Emerging brand Acai will return to Moda this month after witnessing an overwhelming response to its functional and fashionable activewear collection last season.
Activewear was the talk of Moda last season, with buyers from Brown Thomas to JD Williams reacting positively to its dedicated athleisure platform, which was launched to reflect the contemporary consumer demographic seeking apparel for active lifestyles and wellness.
The Active area presented collections from new and established brands, which exceeded their sales expectations for the three-day trade show due to the overall consensus from retailers that athleisure has become a key focus of their business.
One such brand was Acai Activewear, which was presented to intimate apparel buyers for the first time at the fair, to overwhelming success.
The label opened 14 accounts at the show and was picked up by Intimate Apparel Agencies, which has already sold the brand into House of Fraser.
Six months on, Acai is hoping for a repeat performance when the Active area reopens at Moda on February 19.
In an interview with co-founder and creative director Kasia Bromley, we profile the brand as it gets set to present its latest collection of activewear, which combines function, fit, fashion and performance.
What’s your background?
I’m originally from Poland and I came to Edinburgh to study fashion at the Edinburgh College of Arts. So that was really the starting point. During university, I spent my summers interning in London. My best internship was with Alexander McQueen and I also worked for Firetrap.
Why did you decide to go down the activewear route?
I’ve been a runner forever and I’ve always been into fitness. In my fourth year, when I worked on my graduate collection, it dawned on me that this is the way the fashion industry is going. My graduate collection was heavily influenced by cycling and this was shown at London Graduate Fashion Week in 2012. It went really well and MaxMara picked up on the collection. They offered me a position in the design team, which I turned down because I already had a set idea that I wanted to launch my own brand and I felt like I needed to learn more about the performance side before I could do so.
How did you gain the experience you needed?
I got offered a job at Endura, which is a technical cycling brand based in Scotland. This gave me a great pathway into learning about performance fabrics and what makes a great sportswear product that’s functional. While I was working there, I had an extra job, which involved fixing outdoor jackets and sportswear clothing for a charity that did mountaineering expeditions. So I was taking the garments apart and fixing them. It wasn’t glamorous work, but it was a brilliant way to learn about how sportswear is constructed.
How did you find time to launch your brand?
I had a sewing machine in my bedroom and I worked on it in the evenings and at the weekends. My first prototypes were made in my Edinburgh flat, where I lived with my friend, who wear-tested them. It took about 20 prototypes to get it right because I am perfectionist. The next step was tying it together with the
Where did your inspirations come from?
What influenced me the most was travelling with my husband Joe. We lived in South Korea and America and wherever he was I set up the studio. It was really beneficial for me in terms of both designing and branding. Joe was then made redundant. It was really sudden and everything changed. We came back from South Korea and I was at the point with Acai where it was ready to go. So we decided to turn this into an opportunity rather than be sad about it – Joe come on board with Acai full time and is now the managing director. Now, looking back, I don’t think I would have managed to do it by myself because what I’m really good at is the creative side of things– that’s where I trained – and Joe’s really good at the business development side of things.
Does your husband Joe have a design background?
Joe’s actually a former engineer working in the oil industry! He was overseeing the development of an oil rig, but then the oil industry crashed and the entire project collapsed. We’ve worked on Acai ever since and it’s gone really well. It turned out for the best I think – like a blessing in disguise. The only obstacle was that I was pregnant at the time, but we still worked through it and managed. We booked into Pure to launch the brand to trade and that went really well, but what went even better was Moda. We got picked up by Intimate Apparel Agencies and opened about 14 accounts.
The activewear sector has exploded in recent seasons. How do you hope to stand out from your competitors?
I’ve worked on the branding meticulously. The Acai name comes from the acai berry and the goal from the very early stages of the brand development was for it to be associated with an active and healthy lifestyle. It is about energising women and making them feel that when they wear it they want to exercise. Another thing that I think will make us stand out is our approach to pattern cutting. We have revolutionised the way our leggings are constructed. Instead of using a standard front and back panel stitched on the sides, we have moved the seams so they sit in places where there is no risk of skin irritation, and the seam on the inside of the leg has been completely removed. This construction makes for a better fit on the female body, as well as making it look a lot more flattering than standard leggings. We have also found a supplier that is able to implement flatlock seam technology to prevent skin irritation. I was told this was impossible, but we’ve achieved it.
Where do you see the activewear market going?
I definitely think it will grow. When I think about jeans and how they started off, they were a big hit. That was such a long time ago and jeans are still around, but leggings have outsold them. I also think that the outdoor wear market, which focuses more on mountain sports like hiking or skiing, is still kind of backwards. I predict that activewear brands will expand into this area.
What are your personal plans for growth?
The collection will drop into stores at the end of February/beginning of March and we are also launching our own e-commerce website at the end of February. We will be entering into five House of Fraser stores and online. We want to target all the areas in the UK and once we have covered the UK the next area is Europe, then we want to grow globally. This will be a challenge, but I like a challenge.
Inspired by the energy-boosting acai berry, the new AW activewear collection from Acai is a celebration of the brand’s identity and roots. Seam-free inner leg technology Inner leg seams have been disposed of to eliminate the risk of chafing and skin irritation. Unique curve cut design Moving the seam by a mere inch and changing the angle of the curve can make a huge difference to how garments look and fit on a woman’s figure and how flattering they are.
The Little Black collection
The Little Black Collection is designed for the more traditional customer. Little black leggings or a little black crop top are must-haves of the season. These will come with a selection of T-shirts.
Acai sports bra-tops, as well as other items in the collection, are designed to incorporate hidden pockets for keys and other important items.