As the woman behind one of Australia’s biggest activewear brands it seems only fitting that Lorna Jane Clarkson’s love affair with fitness apparel first began when she was an aerobics instructor in the 80s. Unable to find fashionable clothes to wear to her classes she decided to design and create her own and found herself inundated with orders for her designs from other women in the gym. The rest, as they say, is history. Today she is a fashion designer, entrepreneur and author and there are now more than 200 Lorna Jane stores across Australia and the United States, as well as stockists in Europe, the UK, Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Lorna’s first cookbook, NOURISH – The Fit Woman’s Cookbook was released in 2014 and Lorna’s first ever coffee table book INSPIRED was released in 2015. The fifty-two-year-old businesswoman spoke to me about the inspiration behind her brand, who she looks up to and the most difficult part of being in the public eye.
What is a day in the life of you?
I wake up around 5am, squeeze in a workout, have breakfast, catch up on my international emails from overnight and then head into the office by eight. No two days in the office are ever the same (which I love) and on any given day I could be writing, designing, on a campaign shoot or in marketing, strategy or creative meetings. I always try and leave by six and go for a walk with my husband and our dog Roger to catch up on each other’s day before dinner. I love to finish the day with some yoga or meditation, then I go to sleep, wake up and do it all over again!
What does healthy and fit mean to you?
Being healthy is essentially taking care of yourself so that you can think, feel and be at your best every day. Our health is the one thing we can ALL invest in, and I honestly believe it’s the ultimate investment you will ever make. Without your health, you have nothing, which is why I’m so passionate about empowering women to embrace my Active Living Philosophy and daily practice of Move Nourish Believe – for the simple reason that it makes being fit and healthy really easy.
What is your favourite piece in the current collection?
What do you think was the key to being able to successfully expand your empire?
Authenticity. Since day one, I’ve always done things my own way and I’ve never tried to emulate anything another brand is doing. I think our authenticity is why we have such an incredible and loyal customer base, which is what has allowed us to be able to expand internationally.
How did you get into the health and fitness space?
My mother has always been a great role model for health, so it’s been important to me for as long as I can remember. I got really into the aerobics craze when it launched in the 80s and ended up doing my instructor training and teaching aerobics classes after work. At that time I couldn’t find any gym clothes that inspired me to want to workout—so I started making my own. When I started wearing them to the gym, the women in my classes really loved them, so I started taking orders and before I knew it I was completely swamped (and my lounge room was an absolute mess). I found a real niche and loved what I was doing, so I decided to quit my day job and start designing activewear full-time. And I can honestly say it was the scariest but absolutely BEST decision I’ve ever made!
What were the biggest challenges you faced when you started the company?
The very first one was getting people to believe in my vision, that comes down to self belief as well. I think you need to need to come from a very powerful place with your vision because for me to say that I want active wear that inspires women and changes the way they think about their workouts, people are thinking “yeah yeah”. I could see women wearing their activewear beyond their workouts and people thought I was crazy to open a store that just sells womens activewear. But a lot of hard work and I proved them wrong!
What are you most passionate about?
Inspiring women to live their lives at 100 per cent.
Who do you look up to?
I admire so many people for so many different reasons. I admire strong women like Oprah, Michelle Obama and Diane von Furstenberg. My mum for being such an inspiring role model for me when I was growing up. And of course my husband Bill for being such a visionary and fearless leader!
What is the most rewarding part of having such a successful brand?
Hand over heart, the most rewarding part of my job is when our customers tell me how Lorna Jane has helped them overcome an obstacle in their life. Our ‘Inspo Tanks’ have become a big part of our brand DNA and I’m humbled every time a customer tells me wearing one has helped them push through an obstacle in their life. I’ve heard stories from fitness instructors wearing them to help motivate their members in class right through to women wearing them whilst fighting for their lives in hospital. Hearing stories like those are the reason I do what I do and it makes the more challenging and stressful times so worth it.
Did you have any struggles and setbacks in creating the Lorna Jane brand?
Of course! I can’t even count the number of times—but it’s all part of the journey and to be completely honest I wouldn’t change a thing, because it’s the setbacks and obstacle that teach you lessons, make you stronger and help you to appreciate what you already have so much more.
What is the most challenging aspect of being in the public eye?
When people are quick to make a judgment or assumption about you based on something they’ve read or heard.
What motivates you on a day-to-day basis?
My customers, my team and my amazing family.
How important is it for you to be a role model and embody the Active Living Philosophy and daily practice of Move Nourish Believe?
The reason I put my name on the door 28 years ago, was to make sure that I stayed 100 per cent authentic to who I was as a person. Lorna Jane the brand really is just an extension of Lorna Jane the person and Active Living is my personal philosophy that’s achieved through the daily practice of Move Nourish Believe—plus it’s the very thing I credit for getting me to where I am today.
What is your favourite meal?
Breakfast! Hands down!
Who do you turn to for support?
My husband Bill. While he’s the CEO of Lorna Jane, he’s first and foremost my husband and I know I can turn to him for anything.
Your husband Bill also works actively in the business. Is it hard to switch off as a couple?
We always make sure we schedule some quality family time together every day, even if it’s just a 20-minute walk together before we have dinner so we can really connect as husband and wife. I think when you run a business it can be so easy to get carried away and think “I’ll just send one more email” or “I’ll talk to him about it when I get home”, so actively scheduling ‘no more business’ time is the way we switch off.
Why do you think the activewear industry has seen such growth over the past few years?
Two things—I think that people are finally starting to realise the importance of good health and that wearing activewear is so much more comfortable and conducive with how we live our lives today. Activewear has become an important part of the modern woman’s wardrobe and I think more and more brands have realised this in the last few years, which is why the activewear industry has absolutely boomed.
Where do you see the Lorna Jane brand in five years?
Do you get to relax?
Of course. There’s no way you can be in business for 28 years and stay at the top of your game if you don’t take the time to rest and relax.
What do you do in your downtime?
We love to go to the beach and Byron Bay is a popular spot for us to escape for the weekend. But I also make sure I schedule a little bit of down time every day, even if it’s just half an hour of yoga or reading before I go to bed.
WE WENT TO China Diner, Double Bay
WE ATE Pork & scallop san choi bao with green bean and almonds; “Asian Slaw” of shredded cabbage, snow pea, carrot and coriander with plum and yuzu dressing; Crab spring rolls with plum sauce; Massaman curry of wagyu beef shin and roasted peanut
WE DRANK Lemongrass and Coconut Sour