Women’s ‘athleisure’ brand started with £250 takes 200,000th order in four years

Gemma Atkinson shows off a 'new addition' to her gym

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Mark Robinson noticed how gymgoers had loyalty towards particular small American brands and, inspired by UK phenomenon Gymshark, decided to enter the fashion industry himself.  He launched Just Strong from his garage in 2017 – with fiancée Heather helping with the day-to-day operation as well as volunteering to be the brand’s first model.

After printing and packing clothes from his small home in Keighley, West Yorkshire, sales have soared and the brand now operates out of a 10,000sq/ft warehouse in Bolton, Greater Manchester.

Turnover has doubled over the past 12 months as more women work from home in ‘gym gear’ – with the label boosted by its invaluable support on social media, with more than 350,000 followers on Instagram. 

The company, which employs 23 people, has just taken its 200,000th order – shipping to more than 110 countries across the globe.

And as Just Strong continues to expand, it is the first to benefit from a Recovery Scheme Loan Scheme (RLS) loan through Funding Circle, the UK’s largest SME loan platform.

Mark, 31, said: “I worked out of a small, rented house on an estate in Keighley. My fiancée and I were going through a poor time financially. We started Just Strong with only £250.

“We spent the first year packing and printing clothing out of our tiny house, driving them to the post office every day, with neighbours working for us every time we got really busy.

“Even people from the gym came to help when we really needed it.

“It was our lowest turnover year, but it was really exhilarating – suddenly there’s hundreds and thousands of orders.

“It was hard work, but it was absolutely magical too. Four years on and we’re dispatching to America, Europe, Australia, Canada and many other countries around the world.”

As the company continued to grow, the world was hit by the pandemic, forcing gyms and offices to shut and people to work, and workout, from home.

With office dress code out of the window, more and more women could now dress more comfortably as they work from desks in kitchens and living rooms across the country – boosting demand for leisure apparel like Just Strong’s.

It is now forecast the global athleisure industry will be worth more than $250 billion by 2026.

Mark said: “The health and fitness industry went through severe ups and downs with multiple gym closures across the UK and internationally.

“But stay at home exercise soared, as did our sales, with turnover doubling.

“Influencers like Joe Wicks also did our industry big favours during its most uncertain time.

“However, we are still facing logistics issues with things like factories shutting down because of outbreaks, air freight and shipping complications, and the complexity of Brexit.

“Our international client base and the added complexity of each country’s rules also made our year one big guessing game. Fortunately, we finished it with some serious growth and a positive outlook for 2021.” 

Just Strong’s success has been helped by Funding Circle, as the first company to have taken out one of its RLS loans.

The new government-backed scheme is designed to help the nation’s small businesses access the finance they need to grow and power the economic recovery

Mark added: “It is an exciting time. There is no telling how big the company can get at this point.

“Having support from Funding Circle has helped with working capital, enabling us to load up on stock and put us in a position where we can add more sustainability benefits, colour offerings and even more variety as we expand further.”

Just Strong now plan on adding more senior members of staff to work on the supply chain and finance management, while moving to a new office where they can build on their social media content. 

Lisa Jacobs, Europe Managing Director at Funding Circle, added: “It’s great to see Mark and his business adapt to the pandemic’s challenges and continue to go from strength-to-strength.

“As the last restrictions we face finally ease, thousands of SMEs like Just Strong will need finance to invest in their future and power the economic recovery. At Funding Circle, we’re ready to help them achieve this.”

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