Quitting a job you've worked in for 20 years takes real courage. Especially when you already have a successful career in the glamorous world of fashion.
But Sally Dixon felt an increasing desire to combine her love of fitness with her day job and so, with no retail or clothing experience, she quit her job to start her own fitness company, Every Second Counts, which launched last year.
Here we speak to her about her incredible journey...
Sally, what made you want to quit your job, as a fashion director and start your own company?
Having worked for 17 years producing fashion shoots for magazines, as much as I loved my job, I felt it was time to move away from magazines and focus on something digital based as more and more publishing houses were cutting magazines and staff from their portfolios.
I knew I wanted to hang on to the creative side of my previous job and at the same time was passionate about fitness and healthy living so I thought my dream job would be to combine the two and so I decided to chase that dream. I come from a family of hard working entrepreneurs so I guess it was only a matter of time before I embarked on my own business journey.
Why fitness wear?
I have always been in to fitness since being introduced to it by my sister-in-law when I was a teenager, she used to have a personal trainer and I would join in with the sessions which were always fun.
Subsequently I spent many years focusing on running as my main source of exercise, completing two marathons (Venice and Berlin). It was only as I got older that I realised a more all-round approach to health and fitness (rather than endless cardio!) would give me the healthiest body ever and I trained to become a Pilates teacher.
I feel fitter now at 37 than I ever did in my twenties! The idea to start a fitness brand first came to me in 2011 having spent years working as a fashion director for magazines, producing fashion shoots all around the world.
My twice-yearly trips to New York as a fashion director led me to buy all my fitness wear in the USA and never in the UK, purely because the choice and quality was so much better with much more interesting styles to choose from. It was for this reason that I wanted to launch my own fitness wear brand with a fashion led focus designed in the UK and made in Europe, our collection is made in Portugal.
The hard question - how did you fund it?
From my own private capital that I had built up from savings over the years and luckily with a little help from my family who have been super supportive throughout the brand evolution.
A shot from the Every Second Counts lookbook
How many staff do you have and where are you based?
You may be surprised that there are only two of us in the Every Second Counts office! However I do have a freelance designer and freelance production manager based outside of the office that are involved with the production of each collection.
Our offices are in West London close to Notting Hill in a fantastic creative space, Great Western Studios. I just recently moved here from working on the kitchen table at home and I love it, I get so much more done now that we have a dedicated office space. We also work with a web design agency in my home county of Yorkshire to produce our ecommerce site.
How difficult is it to compete with bigger brands like Nike and Sweaty Betty?
I would say it is difficult in that they are already very well established brands and have mass market appeal with teams of people working for them and producing massive volumes of stock so it’s hard to compete on that level.
However the sportswear and fitness wear market is in a very exciting place at the moment and customers are keen to integrate new brands in to their gym kits, seeking something different from what everyone else is wearing. I think more and more people are seeing fitness wear as an entirely separate wardrobe.
Describe an average day in the office (as much detail as possible) from start to finish, what you eat, working out, being in the office (what you do in the office etc.)
I get up at 6am, have a hot water with lemon to start my day then grab a protein and carbohydrate based snack before I head out to the gym for a 7am class.
I come back home after the gym, shower and have some breakfast - usually gluten free oats with rice coconut milk, chia seeds, blueberries, pumpkin seeds and walnuts, plus a green juice if I’ve had time to make one the night before! I’m usually at my desk by 9am(I’m lucky as it’s 5minutes from my house) and planning what needs to be done for the day.
As we are such a small team my day varies massively. I will generally go in to the office with good intentions to write blog posts for our website, do social media posts, process invoices, catch up on emails and research/meet with potential new stockists. However what usually happens is that I have to deal with things like a delayed shipment from one of our factories, last minute fit and fabric meetings, customer exchanges, tracking parcels for customers, answering customer queries, liaising with our stock warehouse and lots of other last minute dramas!]
I am very lucky to have my colleague who liaises with all our stockists – ranging from Matches Fashion, sportswear dedicated sites like Hip & Healthy and Fashercise to independent yoga and Pilates studios around London. With my creative background I am terrible with spreadsheets so she does a fantastic job of keeping track of our inventory and sales!
I also manage and produce all of the creative imagery and video footage for the brand and the site, collate inspiration mood boards and colour palettes for collections going forward and oversee all aspects of the creative/design process.
Lunch is usually something from Planet Organic which is a 10-minute walk from my office. Depending on how busy we are or if I am teaching Pilates that day I stay in the office until anywhere from 6pm – 10pm.
Why should I wear or buy your fitness wear?
Our aim is to produce high quality, performance pieces with a luxurious feel. The one comment we always get from new customers is how soft our fabrics are and how good they feel against the skin.
My personal pet hate is having leggings that go baggy at the knee and bum after one wear so I’m always searching for fabrics for our leggings with a high elastane content so that doesn’t happen! We are all about motivation and making your seconds count whether through exercise or simply by just chilling out and taking a few moments of calm in your busy day, we have hidden messages within our garments that reflect that.
What were the biggest challenges when you launched in Jan?
Our biggest challenge when we launched was delivery of the stock from the factories. We received news that our first shipment would be slightly delayed and I remember feeling hugely stressed the week before Christmas when I had to take a last minute flight to Portugal with my production agent to find out what was going on.
Needless to say it was all sorted in the end and we received everything in time for our January launch.
What advice would you give people making fitness resolutions in January
I would say think of fitness not as a new year’s resolution but as a lifestyle choice for the better. It’s all too easy to go hurtling in to a punishing January fitness regime and then completely falling off the wagon by mid February. Introduce fitness gradually and always try out new classes, new ways of working out to keep your interest and help you to stay motivated. Add some inspiring fitness and nutrition instagram accounts in to your daily feed and look at them regularly to help you stick to your goals.
Biggest thing you've done that you're proud of?
This year has definitely been my most proud, from having the initial concept of starting my own fitness wear line a few years ago with no prior design or clothing production/retail experience, to naming the brand and seeing it through to its launch this year. I still can’t believe it when I see an Every Second Counts piece in a magazine or newspaper or someone wearing it at the gym.
Biggest obstacle so far?
I think the biggest obstacle for me so far was getting the factories in Portugal to take us seriously at the very beginning. Approaching them with no previous clothing/design or retail background was definitely a challenge.
We were constantly put to the back of the pile when it came to sample production, with existing clients taking priority. For me that was tough and there where times when I thought the collection would never happen but I persevered and finally got to launch in Jan 2014, a year behind schedule but launched nevertheless!
Describe an average week in terms of your own fitness
As a qualified Pilates instructor I am always looking to challenge my fitness levels and core strength so my fitness week is very varied. I generally start the day with a 7am HIIT based class at my gym in west London, usually 45mins so it means I’m out and showered and at my desk by 9am.
I am very much in to calisthenics based exercises so you won’t normally see me on the machines at the gym; handstands are one of my favourite exercises for shoulder strength, core work and cardio all rolled in to one!
Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons I go to Rocket Yoga at Indaba yoga studio.
What have you got planned for next year?
We’ve had constant interest from men at our pop up events wanting to know if we do a menswear range so I am excited to finally be able to reveal it.
What do you do on a day off?
Days off are rare for me, such is the nature of running your own business, especially at the start up stage, but when I do have some time to myself it generally involves fitness of some kind, it’s my way of zoning out!
I’m always on the look out for new and fun ways to train and challenge my body so I have recently taken up gymnastics having never done it as a child. Plus when I can manage to sit still for a few moments(my boyfriend bemoans the fact that I always have to be busy doing something!) I love nothing better than to have a cosy night on the sofa watching a box set.
And what de-stresses you the most?
It sounds clichéd but it has to be yoga. I especially love Rocket yoga with Lolo Lam at Indaba yoga studio in London as it’s dynamic enough to challenge me but also calming enough to be de-stressing, once I’m in the yoga zone I don’t think about anything else which is rare for me!
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