Sweaty Betty Founder Tamara Hill-Norton on Reshaping an Industry—and Your Bum
It’s London, the late ’90s, and Tamara Hill-Norton just wants some cool, great-fitting athletic clothes. She’s new to the city, trying to stay active, but can’t find any sports stores catering to women. Her solution? Open one.
Bold, definitely, but also calculated. “I wanted to shake up the activewear market,” she says, “to create clothing for women that want to look good and work out.” Twenty years later and the industry has most certainly shifted. Activewear is now so stylish, so comfortable, we wear it all the time, workout or not. For instance, we can’t wait to wear (and yes, break a sweat in) Hill-Norton’s now legendary line, Sweaty Betty, available at Nordstrom April 5—today!
We spoke to Hill-Norton about her balanced approach to health, starting a business and wearing Sweaty Betty bum-sculpting leggings to the bar.
Who’s Betty? Tell us a bit about how you named your line.
I wanted to challenge the notion that it’s not cool to sweat. Being a Sweaty Betty was seen as a negative thing in the UK. So I took the ultimate cool chick from the American Archie comics—Betty—and juxtaposed this with Sweaty, and we had it!
Back in 1998, how’d the idea for a fashion fitness brand come about? What were the first few years like?
When I moved to London from university I wanted to continue living an active lifestyle but I realized there wasn’t much out there catering to women. It was a very bleak landscape for women’s activewear (there was nothing on the high street, apart from a small section at the back of men’s sports shops). I spotted a gap in the market and wanted to reach out to women who had an active lifestyle, creating clothing to make them feel powerful and amazing.
The beginning was stressful. I opened the first shop in Notting Hill, and my only staff member decided to quit, so I was left to run the entire store on my own. I was working seven days per week and put myself under enormous pressure to deal with any problems on my own. I was very proud and passionate, the business was my baby and I wanted to do everything independently. In hindsight, it was a great experience being on the shop floor. I learned a lot about the customer.
How would you summarize the Sweaty Betty aesthetic?
We are designed in London by an all-female team, so we have quite a cool, relaxed aesthetic with a lot of layering. We are always pushing boundaries with new prints, technicality and fashion pieces. I love taking fashion fabrics like denim and adding our signature technical details.
What are some of your favorite items in the latest Sweaty Betty collection?
Our bum-sculpting leggings are my absolute hero piece. The Power Leggings in our new collection aren’t only bum-sculpting, they are in a new limited-edition Union Jack print that we’ve brought back from our archives to celebrate our 20th birthday.
Any tips on taking activewear from the gym to the street, or even out for drinks?
Layers are key when styling leggings. I like to throw them on with a longer-line top, like a big, patterned knitted poncho. Or, for a smarter look, I’ll pair leggings with a tailored jacket and platform trainers.
We hear you like a good cocktail. What’s your philosophy on balancing healthy choices with indulgent ones?
I am a big believer in balance. In fact, we have a joke in the office that I am the first one on the Pilates mat and the last one on the dance floor. I prioritize fitness, mindful eating and living an active lifestyle, but don’t deprive myself of cake and cocktails.
Your mission as a brand is to empower women. Can you tell us how you do that?
We want women to feel powerful and motivated to live an active lifestyle. With this in mind, we have an in-house female design team that creates all of our pieces to fit, flatter and look amazing from studio to street. We also test each piece multiple times in our London office to ensure they really perform. We actually have a saying with fabric: if we can’t find it, we make it.
How has your mission evolved since Sweaty Betty launched in 1998?
The industry has completely changed since I started Sweaty Betty. Working out has become much cooler. Women’s activewear has gone from a small area at the back of a men’s gym to all of these amazing boutique studios. This year will mark 100 years since women won the right to vote in the UK. It will also mark the 20th anniversary of Sweaty Betty. 2018 is the year for women to feel empowered!
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Be passionate about what you do and hire passionate people. You will inspire them and they will keep you motivated.
SHOP: Sweaty Betty