Monday, 28 July 2014

An Interview with Crewroom : New Ranges and Future Plans

Kate Giles is a very busy lady. When I get her on the phone the founder of the sports clothing brand Crewroom is trying to finish off a cheese roll and some squash in a few moments between appointments. Woe betide anyone who got in her way in the canteen! The former top British rower started the company after she caught pneumonia on a particularly harsh training session and ended up in hospital with cracked ribs (from coughing). The experience inspired her to create best clothing to enable athletes to perform to the max, and protect them from the worst of the weather.

I already own a Crewroom running jacket from the Dolly Mix range (“Probably one of the last things I designed before the new design team stepped in and did a proper job“), which has stood up to the cold and winds of a Chicago Spring, and a Royal Parks Half marathon event t-shirt (Crewroom have supplied the t-shirts since the start in 2008) so I already know it’s good stuff. But two new lines, Laser and Elements, have just been released and that’s why I’m now talking to Kate.

We start by exchanging stories about how we both stare out of office windows wishing we were outside and how Kate was cheeky enough to be able to concoct customer emergencies get to the river on sunny days. These days the company is based in an old boat house down in Putney, allowing her to walk the dog and go running on the banks of the Thames whenever she gets the time.
Photo credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography
"I’m focussing on being a London brand. We don’t have millions of pounds for a marketing budget so we want to focus on the area we’re in. A lot of brands focus on these great lakes and mountains but most of the time we work out in the city and that in itself has its own beauty. I like seeing the heron on the shopping trolley! You see these beautiful areas and behind it a graffiti-d wall.”

So what inspired the new collections?
The Laser range is a bit Southbank, overlaps designs, and uses our classic fabric, Vapour-X bamboo, but then the secondary one, the Elements range, incorporates a softness so we spent a lot of time slightly amending a few of our fabrics.
Some of the men's Laser range
Photo credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography
I had this Italian cotton vest; it was rubbish at drying out but I loved the softness of that old school cotton. We wanted that on a very technical fabric. The tops are great in hot temperatures because they’re not too clingy. They’re soft and they have slight ruching in them so are very flattering.

Do you have favourite pieces from the new ranges?
I’m top to toe in my product now! The All Seasons leggings are fantastic. I’m not a compression person but the fabric kind of holds you in. It has that cottony feeling whilst being very very technical. I wear the Haze vest in the Elements range a lot and the long sleeve with the ruche backing because they’re really flattering.
Haze vest in the Elements range
Photo credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography
And what’s the feedback been like so far?
We’ve always been a “chatting to customers” kind of shop and the feedback from them has been great. We portray ourselves as a very hard working brand and we do listen to the customer and by that we’re hopefully delivering a brand that people want. And I hope we’re doing that because I’m tired!
Items from the men's Elements range
Photo credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography
Did you face any challenges in design?
Firstly it was “how do we want to look as Crewroom?” and I think we’ve nailed it with these two slightly separate ranges. The next one has been the shape of our customer which is still slightly changing. We know that by feedback from people coming in. Traditionally we’re from a rowing background, and the sizes are very different but all my friends have given up rowing and now we just go out for a run and a chat. So the women’s XL has to fit me, for example. It can’t be Italian sizing which is just wide. And even migrating our fabrics over has been a lot of hard work with the factory and it adds months into the production but we had to get it right at the front end.
Some of the ladies Laser range
Photo credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography
You’re involved with lots of organisations. Tell me a bit about that.
Royal Parks gave me the confidence to go down our own retail route. That happened quite a few years ago and allowed us the time to come up with the carbonised bamboo fabric. Since then they’ve really helped us to grow. Our involvement with organisations like GB Canoeing and London Youth Games came from how we started the business and are good areas for us to promote our brand. We like people who like working with us. London Youth Games is an anomaly as we don’t do a lot of the sports in there but we like being part of it and I’m getting more and more interested in the generation of kids not really exercising and not going outdoors. The London Youth Games is somewhere where we could make a difference.

I hear you have a run club which I’m hoping to come and try out.
Yes, Saturday mornings at 9:30. It’s a real community thing, everyone from ultra-marathon runners to those building up to their first half marathon. It started about 6 months ago and has been growing by word of mouth.

We also let trainers use the facility after we close in the evening for them to hold classes. We don’t charge them which means that the trainers can charge a little less and any fee they charge goes straight to them. That’s also a bit of a feeder into the run club. We want to focus on getting more and more classes going like urban paddleboard.
Photo credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography
That sounds fantastic! I understand you don’t row any more. Do you do any other sports instead?
When I gave up rowing I kind of set up the business right away; I didn’t really want to exercise at all. Then I decided I was getting far too heavy and wanted to get fit again. I always knew that running would be the best thing for me, then for some stupid reason I took up rugby for a bit. Then I went back to coaching rowing but I realised I wasn’t quite ready to give up the competitive side of things so I decided to actually play rugby for a couple of years properly. Then I managed to fracture and dislocate my elbow so that put paid to that! Now 4 years on from it’s quite a happy place to be, I just enjoy training and going running with my friends.
I don’t have the competitive element in sport anymore, I just enjoy it. And you can see that in the new ranges, not compromising on the fabrics but it’s relaxed a bit, in the fit.

Yes I think that’s great. Ok, you may not be competitive but are you taking part in any events?
I’m doing Brighton Colour Run in September and will probably do Spartan at the end of August with some friends, which will make me train.

It’s good to have a goal like that. What’s a typical day or week like for you? Do you have one?
It really varies. Normally I start a bit before 8. Get in here, open up, take the dog for a walk on the river. People drop in, we test stuff out. It’s hard work but you don’t realise because you enjoy it. I still work quite a lot with customers, not so much on the rowing side now, I have a good team behind me who look after the day to day stuff, but with Royal Parks, London Duathlon and so on where I need to keep a closer handle on what’s going on. Sometimes I do wonder what on earth I do with my day. Suddenly it’s 8 o’clock at night!

Enjoying what you do for a living is what so many of us aim for. So what next? What plans for the future?
It’s been getting the brand right and that’s going to take another good year making sure we have the right products. We’re working incredibly hard. We’re at expos most weekends talking to the customers and we’ll be testing out our first pop-up in September or October. The plan will be to start cautiously just because we’ve worked very very hard just to go back to square one by trying to over-expand too quickly. Then we’ll look to open up our first shopping exchange so people can actually see what we’re about. A lot of our stuff doesn’t fit in with retailers and you end up compromising on the basics.

You’re so busy! Do you ever get to take any time off?
I did have a holiday this year, but incorporated it with a Spartan race in Canada!
Photo credit: Pandora's Thoughts Photography
Hardly restful! And so I thanked Kate for her time and let her get a little bit more of a lunch break before her next appointment.

Do take a look at the new ranges; they’re really funky and I now appreciate just how much work goes into creating something so stylish and functional. I’ll be testing them out for myself and also to joining the Crewroom for run club on a Saturday morning so look out for my post on that in the next couple of weeks.

Catch up with Crewroom at the London Triathlon Expo 2014, Saturday 2nd & Sunday 3rd August at the ExCeL Centre, east London, where the team will be on stand 32 exhibiting their brand new ranges.

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