Breaking free from the imposed conventions of active wear, Pip Edwards and Claire Tregoning's P.E. Nation refuses to be pigeonholed by outdated ideas of style.
Throughout the latter half of the last decade, active wear had borne witness to its own meteoric rise in popularity – from only ever being spotted on those at the gym, or those about to head to the gym - to being a premium staple in women’s closets around the globe. A go-to style that typically shirked traditional high-fashion sensibilities in favour of building an aesthetic that championed comfort, versatility, and technical excellence, active wear offered the perfect clothing to fulfil a desire for ease and simplicity in the modern age.
Founded in 2016 by friends and co-workers Pip Edwards and Claire Tregoning, P.E. Nation entered the world of active wear at its peak presence within the global fashion consciousness. Reflecting their own lifestyles and the ways in which they were wearing active wear, the Australian label looked to redefine the perception that active wear was a passing fad, elucidating that it reflected a desire to more permanently integrate clothing that benefitted your active lifestyle into your wardrobe through a fashion forward lens.
Brimming with colour, prints and patterns, P.E. Nation's aesthetic outlook casts aside the drab and dated active wear of old to embrace a stylistic sensibility that twists the tropes of the style to incorporate a modern and fashion facing vision.
Sitting down with Pip and Claire over Zoom, END. delve into the world of P.E. Nation, discussing their outlook on active wear, the joy of being an active person and the importance of sustainable business practices.
Pip Edwards: It wasn’t really a strategy at all. Hahaha. It came about over a boozy lunch, and we had a lightbulb moment. Claire and I had worked together for a really long time, and we had this amazing working relationship. It started from the name originally. There was no specific idea to hit the active wear market – it came from the acronym P.E. It’s universal - it has familiarity and nostalgia. We knew that when it came to us, that P.E. Nation would always be rooted in that 90s, heritage, street, sports style. It was super organic really – it wasn’t anything until it suddenly was.
Claire Tregoning: At that point in time, we thought that the active wear market had been completely flooded. We thought that is was done, but pressed on with what we wanted to do anyway – to create something that was fashionable but still active. We started that way, and it just grew from there.
PE: And I think that the point of difference was that we did active wear, but it was design driven rather than performance driven. It’s performance active wear but it has a design eye. I think that’s the way it appealed to us, because of our background and because we love fashion so much, we took that spin on it. Women were wearing active wear every day, but they often looked like they should be in the gym. We said “no, let’s make them look fashionable, but they could also go to the gym!” It has to look good, on brand and use seasonal colours or prints – most active wear doesn’t take its cues from the runway, it takes its cues from fabrication or functionality. We still do that, but we put a lens on it that is fashion forward, so that you can actually wear it all day.
CT: I feel like to our detriment, everyone thinks that is just purely fashion, but it actually is technical, and performance based. It’s about re-educating everyone around those aspects of our garments.
PE: Not at all! We have always worked together in perfect harmony – the yin and the yang! We didn’t even have to delineate what our roles and responsibilities were.
CT: We knew them and fell into those roles straight away. We respect each other so much and we respect each other’s decisions, so if one person isn’t in the business – even though I run the design end of the business and Pip runs sales & marketing – we can cross over if we need to. It flows so easily.
PE: Because we’d done those roles in previous jobs together, we already knew what each other’s strengths were, so we always played to that. We both sit on top of it all – I’m across product and she’s across the marketing - but when you drill down into the day to day, we splinter into these sections. We have the same eye and the same vibe, but we just come from different angles. It’s literally the most perfect union! You can fast track things this way, as there is no power play, there’s no trial and error. You actually know what each other does really well and you go for it.
CT: It’s mutual trust – it’s an amazing relationship.
PE: It’s the best one I’ve ever had… and the longest lasting one! If only all relationships were like this!
"For us, we’re mums, we’re career women, we work, we run households – you’re juggling time, that’s part of the whole premise. You can take P.E. Nation with you wherever you’re going, and you’re sorted!"
CT: We’ve kind of come round about in this ethos, but everything that we design has to be sport led with a fashion eye, essentially. It has to be able to be worn to the gym, or worked out in. You can wear it to the gym or wear it out if you wanted to.
PE: It has that versatility, of being something that you can wear “all day, every day”. You can start your day in your active wear and then change the pant and put on a puffer, and it takes you through the day, then suddenly you can put a heel on and wear it in the evening. You can wear P.E. all day, from A-Z, whether you’re changing a shoe or adding layers - it’s for that fast-paced woman. For us, we’re mums, we’re career women, we work, we run households – you’re juggling time, that’s part of the whole premise. You can take P.E. Nation with you wherever you’re going, and you’re sorted! I think Australia is at the forefront of how to wear active wear in a lifestyle kind of way. In America, they still can’t get their heads around wearing it as fashion. We’ve had to kind of educate and celebrate it, that you can still wear it in different ways out of context.
CT: In the UK, though, I think you guys are the same as us. You nail it!
PE: Both Claire and I live by the beach, and that coastal way of living means you’re always out swimming. I'm constantly soft sanding or walking or doing pilates. It’s not like I’ve hit the active trend, I’ve been active since I was a child. I think that’s what the Aussie lifestyle piece is, though, you’re meant to be outdoors, living life, in motion. The physical education part is one of the most important aspects, then you add in that layer of nostalgia from school. It’s always been there. I think it’s amazing in the way that the brand has resonated with women, because we do live it ourselves. We live it, we breathe it and we show that – it’s real. It’s amazing to have a brand that has founders that are authentically “the brand”.
CT: Having the personal story behind the brand is just such a big opportunity for us, to tell that story.
CT: Along the way we’re learning how to balance it more with the bigger collections that we’re doing. With the colour blocking especially, which is a big part of our aesthetic, it doesn’t necessarily lend itself to being completely one hundred percent as performance as the best compression leg that you could have. However, it is just as compressive as other major sportswear brands. It has been a bit of a tricky balance along the way.
PE: And the content has to back that up. When we sometimes shoot in a more fashion way, we now actually have to shoot the product literally to show that you can actually wear the item when you’re boxing, running, doing yoga, because people can be so literal. If they see it styled in a fashion way, they can’t get their head around the fact that it can be used for active pursuits.
CT: We’ve had so many conversations around how to do this best, how to call out the technical properties but still be really stylised in our campaigns. It’s a huge balance that we’re still figuring out!
PE: The thing that actually connects it is the energy and the attitude. The thing about P.E. Nation is that there is an attitude that comes with wearing it, it comes through in the active wear and the fashion, so as long as the energy and vibe and the attitude is there, that’s what makes it really P.E. You’re bold, you’re fun, you’re confident! You want to wear it and you feel good wearing it. We really try to work that in, so it’s not a two-dimensional product push. It blurs the lines, and it’s meant to question things. That’s the beauty of it, you find more magic.
"There's an endlessness to how you can present yourself, and that speaks to the evolution of women. There’s not just one way to present yourself."
PE: They’re from the age of 13-60! They’re a mum, or a doctor, or a student – they are anyone. The overarching thing is that they can feel the energy. That’s all it is. It transcends demographics, and to a point, it transcends lifestyles and marketplaces. We’re only 6 years old and we’ve been able to feel women and feel what they need, because we really do live and breathe it.
CT: In our collections, there is something for everybody. Depending on how you are or who you want to be, or how confident you want to be. You can wear something quieter with a simple logo or you can go all out with a full fashion look. There really is something for everyone there.
PE: There's an endlessness to how you can present yourself, and that speaks to the evolution of women. There’s not just one way to present yourself. There are so many situations that we live in, and there are so many parts of us, that you can actually explore all of the parts of you with P.E. – you can be loud, you can be subtler, you can be whatever you want.
CT: When we first started, sustainability wasn’t really talked about that much. I started researching and sourcing as much sustainable fabric as possible. Along that journey, which took a long time, we started to look at the rest of the business. We’ve been on this journey of self-reflection and thinking about what we can do and who we can partner with to create the environment to make our business as sustainable as possible. Through this, we’ve made our suppliers come up with us, because they weren’t sustainable in the way that we needed them to be. We are on this great sustainable journey. We’ve just filed to be certified as a B Corp, so we find out really soon! Our score has been really high, so we know we’ll get the B Corp status, it's more about where we’ll sit. We’re on a full holistic journey to get to this place.
PE: It’s not just the way we live, it’s about our staff, our office and communities, everyone that we talk to - that must be priority as well. We don’t do anything unless everyone is also on the same page. When we started talking about it, everyone would troll us saying that we weren’t good enough, but it’s actually about the work in progress. It’s an evolution that never ends because you can constantly be improving.