As you probably gathered from my recent post on Crewroom, I’m a big fan of the kit. However, my admiration doesn’t stop there. I recently got to chat to Kate Giles, the brains behind Crewroom and frankly I’m a big fan of hers too.
When it comes to rising above adversity, Kate has a great story to tell. She came up with the idea behind the highly technical materials used in Crewroom apparel whilst in hospital suffering with pneumonia caused by wearing training kit made from substandard materials.
Kate was an international level rower, training two to three times a day and she’s used this discipline, tenacity and drive to succeed in business.
Kate, how has your sporting background helped you when it came to setting up Crewroom?
It’s about getting to know people when they’re at the most tired and under pressure and understanding how to deal with this, being able to handle stressful situations, getting knocked down and knowing you can get back up from it. If you can treat a failure as a positive, it will make you better. Not everything works all the time, brush yourself off, learn from it and plough on!
It must have been a steep learning curve, going from athlete to to creating kit for athletes.
Yes, early on it was tough. However, knowing the wrong clothing caused my illness helped me focus, I wanted to look after the end user. I needed something that dried quickly and was wearable. A lot of performance materials were itchy and uncomfortable. As an athlete, I knew what was good and what wasn’t. I chose carbonised bamboo because it’s soft, wearable, fast drying and not stuffed with chemicals. That’s the benefit of having previously been the customer.
Crewroom has a reputation for being a ‘green’ company. Has it been difficult balancing technical requirements with sustainability?
Green credentials and sustainability are different things. We work closely with our factory in China. We go and see them and look after the worker’s welfare. We’ve invested in the factory and rebuilt where required. We’ve ensure it’s the shortest distance possible between the factory and the port for shipping, we recycle. We consider this practical sustainability.
How often do you visit China?
Oh, it varies. I went out there four times last year. This year, as we’re growing, the designers are getting out there more to speak with the workers in the factory. Until last year, I was not only working on the retail side, I was designing too. Now we’ve got some really talented designers from the London College of Fashion working on a full range of apparel, suitable for multi sports. We’ve got some great products coming out!
I’m really keen to hear more about clothing suitable for multi sports. As a climber/hiker/runner/cyclist/gym go-er, I love not having to spend a fortune buying kit specific for each sport.
The market is changing; we’ve placed ourselves right in the middle of the market with highly technical but fun kit, with a hint of quirkiness, kit that is practical to wear and looks great in the pub afterwards.
Crewroom started life out as a juice bar, JKUK. Is that correct?
Yes, that’s how we grew the business. It didn’t work just as a shop. By having the juice bar, the community grew and the shop began to be known as ‘the Crewroom’. We moved to our current premises in Putney on the banks of the Thames about a year ago. It was a big move for us! We have classes led by personal trainers, and a free running club. It’s all about making people of all ages feel comfortable and want to hang out here.
What’s been your proudest moment to date?
Wow, it’s hard to choose! Knowing I’ve kept it going, still being business over a decade on is an amazing feeling. However, it was a turning point when the Royal Parks Foundation asked us to design their event t-shirts. It took us to the next level, and knowing people had confidence in us by taking such a gamble, it’s very close to my heart.
Any scary moments over the years?
Ha ha, every day! It’s knowing people are dependent on you. I just remind myself of why I’m here to begin with, being in charge of my own destiny and my own future is an amazing feeling and it makes it all worthwhile.
I really enjoyed chatting to Kate. She’s clearly a very talented businesswoman who’s created a fantastic brand, and is down to earth enough to talk about going to the pub after a run – whilst looking cool in Crewroom kit, of course!