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How Charli Cohen Used Her Personal Training Background to Create Activewear That Moves

The London-based designer launched a fashion-focused activewear label with the perspective and experience of a fitness professional.

From SoulCycle to Tory Burch, both fitness and fashion brands are working to capitalize on activewear's moment. Designer Charli Cohen is unique in that she comes at it from both sides. The entrepreneur, who studied fashion design in college, is also a certified personal trainer with a booming wellness business. In honor of Fashionista's fitness week, I spoke with the London-based designer about her approach, and her hopes for the brand. 

What was your background before you launched the collection?

My first foray into fashion was at 15, with my own t-shirt label. Then, I launched a full womenswear collection at age 17. I always knew I wanted to have my own label, so I figured this would be the best work experience! I went on to do my fashion degree at Kingston University and at the same time, I qualified as a personal trainer, running my own online wellness consultancy throughout uni. My sportswear obsession was born out these combined passions and when I graduated in 2012 I knew exactly which niche I'd be going into!

Was there are definitive moment that made you want to do it?

I always knew I wanted to have my own fashion label, but the sportswear epiphany came at the end of my first year at uni, when I was helping one of the final year students with their sport-luxe menswear collection. Everything I'd done had always been so womenswear oriented that I'd viewed my personal training business as a completely separate sideline - suddenly I realized that sportswear was the perfect way to do both together. I spent every evening researching, obsessing over runway photos of Y-3 and thinking, "I need to do this".

How did you fund it initially?

I primarily funded it myself from savings, with support from family and friends. I was also awarded part sponsorship from Invista, the creators of Lycra, as part of the WGSN Global Fashion Awards, which was an amazing boost. Later on, I ran a Kickstarter campaign, raising £30,000 in 30 days to fund the production of my first collection and to launch a series of pop-up shops in London and New York.

Explain your vision for the collection.

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Movement and physiology influence much of what I do. From a creative perspective, they inform the silhouettes and style lines of my designs. In terms of function, my work as a physical trainer enables me to understand the practical needs of performance wear, like how to make the garments ergonomic, supportive and flattering.

I use statement color and texture-blocking to create the look, then super-soft, second-skin fabrics to create the feel. I want every piece to transition effortlessly. You should be able to make a small styling tweak and be good to go!

What are some of the bestselling pieces?

The Laser Leggings have become a signature style and are my bestseller. They make a statement without necessarily looking too "sport," so they're a very easy piece to wear anywhere, not just in the gym. The Athena bodysuit, which is just hitting stores this month, has also been a hit. It's functional to train in, but also a great styling piece for day and evening.

What's the most interesting feedback you've gotten?

One customer told me that she'd been buying into a particular brand for the fashion look because there was so little else available, but found the pieces really uncomfortable to train in. She said she enjoyed wearing her first [Charli Cohen] pieces so much that she completely replaced her workout wardrobe with it! That was exciting. 

Activewear is a booming market. What's your plan to take the line to the next level?

I live and breathe the wellness industry, so I always stay very close to my customers. I'm an insider, I suppose, so I can react quickly to the market. I also have some very exciting collaborations coming into play at the end of this year and beginning of next, which will open the brand up to a wider audience and expand the product offering. And I work very closely with my UK manufacturer and fabric mills to ensure I can keep innovating and pushing design each season.