Who’s that girl? In conversation with Tamara Hill-Norton, founder of Sweaty Betty

Tamara Hill-Norton is the founder of the women’s sports brand, Sweaty BettyIt’s the ultimate active-wear brand, battling against Nike, Adidas and Puma. But Sweaty Betty is different: founded in 1998, the focus has always been on women’s activewear, rather than it being a twenty-first century after-thought. Since its launch it has gone from strength to strength, winning countless awards (one for healthiest employees!) and opening shops on both sides of the Atlantic. Here Tamara talks about the empowering effect of exercise, the endorphin-filled day-to-day of a CEO, and why she went for the name Sweaty Betty.

Interview by Xanthe Fuller 

Hello! Thank you for taking the time to talk to us. First things first: how are you?

I’m really well, thank you!

To start a business is always a courageous move, but a brand exclusively for women’s activewear, that’s bold. What’s the story and how did you get there? 

I started Sweaty Betty in 1998 after spotting a gap in the women’s activewear market. At the time I was working as a buyer for Knickerbox. We started to do a little bit of sportswear, and I discovered some amazing female sportswear brands, which you couldn’t find anything like on the high street. Activewear for women was very bleak and dark at the time, there were just big, male-oriented sportswear stores. So, then, I thought, ‘Right, this is a proper gap in the market.’ After being made redundant. I took the opportunity to evolve the concept to create beautiful clothes for women who live active lifestyles.

How important is it for you that it’s a brand for women? And why? 

Incredibly important, we aim to empower women through fitness and beyond and achieving this is definitely the most rewarding aspect of my job. I love that we help women find their confidence and that we support them in their journey to becoming fitter and stronger.

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‘Horses sweat, men perspire and women glow’ – your brand clearly undercuts the idiom: why Sweaty Betty and not something like Glow Flo? 

For one Glow Flo sounds like a feminine hygiene product! Jokes aside, the name Sweaty Betty came about as I wanted to challenge the notion that it’s not cool to sweat. So I took ‘sweaty’ and juxtaposed this with Betty, the ultimate ‘cool girl’.

How does the Sweaty Betty philosophy shape your brand? 

I think it shows we don’t take ourselves too seriously, which is central to the brand. I think there are so many brands out there where it’s all about the strong athlete and we are very much about being balanced and having fun, dancing and having lots of drinks when you want to, but then also working out and having mental balance as well.

Describe a typical day. 

I leave the house at around 8:30am and cycle to work along the river. We live in Acton and the office is in Putney Bridge, so it’s a good five-mile bike ride.

When I’m in the office, I spend the day catching up with various teams on everything from new product launches and weekly trade, to my blog and new catalogues.

At 6pm the team goes for a run led by one of our ambassadors, followed by a really tough body conditioning session.

When I get home, I flop down on the sofa. We usually try to have supper as a family and then I’ll catch up with some emails before bed.

What skills does it take to start and run a company? 

Determination and the ability not to give up. The day before I opened our first shop in Notting Hill, my assistant quit, which left me working on my own over Christmas. In hindsight, being right in the middle of the action taught me a lot about the customer, so my determination paid off.

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What do you like about it? 

It’s incredibly rewarding to manage your own time and to feel like you’re creating more of a difference in the world. This October, we donated £1 from every sports bra sold to the charity CoppaFeel!, which I’m really proud of.

And is there anything you dislike? 

When you run your own business it’s harder to switch off, as it’s like having another baby. I’d never take anything back, but it’s also meant I’ve had to change my plans a few times. For example I always said I’d stay at home when my kids were tiny, which you just can’t do when you have a growing business.

Was running a business always your dream? 

Growing up, I was always quite rebellious and strong-minded and didn’t really like being told what to do. And, later on, I was just like, ‘I don’t want to work for anyone else, I know what I want to do, I want to run my own business!’ I always had that streak in me.

Name three women you look up to. 

My Mum – My parents inspired in me a love of adventure. We moved around the world as a family growing up and my Mum was always so enthusiastic about travel and immersing herself in the local culture.

Serena Williams – Not only is she an incredible sportswoman, but it’s amazing that she won the Australian Open when she was pregnant. Girl power or what.

Angela Merkel – It’s great to see more strong female figures in the political spectrum, I admire how Angela Merkel more than holds her own in a sea of strong personalities.

Do you have any words of wisdom for the students and recent graduates who are about to enter into the working world? 

Be passionate about what you do and eventually hire passionate people. It will inspire others and keep you and them motivated.

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Images courtesy of Sweaty Betty. 

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