear) range for sizes 6 to 26, including maternity options – our hero product being high-waisted compression tights designed for both fashion and performance.
How did you first fund the business?
Stevie and I started the business in May 2016 with an initial investment of around $10,000 each while working in professional corporate roles.
For the first year in business amongst many other tasks, I would pack the orders after the boys went to bed and Stevie would schedule social media posts on her daily commute to and from the office. We both took a leap of faith after the first 12 months of business and quit those professional careers to focus on the business full time.
And it has paid off. Active Truth’s turnover in our second year of business was $2 million and we are continuing to grow. We are a profitable business and we gave been able to draw a modest salary each this last financial year. To date we have not taken on any external funding.
You set about creating high-quality fashionable activewear for every size, shape or stage of life. Did either of you have fashion or garment industry experience?
No not at all! I stapled my hems (I have only just heard about hem tape), my grandfather still darns my socks and I don’t know how to sew a button. Stevie isn’t much better.
Not knowing any of the rules has benefited me. Each one of our styles and sizes are made from a different pattern and take the female form and every curve into consideration. We don’t just grade from a size 10. We recently sent our patterns to an another manufacturer to assist us with our volumes and they came back saying “Umm – your patterns are ‘special’.” They implied that they looked like they had been drawn by a child! It has taken nearly two months and a lot of sampling to convince them to follow the pattern!
You have some high-profile fans, Zoe Foster Blake and Sophie Cachia to name a few. What was your marketing strategy?
Our high profile fans are drawn to Active Truth for the same reasons our customers and community are; consistency and authenticity.
From day one we have walked the talk in all of our marketing by using a diverse range of women in our imagery and NEVER EVER photoshopping or digitally altering her. We are committed to empowering women to prioritise self care through exercise. We show women of different body shapes, fitness, ages and ethnicities. We want to show our community that being healthy isn’t just one look or exclusive to women who meet a certain beauty ideal. Not only can our customers make better informed decision about their purchases by seeing what our clothes look like on someone with a similar body type (our returns rate is well below industry standards), but they feel included in the conversation around active living where previously they have been left out.
We also publicly promote out policy of never photoshopping. We want women to be more accepting of their bodies. We know that many women compare themselves to the digitally enhance bodies shown on social media and magazines. By leaving any ‘imperfections’ unaltered we hope to show our community that all bodies are beautiful and provide a more realistic representation of women.
More brands are slowly incorporating diversity and inclusivity into their product ranges and marketing. Yet even amidst the shift, Active Truth still stands out for its authenticity. We aren’t just offering extended sizes in one or two styles. The inclusivity you see in our imagery isn’t just a one off marketing push. When people look to Active Truth, we want them to see that healthy is an outfit that looks different on everybody and that exercise and movement is for everyone.
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We know from our customer’s feedback that the combination of our products and our marketing strategy is giving women the confidence and motivation to be active. It is also a key driver of our business growth and has generated a loyal and engaged community on social media channels of over 60,000 followers. This combination has also led to our business being profiled in a number of media publications/outlets including Mamamia, The Courier Mail, SMH, The Age, Queensland Business Monthly, the Daily Mail, Channel 7 News and The Today Show. This has also been recognised and validated by winning the Emerging and Energised Award at the 2018 Telstra Business Awards and the 2018 Lord Mayor’s Business Award for Outstanding Small Business.
What’s been the most rewarding thing about starting Active Truth?
We didn’t expect when we launched the business was how many people would write to tell us how much they love our product or that our products have changed their life. Many emails detail specific conditions such as a pregnant woman’s symphysis pubis dysfunction symptoms reduced by wearing our Mama tights, or a diabetic who can now carry her insulin in our Smart Pocket tights when working out.
The following email from a customer describes the confidence that our customers gain wearing our tights, and it typical of the daily feedback we receiving.
“Dear Nadia & Stevie,
I just wanted to say a HUGE thank you for making such and AWESOME product. I know it sounds like a cliche but your tights are actually life changing!!!!
Before stumbling across your Instagram page and then your webpage I had been trying to squeeze my size 16 booty into other leading brand tights trying to feel good about myself and going to the gym only to experience them rolling down feeling uncomfortable and making me feel crappy. Not only did this other gym gear make me feel horrible about my body but it gave me the message that because I couldn’t’ fit into their gear with my body shape I shouldn’t be in the gym.
Your tights have literally changed my whole view of going to the gym and have made me feel good about myself again!”
And the biggest challenges?
Keeping up with demand and managing cash flow has been our greatest challenges to date.
We had a period in 2017 where we were continually sold out of multiple products and we were churning out as many tights as we could from our one Brisbane factory. Every cent we made was invested back into ordering more stock. We were fortunate to have cultivated a great relationship with our manufacturer who believed in and supported us and worked extremely hard to keep on top of our orders. She also assisted us with diversifying our manufacturing process across four factories.
During this period we engaged an accountant to help us manage our cash flow and better understand our financial position. We also moved our stock to a 3PL warehouse (No more midnight packing!).
Investing our time and resources on diversifying our manufacturing, financial advice and distribution allowed us to move through this period of significant growth without requiring funding or loans.
This is rewarding for a number of reasons; we feel more empowered knowing that we are making decisions based on sound business acumen; financial independence and knowing that we can navigate difficult circumstances which are outside our skill set and comfort zone.
Did you think you’d reach the success you have so quickly?
The honest answer is no.
We started with a box of 100 tights, campaign images taken on our phone of our headless bodies in front of my garage, Stevie’s kitchen bench was our office. We had a logo made in Word and a very basic website. Neither of us had any experience in fashion, business or e-commerce.
However we are both incredibly passionate about the business and have worked really hard to gain traction and make the most of every opportunity we’ve been given.
We are continually looking to what’s next and what we can do to reach more women.
What advice do you have for female entrepreneurs just starting out?
Know your numbers. It isn’t the fun or sexy part of running a business, but it’s essential. We have been cognisant that the businesses that thrive and survive know their numbers.
To stay financially healthy we do a high level review daily, dig around weekly and a deep dive monthly. We use the e-commerce platform Shopify and Xero. Both provide detailed data, analytics and reporting that allows us to review our live and historical performance and analyse this for areas of improvement, or replication. Being on top of our numbers enables us to make informed strategic and operational decisions.
One of the best things I have done is to undertake a two day Australian Institute of Management finance course which provided a practical guide to analysing financial data and understanding the implications of financial performance. Importantly the course provided me with the confidence and knowledge to ask the right questions of our financial advisors.
By focusing on our financials and running a profitable business we are are able to continue to work towards our vision to inspire all women to live healthy and active lives.