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An exercise in business and branding with Lorna Jane

Lorna Jane Clarkson began designing and making clothes from a young age, and realised she’d found a niche after becoming frustrated with the lack of fashion-forward exercise clothing on the market.

So, Clarkson left her job as a dental therapist and was soon designing her own activewear range. Initial demand came from the women in the aerobics classes she taught – and it was strong.

Demand grew so rapidly she had to quit her day job and move from her tiny backroom studio into a big warehouse to meet it. It wasn’t long before she’d opened her first retail store, and 21 years later there are 111 Lorna Jane stores in Australia and two internationally.

Over the last two decades, Clarkson has grown the business to include gym and sportswear, yoga and lifestyle clothing, intimates, accessories and footwear – and she’s not done yet, there’s a book in the works too.

How has this entrepreneur and fashion designer managed to build such a solid retail chain when many others can’t seem to keep their heads above water? Clarkson shares her secrets to success with Dynamic Business.

Q. You’ve built a solid and prospering retail chain at a time when many others are battling to stay afloat. Can you tell me how you’ve achieved this?

The retail industry is definitely experiencing a tough time, although we have been very lucky to have found continued success over the last few years, achieving a 60 percent growth in business year on year. I believe our position as an activewear retailer really differentiates us from other stores.

Customers consider Lorna Jane as a valuable purchase, as they’re investing in their health and fitness, rather than general fashion buys. We also pride ourselves on providing exceptional customer service, and this was identified as the winning formula when we were announced BRW and AMP Capital’s Outstanding Retailer of the Year.

Social media is also a vital facet of our brand, and has provided us with an invaluable medium for connecting with our customers.

Q. How important is it for an entrepreneur to build a strong personal brand, and business brand?

As the namesake of Lorna Jane, I’ve got an opportunity to connect with my customers not only through activewear but my own personal beliefs and experiences.

My mantras and philosophies infiltrate all aspects of the brand, from the meaning of the three Lorna Jane icons of Move, Nourish, Believe to our inspirational singlets splayed with my favourite motivating words.

My first book, Move, Nourish, Believe: The Fit Woman’s Secret Revealed, will give women an insiders look into the beginning of the brand, from my first leotard stitched, to the challenges I’ve faced along the way and how I’ve overcome them. I believe building a strong personal brand will only support and enhance your business brand, and will give customers another element to embrace.

Q. You’ve got a very strong following on Twitter & Facebook – do you see social media a must for entrepreneurs and business owners?

Twitter and Facebook have become an integral component of our brand, and provide an amazing opportunity to connect directly with our customers. Although this medium is working very successfully for Lorna Jane, it is not necessarily a must for all entrepreneurs and business owners.

When deciding to communicate socially, it’s vital that you’re willing and committed to supporting your chosen platform with engaging content that aligns with the brand. It also really depends on the type of industry your business is in that will determine what social media you should use. For example, Facebook and Twitter is great for dialogue between business and consumers, whereas business to business may look into leveraging off the benefits of networks such as LinkedIn.

With over 230,000 Facebook fans, social media has allowed us to connect directly with the women who wear our products and receive their thoughts instantly. For Lorna Jane, this is invaluable in delivering innovative garments of the highest quality and performance, as we’re constantly taking on our customers’ feedback and improving our designs.

Q. What’s the one thing you know now about business, that you wish you knew when you started out?

Although it would definitely have saved a few tears, there isn’t anything I wish I had known when I started the business over 21 years ago. Every experience is a learning curve, equipping you with the tools and mentality to handle it better the next time around. These obstacles also test your abilities and allow you to surpass your own expectations.

Q. You’re very vocal about inspiring women, so what piece of advice would you give to aspiring female entrepreneurs?

My one piece of advice would be to never give up on your goal. I began designing activewear at a time when it wasn’t even an identified industry.

Today I am still as passionate about producing fashionable and functional garments that inspire active living as I was when I started all of those years ago. This unfaltering focus has also helped me as the brand grows, as I’ve been able to stay on track and not get distracted by the range of other areas for business expansion. I’ve identified designing the highest quality garments as my primary role, and this has allowed me to cement Lorna Jane as the leading women’s activewear label.

Q. If you could describe your business philosophy in one sentence, what would it be?

Your unwavering passion for what you do should be your biggest driving force; not the dollar.

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Lorna Brett

Lorna Brett

Lorna was Dynamic Business’ Social Web Editor in 2011/12. She’s a social media obsessed journalist, who has a passion for small business. Outside the 9 to 5, you’re likely to find her trawling the web for online bargains, perfecting her amateur photography skills or enjoying one too many cappucinos. You can follow her on <a href="https://twitter.com/#!/dynamicbusiness">Twitter @DynamicBusiness</a>

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