In 2017, personal trainer Mark Robinson noticed the loyalty gymgoers had towards small American athleisure brands and drew inspiration from the UK phenomenon Gymshark. With just £250 in cash, he decided to enter the fashion industry himself, launching Just Strong. Assisted by his fiancée Heather, who volunteered as the brand’s first model and aided in day-to-day operations, Mark started the business from his garage in Keighley, West Yorkshire.
Printing and packing clothes from their small home, sales began to soar, leading Just Strong to expand. The brand now operates out of a 10,000 square-foot warehouse in Bolton, Greater Manchester. Over the past 12 months, turnover has doubled, thanks in part to the increasing number of women working from home in comfortable “gym gear.” Just Strong has also gained valuable support on social media, boasting over 350,000 followers on Instagram. The company, which now employs 23 people, has recently celebrated its 200,000th order, shipping products to more than 110 countries worldwide.
As Just Strong continues to grow, it has become the first beneficiary of a Recovery Loan Scheme (RLS) loan through Funding Circle, the UK’s largest SME loan platform. Mark, now 31 years old, reflects on the company’s humble beginnings, stating, “We spent the first year packing and printing clothing out of our tiny house, driving them to the post office every day, with neighbors and gym acquaintances helping us during busy times.” He acknowledges that the initial year had the lowest turnover but was exhilarating as orders started pouring in. Mark adds, “Four years on, we’re dispatching to America, Europe, Australia, Canada, and many other countries around the world.”
The COVID-19 pandemic further fueled Just Strong’s success as gym and office closures forced people to work and exercise from home. With relaxed office dress codes, women found comfort in athleisure wear while working from their kitchens and living rooms. This trend contributed to the growing demand for brands like Just Strong. It is projected that the global athleisure industry will surpass $250 billion by 2026.
Mark acknowledges the challenges posed by the pandemic, including gym closures and logistics issues due to factory shutdowns, air freight disruptions, shipping complications, and Brexit complexities. Despite these obstacles, Just Strong experienced a significant increase in sales and turnover, with a positive outlook for 2021.
Funding Circle has played a crucial role in Just Strong’s success as the first company to secure a loan through the government-backed Recovery Loan Scheme (RLS). The RLS aims to provide small businesses with the necessary financing to support growth and drive economic recovery. Mark expresses excitement for the future, saying, “Having support from Funding Circle has helped with working capital, allowing us to stock up and introduce more sustainability benefits, color offerings, and variety as we expand further.”
Just Strong plans to hire additional senior staff members to enhance supply chain and finance management while moving to a new office space to further develop their social media content.
Lisa Jacobs, Europe Managing Director at Funding Circle, commends Mark and his business for adapting to the challenges posed by the pandemic and continuing to thrive. She emphasizes that as the remaining restrictions ease, thousands of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) like Just Strong will require financing to invest in their future and contribute to the economic recovery. Funding Circle stands ready to support them in achieving their goals.