Nailah is a game-changing, sculpting fitness wear brand created by Jane Brennan. She tells Frank what makes her sportswear so special.
How are you, Jane? Where are you? How has your day been so far?
Jane Brennan: I am very well! I’m currently in Spain with my husband and two boys. It was an early start today to fit in my fitness routine and meditation before everyone was up. Then work starts at 8.00 am with our factories.
Tell us about your fitness range. When did you start it and why?
Jane Brennan: Sport and fashion have always been two major pillars in my life. The idea for Nailah came to me four years ago when a herniated disc severed my sciatic nerve and left me immobile. I had just given birth to my youngest son Evan and the surgeon told me it was back surgery or I would end up in a wheelchair. Evan was two months old and I still hadn’t been able to hold him.
My surgery was unsuccessful and the surgeon literally wiped his hands of me. By August I still wasn’t walking and I was in constant pain. I then found a miracle doctor with a year-long waiting list, who agreed to see me due to the severity of my case. He gave me a new appointment at midnight, that’s how busy he was.
After a year of being immobile, I came out walking, although still in pain. He promised me he would get me pain-free and back to training so I could build muscle to support my back, and he did exactly that.
The most important thing he gave me, however, was hope.
I trained for a year with a personal trainer. At first, I was unable to lift myself off the floor as I had no feeling in my leg or foot. I was bloated from the medication and I was unrecognisable to myself. I hadn’t shifted the baby tummy, I had no confidence and all I could wear all day was activewear. None of it made me feel better about myself, beautiful or supported.
My background was in fashion, first as a model and then as a womenswear designer. I needed to feel normal again and get back to work so I started designing my own range. I wore it to my classes, out to walk with the kids and I was being stopped constantly to ask where people could buy it. It wasn’t until the first lockdown that I finally launched in the Uk. Within one month I had sold out on two lines three times – so I knew I was on to something!
The fabric is amazing and soft and functional. How much work goes into finding the right fabrics?
Jane Brennan: The fabric is one of the most exciting parts for me. I spent years attending Paris shows in previous jobs in search of the right fabrics.
The fabric really has to be put to the test; it cannot just be aesthetically pleasing. Once the fabric is chosen and a sample is made we put it to the Nailah Test. We test it with professional athletes, who give us feedback on moisture-wicking, stretch, comfort, etc.
I test on myself in my own sport and also on the move daily as a busy working mum. I look for different things to an athlete; tummy control for example. This is something that has gone into our waistbands. We use the same fabric composition and technology you would find on Spanx. It’s not about vanity though; it‘s about support and confidence.
Then we pass to wash tests. We have to wash the material over and over again in every way possible to make sure we won’t have problems. Sometimes we have to go back to the drawing board but most of the time we get it right almost straight away.
Cut is also important and you have nailed that. With body shapes being so different, how do you cater for all?
Jane Brennan: It really has been trial and error. It was so important for me to make women feel good about themselves whatever their shape or size. We have fit models to test how the activewear adapts to their bodies and movements. We add contouring lines, our butt-lift technology and so many other things that help to really make the most of our body shapes. A lot goes in behind the scenes that people don’t realise.
You dabble in some clothing too. What prompted that?
Jane Brennan: I think it came from the fact that my background is in women’s fashion, in particular dresses, and I had this need to go back to my roots. Our dresses were sell-outs and as we grow I would love to introduce a womenswear line for when you’ve done your workout and need something comfortable but beautiful you can just throw on.
What is your take on sustainability in fashion and how are you working with this ethos?
Jane Brennan: My background is in sustainable fashion so it’s something very close to my heart. My house is entirely solar-powered, as are the Nailah offices.
Nailah is sustainably manufactured in Shanghai and Hong Kong and we work exclusively with manufacturers that have received third-party inspections in the past year with TUV Rheinland or who have SGS certifications.
If we cannot get out to meet a new manufacturer we Zoom with the factory for the entire tour and have each manufacturer inspected before we start working with anyone by our agent out there. We make sure we ask the right questions such as what their employee benefits are, how production waste is disposed of, amongst other things.
The reality is that a lot of the materials and accessories we use are not easily sourced in Europe or the UK. Even if we assemble products here, we have to import the parts. If we make the parts ourselves, we have to import raw materials. It’s more practical to work with local Chinese factories that can handle this with great skill and with a lower one-time carbon footprint.
Although we are based in Spain, the carbon footprint caused by sending our packages out to the UK and America would be enormous so within weeks of opening we moved our fulfilment to the UK to serve our UK and Ireland customers, and as from this month we will have a US fulfilment centre for our American and Canadian orders. It creates a lot more work and costs but we really couldn’t justify that much air mail!
We are currently in talks to move our production to America and Dubai but it’s a long process and as a small business it’s just baby steps right now.