With more than 40 shops nationwide and a recent launch in the US, Sweaty Betty is one of the UK’s most successful activewear brands. Founder and Creative Director Tamara Hill-Norton has grown the brand from a small Notting Hill shop in 1998 to a global giant with a fiercely loyal following. We caught up with the wellness pioneer herself to find out how she makes it work...
Firstly – how did Sweaty Betty come about?
I started Sweaty Betty after spotting a gap in the women’s activewear market. At the time I was working as a buyer for Knickerbox – we started to do a little bit of sportswear, but as a sports enthusiast I realised there was nothing on the high street offering good-quality, female sportswear. At the time, activewear for women just wasn’t a thing, it was all about big, male-oriented sportswear stores. So, then, I thought, ‘Right, this is a proper gap in the market’. After being made redundant, I took the opportunity to evolve the concept to create beautiful clothes for women who live active lifestyles – whether yoga, skiing, swimming or running, I wanted to provide products that could be part of every woman’s wardrobe.
How did you start the business?
I started to work on a business plan with help from my husband Simon, now CEO of Sweaty Betty; he’d been to business school and had worked as a management consultant. I researched products and eventually found a site for our first shop in Notting Hill. The company was initially financed by friends, family and the bank.
What has been the biggest challenge?
The beginning was stressful to say the least. I opened our first shop in November and my only staff member decided to quit, so I was left to run the entire store on my own over Christmas. In hindsight it was a great experience being on the shop floor, as I learned a lot about the customer, but there’s no denying it was a really difficult time.
Did you always envisage the brand as it is now?
No, it has evolved really naturally. The first shop started off selling other brands, and since 2009 we have focused on designing our own label. This was when the business really began to grow and we have gone from there. As time has gone by, this model has proved increasingly successful and Sweaty Betty now stocks everything from yoga gear to ski wear sporting our logo.
What’s been the most memorable moment to date?
There have been so many – from appearing on the London Fashion Week catwalk to opening our shop in New York. However, I’ve always wanted to create a space where you can experience the Sweaty Betty lifestyle so am thrilled that No.1 Carnaby by Sweaty Betty finally opened at the beginning of September – it’s three floors of fashion, fitness, food and beauty. The store was definitely my ‘pinch me’ moment.
What does an average day look like for you?
On an average day, I’ll leave the house around 8:30am and cycle to work along the river. I live with my husband and three children in Acton and the office is in Putney Bridge, so it's a good five mile cycle. Once I’m in the office, I spend the day catching up with various teams on everything from new product launches and weekly trade, to my blog and new catalogues. At 6pm the team goes for a run led by one of our ambassadors, followed by a body conditioning session – we live and breathe fitness as a team and for me, it’s essential that my employees have the opportunity to look after themselves and their wellbeing. I usually get home around 8pm – we always try to have supper as a family and I’ll catch up with some emails before going to bed around 11pm.
Do you have a mentor?
My dad has always led a very active life, enjoying it as much as possible and including friends and family in all his pursuits. It was from him that I learnt to push boundaries but also, most importantly, to have fun.
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
In order to achieve a work life balance and feel calm and fulfilled, not stressed, you have to feel in control of your time. No-one is ever going to give you more time and you are never going to suddenly have more time. So you have to make time for the things that matter the most to you.
What’s it like working with your other half? Any secrets to making it work?
We're quite a typical couple in retail, Simon is the business and finance brain, while I’m brand and product. It's always been a good split – we complement each other and respect our different skill sets. We're both really passionate about our work and could talk for hours when we get in at night, but the kids help keep us grounded and maintain a good work-life balance. He's also on a different floor from me in the office, which helps.
What’s the one piece of business advice you would pass on?
Surrounding yourself with the right people is crucial. I look for passion and a positive, can-do attitude. Be passionate about what you do and hire passionate people. It will inspire others and keep you and them motivated.
Does having your own business afford you any freedom?
I’m really lucky that I’ve been able to schedule my time so I only work in the office three days a week, which has been great as my kids have grown up. I’m also really lucky as when I travel for shoots and work, I try to ensure they join me in the school holidays, as I think it’s an amazing way for them to see the world and experience what I do.
Favourite fitness class?
I like to mix up my routine, but I never miss a swim training session or my weekly office run club.
How do you switch off?
Yoga – when you get into the zone and focus on your breathing, it totally takes your mind off everything else.
Favourite way to relax?
We have a house in West Wittering, so I love to escape there at the weekends with my friends and family.
Ultimate beauty product?
I use StriVectin face creams, which are quite intense but results-driven. Because I do so much sport and spend so much time outside, I need products that really hydrate my skin.
Favourite London restaurant?
The River Café in Hammersmith has always been my favourite. I love the food and the relaxed atmosphere. I also tried The Palomar recently, which was absolutely incredible.
The one app you couldn’t be without?
Ocado, without a doubt.
Favourite guilty pleasure?
Nordstrom’s Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels or a good Aperol spritz.
Favourite Sweaty Betty item?
It has to be the Zero Gravity leggings. Not only does the sculpting fabric make your bum look amazing, they’re ultra-lightweight and sweat-wicking for working out.