Charli Cohen trained as a fashion designer and as a personal trainer, and with her passion and knowledge of both, has designed a range of fashionable women’s fitness wear that marries cutting-edge technology with luxury and edginess. We spoke with her at London Fashion Week, during her live photoshoot with SleekTechnique ballerinas, at ME London’s rooftop bar.
How did your fashion fitnesswear come about?
I got straight into designing Charli Cohen after studying fashion at Kingston University, and I also qualified as a personal trainer, but both interests were really separate – I assumed I was going to do womenswear. Then I realised that all my designs were going towards sportswear, and at the same time the London Olympics were on when I did my graduate fashion week show, and as I was the only sportswear collection showing, I got a lot of press. It just seemed to be a really perfect time to go into it, as I could see the trend growing there. I knew I had to start straight away, as all these other designers would pop up, which they have now done.
Do you think that the fitness trend is growing in part because of the 2012 Olympics?
People are incorporating fitness into their lifestyle more and more, so I think it’s just coincidental timing, but there was a lot more press for sports and fitness around the Olympics, and since then all the luxury fashion magazines have started including wellness and fitness in their content.
What kind of woman would you see wearing your designs?
Everything is limited edition and made in the UK. I feel the kind of woman who’d want to have something special in her work wardrobe or day wardrobe, is going to feel the same about her workout wardrobe. She doesn’t want to turn up to a class that she’s paying £30 for wearing the same thing as everyone else. The collection is at a premium price point, which in fashion terms is quite accessible, and in fitness terms is at the top end.
How are you reaching out to the market?
At the moment I’m primarily set up as a wholesale business selling into stockists that are already targeting that particular market. I use social media a lot as well – I started with Twitter in 2008, and was one of the early fitness bloggers, writing scientific articles about nutrition. I built up a following through that [she now has 32k followers], so had that platform to launch my designs into. In terms of luxury markets it’s been about getting into the right publications, so I targeted all the glossy fashion magazines, because they were just starting sports shoots, so it was good timing that they were rather responsive; it would be much more difficult as a womenswear brand to be getting the press that I’ve been getting.
[Charli Cohen has been featured in a wide range of fashion publications including Bazaar, Elle, Grazia, Glamour, The Sunday Times Style, Stella, The New York Times and recently in a stunning British Vogue spread featuring Kate Upton shot by Mario Testino.]
What are your learnings from Lululemon, one of the most successful fitnesswear brands, founded in Vancouver?
Lululemon have built the brand very differently – they’ve got their own retail stores and it’s very much a vertical business model, while mine is the opposite. I think they’ve certainly created a market for stylish fitness wear, and for a long time they’ve been considered an expensive brand as well, compared to say Nike and Adidas, so they’ve definitely opened the way for more luxury fitness wear. While they’re now widely available in the UK, I don’t know if it’s a UK aesthetic compared to North America; for example Vancouver and California are all about fitness as a lifestyle, while London and Europe are more about fashion. What I’m trying to do is have something a bit edgy, quite London, for a woman who’s really interested in fashion, and she happens to be fitness-oriented; rather than for someone who places fitness first, and wants something a bit nicer than Nike. They want to have the transition from work to working-out without it being so obvious. I think that Lululemon customers in the UK would certainly buy my stuff as well, so there’s definitely a crossover.
About Charli Cohen
Charli Cohen trained as a fashion designer and as a personal trainer. Bridging the gap between performance activewear and ready-to-wear fashion, her eponymous, British-made brand is born out of her knowledge of these two passions: fashion and women’s fitness.
Following the success of her 2013 debut, backed by INVISTA, the young British designer launched her second independent collection at London Fashion Week and is now presenting her third for Spring/Summer 15.
Fusing luxury, technology and futuristic edginess, the Charli Cohen brand is synonymous with clever, body-sculpting cuts and the highest quality in cutting edge sport-tech fabrics. Graduating as Womenswear student of the year from Kingston University London in 2012 and granted much sought-after sponsorship from INVISTA (owner of LYCRA) shortly thereafter, Charli Cohen quickly carved a niche for her performance-luxe pieces both in the UK and internationally.