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Lorna Jane Clarkson Dishes on Activewear and Active Living

The Australian activewear brand's founder discusses how she stays inspired after 26 years in business.

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Lorna Jane Clarkson is 50. Let that sink in for a moment.

It could be good genes. It could be the fresh Australian air. It could be some kind of magic. But it's hard to question Clarkson's Active Living philosophy when she looks 20 years younger than her actual age. And when we caught up with Lorna before Racked Fit Club, the Aussie gave us a little more insight into why she's so passionate about that philosophy.

Clarkson launched her brand in Brisbane in 1989 while teaching group fitness classes. "I started designing activewear because it's what I love to do. People who were in my classes...loved it, so I made it for them. It just started growing." Back then, the only workout apparel options in Australia were Nike, Adidas, Puma, which —at the time— were "very male-dominated and footwear-dominated."

"Apparel was just a sideline to everybody," Lorna recalls. "I started off really niche, and my reaction was to open stores. I didn't want to go into the big box environment where people wouldn't understand the difference in the product we were making and the message that we had." So years before there was a Lulu on every street corner in America (and Canada), Lorna Jane began rolling out her feminine shops in Australia. It was a gamble, she explains, because "no one had signature stores. Twenty-six years ago, Nike didn't have a signature store. No one was doing it."

Her bet paid off. While Lorna Jane is an up-and-comer in North America, (the brand has 42 stores in the US), it's the largest women's activewear brand in Australia— "bigger than Nike, Adidas, and Lululemon put together." And now the company is expanding to global markets in Asia and the UK, trying to woo new customers at the same time that Lululemon is entering those markets. "In the UK, there's not really a Lululemon presence," Clarkson tells Racked. "There's a Nike and Adidas presence, but it's mainly just through big sports stores. In Asia, the same thing. So we're starting there at the same time Lululemon is starting, and Nike and Adidas don't really have concept stores [in those markets]. It's different everywhere."

Here in San Francisco, where Lorna Jane has to play catch-up with Nike and Lulu, the brand attempts to appeal to women by offering a larger selection of designs. Lorna tells Racked that the company releases 70-100 new styles every month. Women like to share, she reasons, and some might hesitate to share a new brand if they thought everyone was going to be wearing the same thing. "As a woman who wears activewear, there are certain places you go in your city, there are certain classes that you love to do, and I don't want to see myself in the same outfit as everyone else. "

I don't want to see myself in the same outfit as everyone else. —Lorna Jane Clarkson

Clarkson continues to head up design at her company, leading a team of three designers as the creative director. "I touch the garments five times before they're even sent off to production. I sit in every first fitting to make sure I see the first sample and I'm happy with how it's going. I'm just really passionate."

As for balancing work and life, it all comes back to that Active Living mantra. "When the business had become quite successful, people would say, ‘How do you manage to work out all the time?' We decided to do a campaign based on my own philosophy, which was Active Living and we came up with the words Move, Nourish, Believe because it's so set in what I believe. You move your body everyday, you nourish with great foods, and you have a positive attitude. It's almost becoming bigger than the brand." (For her personal fitness regimen, Lorna prefers strength training mixed with yoga and a good, weekly run.)

Though Lorna Jane is in the athletic apparel business, she's content to be remembered for her active approach to life. "I still love designing activewear, but I want to leave this legacy behind that I've actually created a way of life that people will continue to do when I'm no longer here to drive them crazy talking about it."

Lorna Jane

2090 Union St., San Francisco, CA 94124 (415) 563-8485 Visit Website