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While today activewear is both a second skin and a way that many women show off their personal style, back in 1998 it was a very different story. In a sea of masculine, shapeless, dark styles, Tamara Hill-Norton struggled to find designs that made her feel beautiful and powerful, and decided to fill the gap in the market herself — cue the launch of Sweaty Betty. Tamara started the brand’s journey with one humble store in London’s Notting Hill, and over the past 24 years the brand has evolved into a global athleisure leader with outposts all over the world, including at Pacific Place, on a mission to empower all women through fitness and beyond.

Sweaty Betty CEO Julia Straus

The label’s impressive CEO, Julia Straus, has been helming this worldwide expansion for the past three years. A graduate of both Princeton and Harvard who worked in finance before switching careers to build a beauty business from the ground up, Julia forged a unique career path before landing at her current role.

Here, Julia talks with The Style Sheet about leadership advice, steering Sweaty Betty through a pandemic, and her love of the brand’s Power leggings.

1. Where are you answering these questions from? 

In the UK with my husband and two children.

2. What makes Sweaty Betty stand out from the sea of activewear brands?
I think where we differ from other brands is our commitment to our mission: to empower women through fitness and beyond. We’re truly committed to making products for the active woman’s life, and really believe in the importance of community. We’re female-founded and female-led, and our women-first approach shows in our garments.

3. What does your fitness routine look like?

Running is really my recharging activity of choice, and I’m lucky enough to have access to the best running gear on the planet from Sweaty Betty! I love to run very early in the morning without any music or podcasts, just the silence of Hyde Park or along the streets in London.

4. Which Sweaty Betty pieces do you wear the most?  

I’m constantly trialling our new pieces to ensure the fit and performance are top quality before they hit the market, which means I’m not always in the same pieces day after day. However, I consistently go back to our Power legging. There’s a reason why it’s our bestselling legging (so good a pair is sold every sixty seconds!).

5. Which piece do you think is sometimes overlooked, but deserves a special round of applause?
We launched a technical cycling line last summer for both new and experienced cyclists. It’s a fairly new category for us, but one we plan on expanding this year, and shouldn’t be missed!

6. You used to work in finance. What made you change your career trajectory?

After business school, I was working in venture-backed digital business in New York and loving every minute of it. I loved being part of a fast-paced and growing team, and e-commerce was a space that was constantly changing and evolving, which kept things exciting. But I also had the itch to go out and help start something from scratch. At the time it seemed crazy to leave my job and start something from zero, but I also knew if I didn’t try, I’d always wonder what it was like to build from the ground up. I met the founders of a skincare brand called TULA and decided I wanted to join them and try to build the idea into a business.

7. How has your leadership approach shifted during the pandemic?

The challenges of the pandemic have taught us that we can do things differently — we’ll make some lasting changes to our business and the way we work based on our experiences from the past two years. It’s highlighted the importance of keeping our internal company culture alive even when we can’t be together in person. I always try to lead by showing and sharing my vulnerabilities, especially as the lines between home and work have blurred and the stresses of the pandemic have been at the forefront of everyone’s lives. I think it’s important for a team to see that it’s okay to be vulnerable and share it openly — I can’t ask my team to open up to me if I’m not equally open in return.

8. What do you try to instil in your team?

I can’t overstate how important it is to take risks, not to be afraid to fail, and make sure that the team knows that’s OK.

9. How would you describe your leadership philosophy?

I’d like to think that I motivate my team by being transparent and authentic in the day-to-day and bringing my whole self to the job. I’ve always wanted to work in environments where everyone feels they can speak their mind and be heard, and are not afraid to challenge the status quo.

10.  What’s a quote or motto that you live by at Sweaty Betty?

One of our core values is ‘stand up, speak up, shout out’, and I try hard to ensure I reinforce this value with our team.