How two friends took on the activewear industry
Meet the founders of multimillion-dollar athleisure brand Active Truth.
Nadia Tucker and Stevie Angel were neighbours who lived next door to each other in Brisbane and had been friends for four years when they conceived of their activewear business in 2015.
Both women had each given birth to their second child and, like so many other mums who are caring for babies, found themselves living in leggings. It was on a long walk with their prams that the pair discussed their disappointment at the lack of quality tights around. Too many of them were made of a flimsy material, that often became see-through or rolled down after rigorous use.
“These products looked good in photos of models but didn’t perform on bodies without model proportions,” says Tucker. After talking to friends, they discovered they weren’t alone in their frustrations. “We found that women who were a size 16 and above were especially underserved by the activewear market.”
Tucker and Angel recognised a gap in the market that could be filled. “At the time, none of that fitspo marketing around exercise and activewear resonated with us,” remembers Tucker. “It was either 20-year-old models or professional athletes – nothing in-between.”
“We weren’t looking to start a business, but we thought someone needs to do this, and why not us?”
The partners had no experience, but each invested $10,000 and after a year of planning, in the summer of 2016 – with little more than a plastic tub of just 100 tights – Active Truth was born. “We had young kids and jobs,” recalls Tucker. “So finding a manufacturer, designing the products and setting up the business was done in the little spare time that we had.”
Their business was so successful that within 12 months they were able to quit their jobs and each take a salary.
Shortly after they outsourced their distribution, moving their products – now including not just tights, but bike pants, T-shirts, crops and sweatshirts in sizes 6 to 26 – out of Tucker’s living room into a third-party warehouse. “That was a huge relief!” laughs Tucker, who remembers that up until that point they had been packing orders after their kids were asleep and still working while on the way to their jobs every morning. Says Tucker: “Our lives were crazy!”
Since then, they have seen strong growth year-on-year within their direct-to-customer model, and now boast a team of 13, along with a number of integral partners managing manufacturing and distribution.
In a savvy move, Active Truth launched a maternity range early on. “We both struggled to find clothes to exercise in while pregnant,” says Tucker. “We had both resorted to wearing our husbands’ shorts, or cheap cotton leggings.”
We both struggled to find clothes to exercise in while pregnant”- Nadia Tucker
The range quickly took off through word of mouth and strong reviews. “We market it primarily through Facebook advertising, influencer marketing, and dedicated maternity social accounts (@activetruthmaternity),” explains Tucker, who adds that they work closely with a number of women’s health professionals and maternity-specific organisations.
A key growth moment came when Zoë Foster Blake named their Mama tights as one of her essential pregnancy wardrobe items. “We saw a significant increase in customers overnight,” says Tucker.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though.
“In the early days, we made our stock locally in a small factory,” says Tucker, who explains that the space had limited capacity. “So we were continually running out of stock.”
The pandemic also brought challenges. “Like many retailers, we faced delays in our supply chains combined with unprecedented demand for our products. Frustratingly, we weren’t able to fully take advantage of the surge in online shopping.”
To make up for this, the duo allowed customers to purchase gift cards at a discounted rate for products that were out of stock. They also expanded their customer service team to ensure that no queries went unanswered.
Still. Keeping up with demand is not a bad problem to have. And it’s something they believe comes down to one thing: the quality of their clothes.
“We believe that the best marketing is a great product,” says Tucker, who views her customers as more of an inclusive community. “Consumers will trust the opinion of a stranger on the internet more than a brand telling them how great their product is. So, we leverage these reviews across both our organic and paid social channels.”
They also take their customers seriously. “We respond to every comment on social media,” says Tucker.
With an Instagram following of more than 59,000 and a Facebook page where consumers can give feedback on product development, Active Truth has transcended brand awareness to become an inclusive platform where plus-size, maternity and post-natal segments of the market – long ignored by so many other activewear brands – can have their voices heard.
“Our intention was always to create a community of women that celebrated being active, no matter how you like to move, and to represent them,” says Tucker. “Focusing on being sexy or skinny ignores all of the positive benefits of exercise.”
Active Truth founders Nadia Tucker and Stevie Angel’s three tips for starting a new business
1. 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.”
2. Put your customer first. “Look for ways to deliver a great experience in order to generate word-of-mouth referrals and repeat purchases. Most clothing brands base all of their size patterns on a size 8, then scale up. We get samples across our size range, try them on real bodies, and make changes to each pattern to ensure a perfect fit. By providing an exceptional product we are delivering on our promise and build customer trust and loyalty.”
3. Keep learning. “This e-commerce space is moving so quickly and there is a wealth of information out there. We work closely with Shopify on new technologies, and have put our hands up for beta testing of new online experiences like video technology.”
Natalie Reilly is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in the Australian Financial Review, The Sydney Morning Herald and a range of other titles.
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