I was first introduced to British performance brand Crewroom at the Write this Run bloggers conference back in November. I was immediately impressed by their incredibly technical range and focus on sustainability. I recently got the chance to interview founder Kate Giles and find out a bit more about the brand.
Kate Giles is a former top British rower. One day she was out training in typically awful British weather and not wearing clothes that were ideally suited to the wet conditions, she subsequently fell ill with pneumonia and ended up in hospital with cracked ribs. Since that point she has had a very strong focus on creating exceptional clothes for athletes to protect them from all weathers and enable them to perform to their best, and so Crewroom was formed. I chatted with Kate to find out more.
Question: Can you tell me a bit about the origins of the company?
Kate: The origins are very much from a rowing background, a lot of people who work here are from a rowing background. We’ve kind of come full circle in that 10 years and have now come back to a boathouse down on the river. As a brand we’re very much about just enjoying going outside.
Q: What was the inspiration behind the brand?
Kate: Inspirations change as you go along. I was rowing for a long time and wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I started following my passion with the kit side of things. I could never really find any fabrics which I liked, they would have been quite abrasive, or cotton t-shirts which performance wise were incorrect. We’ve arrived now at fabrics which have to be soft to the touch, but also highly technical.
We’ve always worked very closely with our customers which we will continue to do. Everything is done very organically, we have to do events, we have to listen to people, we’ve opened up the shop in Putney. It’s a necessity to listen to what people want and what feedback we get and that will always continue as we steadily grow.
Q: Have you always had a business side?
Kate: We’ve all had to be self sufficient as we rowed, it’s created a high work ethic, to get out there and be a bit creative. Early days, I went from a bakery background with my Dad, to selling cakes down at the rowing club to support my rowing. You get more confident as you get older, and you realise making cakes is very hard work and they go off very quickly, so you find something else. Now the appreciation is in seeing the joy of someone else wearing your kit.
Q: What’s your design process?
Kate: That has changed a lot in the last year, before a lot of it was myself. A couple of years ago we got some students in from the London College of Fashion, one of which is now our head of design. The new Laser range is our first truly designed range. Before I knew the market needed a vest, or a legging, but now we have come up with true ranges and that has all come from them.
Q: What sort of technology are you using?
Kate: In 2008 the Royal Parks asked us to create a sustainable solution for a range for the half marathon. I believed what was sustainable was to be able to wear a garment over and over again and also to make sure it is highly technical. I came up with the bamboo and recycled bottles concept, which worked. We’ve tweaked it along the way and transferred this into the stretch fabric.
It all started with the Royal Parks showing faith in us. They wanted to help other businesses on their way. Now we are in our second year of sponsoring the Royal Parks Ultra so it’s a truly sustainable approach. They put their investment into us and now long term we are trying to put our investment back into them.
Crewroom recently secured a collaboration with new customer Greenpeace, highlighting their environmental credentials. They ship freight, rather than flying orders around the world, in order to minimize their carbon footprint. Each one of the Vapour-X shirts uses about 10 recycled plastic water bottles.
Q: Can you tell me more about the brand and sustainability?
Kate: We don’t work with lots of factories, just 2-3, and we heavily invest into those. In our first factory we helped them with orders, put sewing machines in that were needed, we would rather work with the people first. People always talk about the sustainability of the fabric, but they don’t talk about the well-being of the workers. I take an ethical approach, and that’s tied in with the Greenpeace connection.
Anyone can go out there and make something as cheap as possible but you get to the point where you are like why the hell is it that cheap? That’s the reality of it. Not everyone will go for it, but this is what we are doing, we are trying to do the best we possibly can to look after the welfare of everyone we work with.
Q: What makes Crewroom stand out in a saturated market?
Kate: I think it’s a combination. Personality behind the brand is key, we are a hard-working brand. People want to exercise in our products as well as look good. Somebody said about the brand “we like getting dirty and we are a bit quirky”. We enjoy life, and I think that comes across as a brand.
Q: Can you tell me more about the new ranges?
Kate: This is a true year of hard work in getting the elements and laser range out. We’ve done a lot of work on the fabric side. The Laser ranges falls on the back of the refresher range, it’s very urban, with different intricate prints. It is a very city range with technical vapour stretch fabrics.
Slightly in contrast is the elements range, it’s less in your face, it has a feeling of cottons about it, it’s breezy and natural, but it’s also highly technical. It’s perfect for longer runs.
Q: Do you have a favourite piece from the new ranges?
Kate: I do, it’s the haze vest and I also wear the no fuss leggings all the time for training.
Q: What items from the new ranges are good for this summer heatwave?
Kate: Both the ranges are. The laser range has traditional Vapour X technology, people psychologically prefer that tech feel, it’s got UV protection, and is quick drying. With the elements range people may not be aware that it’s highly technical as it feels so natural. Our hats and long sleeves also have UV protection for summer sun.
Q: Do you have new collections coming out later in the year?
Kate: Lots of hard work has gone into the new ranges, so we will see newer pieces for each range into autumn, with jackets, leggings, and on the back of that there will be slotting in of more winter products. In spring there will be a migration through, with some overlap.
Q: Have you thought about taking Crewroom abroad?
Kate: I have done. I was foolish a few years ago and went too quickly, we need to be fully established in the UK first. I’m selling a little bit in the States and we’ve done well when I’ve been over to Australia as well. I think to open up properly in Australia would be a natural move for us. Our stuff has an Aussie, surfing feel about it anyway.
Q: What’s the next step for Crewroom?
Kate: It takes time to build a brand. We’ve had a good 10 years in industry so people trust us. Brighton half marathon this year for us was fantastic, the store and on-line are also doing really well. The next step for us will be opening more of a mainstream shop. We will be opening a pop up in the exchange in October, and hopefully we will open a true store there in the new year and then possibly somewhere else in London or South East. It’s been a pretty good year!
Crewroom run breakfast run clubs every Saturday from their base in Putney, which is a great way to get to know the brand and join in on a social run on the weekends. I’m hoping to get over to one in the next few months.
You can buy Crewroom gear online, or in store in Putney, which is great as you can also have a chat to the staff and find out more about the brand and ranges.
* Catch up with Crewroom (www.crewroom.biz) at the London Triathlon Expo 2014, on Saturday & Sunday, August 2 & 3 at the ExCeL Centre, east London, where the team will be on stand 32 exhibiting their brand new ranges.
Photo Credit to Pandora’s Thoughts Photography.