Meet Julie : Founder of Adrenna Sportswear

The throwaway approach of “buy cheap, buy often” is having a devastating impact on the environment. Vast quantities of clothes are produced every year and then simply thrown away, making it the world’s second most polluting industry – after oil.

Adrenna is your alternative to mass-produced sportswear. We challenge traditional mass-manufacturing by making our sustainable activewear in London using the finest fabrics sourced from Italian mills. And to ensure you get to enjoy your sportswear for longer, our chic designs are driven by lasting style, not passing trends.

Adrenna invites you to get directly involved with the creation process, by giving you the chance to customise features of your activewear – from colours and fabrics to length and clasp style – to your own tastes and workouts.

Every piece is made to order, just for you.

We practise mindful manufacturing.  Once you placed your order, the patterns will be arranged and cut in an optimal way to minimise fabric waste. To reduce the distance a garment has to travel before it reaches your door, we choose to only work with suppliers based in Europe. And Adrenna supports fair wages – our British partners all pay their workers at least the UK minimum wage.

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Where did the idea for Adrenna come from?

I started my career as a finance lawyer. I had moved from Adelaide, Australia, to London in 2010 to take up a job in the City. The stressful, fast pace of life in London often means that the environment is an afterthought. In particular, the dominating presence of fast fashion brands and cheap, disposable clothing was a real eye opener to me as they weren’t so obvious in Australia back in 2010. After suffering chronic neck and back pain from long office hours, I took up yoga and weight training to build strength and manage the pain. This new activity led me to buy a range of sportswear, but it struck me that none of the garments really fit me. Also none really spoke authentically about having any environmental or ethical standards. My parents came to Australia as refugees from Cambodia, which is a hub for clothing manufacturing, so I’ve always had this interest in workers’ rights and the clothing industry. Adrenna is an effort to bring together my love for movement, a healthy body and mindset and respect for the environment and humanity.

Had you had any other businesses or experience before this?

No, I hadn’t had any experience with starting and building something from scratch, though my legal experience and time in the City has proven to be invaluable. And to be honest, I don’t think you can really know until you do it for yourself.

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What edge do you have over your competitors?

Not only is Adrenna performance led, but our whole ethos is embedded in pushing sustainable and ethical standards. We also offer something that no one else in the UK does – we do made-to-order sportswear that our customers can create on online. People are starting to enquire about creating colour coordinating outfits for their fitness and wellness retreats, and we’re really excited to see the results. We love bringing the creativity of our customers to life.

Tell us more about sustainability in the fashion industry

There are so many sustainability – and ethical – issues driven by the fashion industry. I truly believe that the current problems are driven by fast fashion and the appetite for cheap, poor-quality trend driven clothing. The first major problem is the sheer quantity of clothes that are produced, and not fully used. Fast fashion demands new drops of clothing to be released frequently, and in huge quantities, because this brings down the cost of the item. However, what happens when not all the items are sold? There have been reports of major brands incinerating 12 tonnes of new clothing every year.   The first step in sustainability is to consume and buy less, but it’s a hard message when those at the top of the chain produce so much unwanted goods. This is why we only produce in small runs at Adrenna, and why we offer a made-to-order service. We also save useable cut-off fabrics to incorporate in our made-to-order garments and plan to incorporate them in our next collections. Our goal is to have 100% materials utilisation.

Another major problem is the poor quality of clothes that these brands produce – most of it is made of synthetic fibres that don’t wash well or last very long. This drives consumers to treat them as disposable items and when they are discarded, they don’t always end up in charities or new homes, particularly if the quality is very poor. A staggering 235 million items of clothing was expected to end up in landfill in the UK in 2017. Other than the microfibres that are released into waterways when synthetics are washed in your regular laundry, synthetic fabrics don’t break down so you can expect it to stay in landfill for a very long time.

This does not yet take into account the very intensive processes of producing the garments – the dyes that are used and other processes that have a direct impact on the environment.

Because sportswear needs to have strong performance properties, sportswear fabrics are usually synthetic. Bearing this in mind, it was important to me to be as sustainable as possible, which is we we have opted to use fabrics that are Oeko-Tex certified, which means no toxic chemicals are used at any part of the process. For collection two, we are aiming to include fabrics with Bluesign certification and some recycled materials. We are still investigating natural fibres that will meet the performance standards that we want for our fabrics, but the ultimate goal is to develop garments with these fibres.

There are other issues, such as the carbon footprint and distances travelled for each garment (fabrics could be sourced from Europe, before being sent to Asia for manufacturing, then being delivered to the end customer in the US or UK) and the labour rights issues that still affect the garment manufacturing industry. Much of this is better detailed in documentary films such as The True Cost and River Blue.

How can we all support more sustainable fashion?

It’s not about rejecting all forms of fashion and style and wearing tie-dye tops and hemp skirts. There are so many small brands that are offering sustainable options that are often as good, if not better quality, than fast fashion and other prevailing brands. But because sustainable brands are often small start-ups, they don’t have the marketing budgets of known brands and are not as visible to most people.

So next time anyone is thinking of buying that outfit for a wedding or holiday, I would urge them to pause and take a quick look to see if there is a sustainable option for what they are wanting to buy. Vivenne Westwood probably said it best when she said “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.”. Also be wary of green washing. The high street brands that offer a “conscious” or “green” ranges, peddled at £8.99 per item or less, still have questions to answer on their ethical credentials. I’m not saying that everyone is perfect – because the system is hugely imperfect and small brands operate within this structure – but consumers can push for change in a measurable and powerful way.

Personally, about 70% of my clothing purchases in the past year have been second hand items. For anything that I can’t (or won’t) buy second hand, such as sportswear, lingerie or swimwear, I will try as much as possible to buy sustainable – that means buying into a sustainable brand, or buying higher quality pieces (which may mean a higher price, but it pays off in the long-run) and pieces that I know I will wear at least 30 times.

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How did you go about funding your business?

I am bootstrapping Adrenna at the moment and am looking to grow organically for the immediate future.

What does a typical work day look like for you?

This varies so much on a day-to-day. I normally wake up at about 6:30 am and have a big breakfast. My day could then be filled with designing, manufacturer meetings, meeting with other founders and businesses in the fitness, fashion and sustainability industries, preparing for Adrenna events and pop-ups, working on building content and social media and preparing newsletters. I will meet up with friends or go to events in the fashion or sustainability industries around 2 nights of the week. I fit in 3 to 4 workouts a week as it’s a great stress reliever and I don’t wish to go back to the state of health I was in when I worked in the City.

And what did it look like when you first started?

I was still working full-time when I first started developing Adrenna. My day would involve getting up and going to my office as usual then going out at lunchtimes with my personal laptop to make calls and emailing suppliers – laying down the groundwork for the brand.

What’s been your biggest achievement in life thus far?

Definitely building and launching Adrenna. If you had asked me 5 years ago, or even 3 years ago, if this would have been something I could ever have imagined myself doing, I would have answered no!

A close second has to be following through on those daydreams of being able to bust some really cool dance moves and dragging my 31 year old self to some commercial dance classes to try to make it a reality!

And biggest failure?

Not backing myself sooner and following the path I thought was expected to me. Though I can’t be too hard on myself for that, because I also believe that it couldn’t have happened any sooner. I also don’t regret any of my opportunities or experiences. I’ve been exceptionally fortunate.

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What do you think the advantages and setbacks are for a female founder in the startup space?

Advantages: There is growing momentum behind supporting female founders. It’s an exciting time to be in this space, especially in a city like London.

Setbacks: Trends and decisions seem to be made without considering the circumstances in which female founders start businesses. A lot of start-up funding is directed at “tech start-ups” and a lot of female-founded businesses do not qualify for this funding. This does not make their businesses any less valuable or less ripe for funding. The majority of accelerators don’t accept start-ups led by sole founders. A lot of female-led businesses are led by a single female founder who is bootstrapping her business.

Why is it so difficult to break into fashion?

I think it’s because it’s an industry that is so dependent on our emotions. It’s unpredictable, yet at the same time, very alluring and desirable, so exceptionally competitive. The barriers and costs to entry are also high. When you start speaking to suppliers, you have to convince them that you are serious about starting your business. You then have to negotiate or buy into the minimums that a lot of suppliers require (this could be many hundreds of metres of fabric in the same colour). Then you have to meet the minimums that manufacturers ask you to order before they will work with you. You then have to invest in amazing imagery, because the standards are so high, and market your way through all the noise that is competing for everyone’s attention.

Did you have a mentor or people you asked for advice?

Definitely. The most frustrating start-up advice I kept hearing was: “You need to find a mentor.” So off I went, trying desperately hard to find that mentor. It was like some weird dating exercise! Eventually I figured out that there were so many people I had already met – whether through networking or my existing contracts – who I could lean on. I now have a “core” set of contacts who I will make an effort to meet with or communicate with regularly about different aspects of my business. There is one particular group of women, who I met through a women’s networking group, who I adore. They each own their own businesses and we speak every single day – many of my successes I owe to this group. Some of my mentors are my peers who are experts in areas where I know I am weak. I’ve never had the official “Will you be my mentor” chat with any of them.

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How has what you do changed you as a person?

I’ve become less afraid of what people think of me. On reflection, a lot of my career prior to launching Adrenna involved projecting a different personality. I have also become more assured of my strengths and abilities and have a better understanding of my weaknesses.

How do you like to stay active?

I love mixing it up, but I’m currently fixated by boxing and dancing (there are amazing similarities between the two!).   I also do yoga and weights regularly. Yoga, because I’ve discovered that turning 30 doesn’t mean your flexibility and ability to recover gets better with age! Adrenna recently hosted a Buti Yoga event with Sara Fakih – think yoga and plyometrics done to commercial hip hop beats – which is quite possibly the happiest workout and yoga experience I’ve ever had.   And weights because I love the discipline and the “relaxed high” that it gives me afterwards.

What are the top 5 books and blogs on your reading list?

The True Cost (this is a film, rather than a book or blog, but still in my top 5!)

Seth Godin: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/

Why I’m no longer talking to white people about race, Reni Eddo-Lodge

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari

A Thousand Splendid Suns, Khaled Hosseini

If you could do any other job, aside from what you do now, what would it be?

Live and work in elephant conservation in Asia. They’re such amazing souls. I might actually still go and do that at some point.

Do you have any unconventional words of advice?

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever heard came from one of my friends, also a fellow fashion startup founder. Every night, I fire myself as CEO and Founder of Adrenna, and every morning I re-appoint myself as CEO and Founder of Adrenna. When things haven’t gone as well as you’ve planned, it’s sometimes hard to shake off the burden and anxieties, so it’s a rather unconventional technique to make sure I start my next day with renewed motivation and without the baggage of the previous day.

What is your motto?

I have two:

“Life goes on.”

“What’s the worst that could happen?”

If money and time were no object, what would be on your to-do and to-see list?

I’d tour and go clamping at all the music festivals around the world to see all my favourite acts.


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