Profiles: Kate Giles and Crewroom

Crewroom are arguably one of the greatest success stories to emerge from the rowing community over the past decade. Started by Kate Giles in 2001 as an answer to the distinct lack of multi weather clothing for elite athletes, the company has gone from strength to strength over the past few years. Having been the official kit supplier for the BNY Mellon Boat Races in 2013, Crewroom have the contract again for 2015, a success which coincidentally occurs in the same year that the women first grace the Tideway. A few weeks ago, Junior Rowing News sat down with Kate to discuss the company, her own roots in rowing and the importance of contracts with Greenpeace and the Boat Race….

JR: First of all, I just want to take stock for the junior community. Could I ask how you first got into rowing and how the sport developed in the early years for you?

KG: It was certainly a different sort of experience for me! I had a call when working in a café to go to Kingston University and from that point I started rowing after my basketball team folded. Alec Hodges got me in a double to learn to row after I fell out of my single in front of him and had to be rescued clinging onto Chiswick Bridge! I was fast-tracked due to my height and the opportunities that became available to me were just incredible._MG_9853

JR: The company obviously formed after catching pneumonia. When you started it in 2001, was the aim to provide specifically for rowers?

KG: I saw rowing as a niche in the market at the time; it struck me how few manufacturers there were of durable, high quality rowing kit. Obviously, the market has changed considerably over the last decade and we’ve changed with it- there are so many more active people now, who are motivated to become healthier and fitter. Rowing is and always will be our epicentre but we’ve diversified into other sports too.

JR: The brand struggled a little in the beginning, along with a different name, and diversified to a juice bar. How important was that move in building the reputation of the company?

KG: I think it was important that we knew which direction we wanted to go in. The juice-bar was great to draw together a community but we knew we were a clothes manufacturer first and foremost. Specialisation is crucial when your competitors are the likes of Nike and Adidas.

JR: So how much was the journey to a successful manufacturing process one of trial and error?

KG: Hugely so. We initially tried to outsource manufacturing to South Africa but we realised the quality of product was just too inconsistent. Production in the UK wasn’t a sustainable alternative and, for a while, the brand struggled to find a process whereby we could create quality goods at relatively low costs. When the recession hit in 2007/08, it was a tough period because a lot of small businesses struggled to stay afloat. In 2012, I felt the brand lost its way a little and my business partner and I parted company, although it was very amicable. Luckily, a year later, Crewroom had regained its momentum and, in fact, had grown considerably

JR: In terms of branding, it’s clear that you have sections of the market cornered i.e. the famous Crewroom caps. It makes me wonder, what was available to rowers before Crewroom came along?!_MG_9906

KG: It was quite hard to find the right sort of kit back then. Under-armour was a pretty new concept while tight lycra was considered odd- how times have changed! We were one of the first companies to do core max clothing, which was a bit of a break-through for us.

JR: Looking forward, you’ve just become the kit supplier for the 2015 Boat Races. With the women’s race gracing the Tideway for the first time, how important is it that Crewroom are involved in this historic year?

KG: For us, it’s important that we bring something fresh and new to the table. I feel that, over the past few years, the Boat Race has lost some of its quintessential Brtishness- the intangible stuff that makes it such a well renowned sporting event. I want to bring that back; one idea we had was to look into themes such as Irvine and Mallory. These guys were two of the greatest explorers this country has ever seen and we want to try and incorporate this ‘Britishness’ into our kit. The eccentricity of the Boat Race is such a unique selling point and Crewroom want to tap into this.

The inclusion of the women on the main stage signals a long awaited change- equality in the highest sporting arenas is a contemporary issue and one which rowing is starting to embrace. We’ve always produced Male and Female kit while we were also one of the first companies to produce all in ones for both genders- it seems appropriate that Crewroom and the Boat Race are involved during such a historic year.

JR: Moving onto environmental concerns, I understand you’ve recently secured a collaboration with Greenpeace. Green kate giles at showcredentials are such a contemporary concern yet so difficult to achieve in a modern business; does this add a different dynamic to your company?

KG: I suppose it does as it demonstrates our credentials on an international stage. It isn’t just about our fabric and materials though- our workers and factories are equally important. Retail and your carbon footprint were distinctly separate concepts a decade ago so it’s good to be on the right side of change. We’re proud of manufacturing in China because we have such a personal relationship with our people out there.

Having said that, I doubt it will make a huge difference to turnover- sustainability is often equated to poorer quality goods as a public perception.

JR: Seeing as this is a junior rowing website, how important has the growth of the junior community been to your company?

KG: Huge. It’s best to experiment and test new things with the junior community as we understand how significant they are as a section of the rowing population. Most of our team here at Putney are ex-juniors so we’re producing goods from experience and knowledge of the community. These are the guys who spread the business and drive it forward; juniors aren’t just important to create products for, they also provide us with a phenomenal team.

I didn’t start as a junior so that’s why I feel it’s important to have these guys as part of the Crewroom family. Rowing gave me the opportunities to succeed so I want to give something back. We are a sponsor for the London Youth Games, which gives young people from a range of ethnic backgrounds the chance to excel at sport. This sort of spirit holds rowing together; the community feel is crucial and something that Crewroom, both as a brand and as rowers, want to be involved with.

Pictures credited to Pandora Thoughts Photography

With thanks to Kate Giles, Alec Lom and the Crewroom Team

I am the editor of a rapidly growing blog based around the junior rowing circuit within the UK. From launch in June 2013, the website has experienced vast growth in both its reader count and view count while the article range has expanded. I currently work with a team of 10 people, all of whom voluntarily write articles for the blog. In our first year, I looked to expand from the standard previews and reviews that had gained initial success to building relationships with clubs and conducting interviews. This move proved successful and we are currently exploring new routes to further improve our platform. The blog has led to involvement with Regatta Radio, Rowing & Regatta, Row 360 and British Rowing.