DE­SIGNS FOR LIFE

FRUSTRATED BY A LACK OF CHOICE AND SPOT­TING A NEED IN THE MAR­KET, JODHI MEARES HAS FOL­LOWED HER FIRST SUC­CESS­FUL OUT­ING, TIGERLILY, WITH A RE­TURN TO ‘STRETCHY THINGS’ – THIS TIME IT’S YOGA AND GYM WEAR.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - COLOUR CODE - STORY MILANDA ROUT K POR­TRAIT MICHELLE HOLDEN

Ne­ces­sity is the mother of in­ven­tion. The phrase may date from the 1500s but it is spot on when it comes to the very con­tem­po­rary Jodhi Meares. The suc­cess­ful en­tre­pre­neur, now 47, started her two com­pa­nies sim­ply be­cause she could not find what she was look­ing for, so she cre­ated it her­self. First it was swimwear, with Tigerlily, when at the age of 25 she strug­gled to find any­thing she wanted to wear to the beach. Now, it’s sports­wear: The Up­side was born be­cause Meares had a sim­i­lar prob­lem in the yoga stu­dio.

“I was spend­ing a lot of time in New York and prac­tis­ing yoga more deeply than I had been in years be­cause I had more time [af­ter sell­ing Tigerlily], and I could see this huge gap in the mar­ket,” she tells WISH. “I could see other peo­ple look­ing for things too, be­cause there was noth­ing there.

“It was just so ob­vi­ous it was keep­ing me up at night. Half of me was think­ing, oh God, not stretchy things again [af­ter Tigerlily], but it was such a strong vi­sion, so I thought: I am go­ing to have to do this. I came home, put the band to­gether again and we just started.”

At the same time as Meares was look­ing for some­thing more fash­ion­able to wear to yoga, she no­ticed that peo­ple were ap­pear­ing in work­out gear in the most un­usual places – in sit­u­a­tions out­side of the gym where such at­tire had not pre­vi­ously been seen as ap­pro­pri­ate.

“All the most beau­ti­ful women in the world are in New York City, be­cause that is where all the big mod­el­ling agen­cies are,” says Meares, her­self a for­mer model. “At the time they were wear­ing black leg­gings and putting Ba­len­ci­aga boots on and they were go­ing for a drink. It was a re­ally un­usual phe­nom­e­non.”

It was the start of the trend for women and men to don “ac­tivewear” – or the even more dreaded “ath­leisure” – for non-ex­er­cise pur­suits, wear­ing it to brunch, shop­ping, to the of­fice and even out to din­ner.

“I re­ally don’t like that word [ath­leisure],” Meares con­fesses. “The lan­guage around the move­ment is so hor­rific.” The ter­mi­nol­ogy may in­spire ridicule (Meares has ac­tu­ally hired a team of writ­ers to come up with a bet­ter way to de­scribe her wares but so far she’s not hav­ing much luck), but the trend is a sig­nif­i­cant one and has swept the world. And it means that The Up­side had global po­ten­tial from day one.

The Mel­bourne-born Meares, who spent most of her child­hood in the surf ham­let of Mer­im­bula in south­ern NSW, launched The Up­side’s first col­lec­tion in 2013. It in­cluded yoga leg­wear, run­ning shorts, tees, tanks and jack­ets, and pieces made from leop­ard and pais­ley prints, which sold out im­me­di­ately. The col­lec­tion was first stocked in Rebel sports stores, but it was soon ap­par­ent that the fit wasn’t quite right.

“I think it was prob­a­bly too fash­ion-for­ward,” she says. “They had done a re­ally good job but we be­longed in David Jones, which we are in now, as well as Sel­fridges and Net-a-Porter. We be­longed in a more di­rectly fash­ion mar­ket.”

The Up­side is now in its fifth year and Meares has not looked back. She em­ploys 18 staff at her of­fice in Padding­ton and 10 at her three stores in NSW. The la­bel is stocked at Har­rods and Sel­fridges in Lon­don and Lane Craw­ford in Hong Kong, as well as in New Zealand, Ger­many, the US, Dubai, Sin­ga­pore and Canada. Match­es­fash­ion.com and Mode Spor­tif have joined Net-A-Porter on the on­line front.

“The big idea was hav­ing some­thing that was tech­ni­cally re­ally well thought out and highly fash­ion­able,” Meares says. “I think we are the best in the world at that, and that is what makes us dif­fer­ent.”

Prints have al­ways been close to Meares’ heart; it was the key to Tigerlily, and it is what sets The Up­side apart from the com­pe­ti­tion. Any­thing with a leop­ard

or cam­ou­flage print still sells like hot­cakes, she says.

“Those prints are im­por­tant to the DNA of this com­pany. For me, pais­ley, leop­ard, camo – they are part bo­hemian, part rock and roll, part beach. They are all the things I love in life. They are sta­ples and there is some­thing clas­sic about them in their own way.”

Meares has kept her fam­ily close to The Up­side, with her ex-hus­band, bil­lion­aire James Packer, own­ing 40 per cent of the busi­ness (Meares de­clines to an­swer ques­tions about him) and her sis­ter So­phie Mor­gan in charge of sales and mar­ket­ing. When WISH vis­ited her of­fice in Syd­ney’s Dar­linghurst, she was ac­com­pa­nied by her res­cue dog Soda Pop as well as her sis­ter’s dog, Lot­tie. Both dogs, es­pe­cially Soda Pop, dom­i­nate and in­ter­rupt the pho­tog­ra­phy ses­sion and our con­ver­sa­tion as much any tod­dler would: try­ing to chew elec­tric cords and heaters, steal­ing make-up equip­ment and get­ting into peo­ple’s bags. “That is naughty,” Meares scolds Soda Pop when he goes af­ter an­other cord. “You are go­ing to elec­tro­cute your­self.”

Af­ter set­tling the var­i­ous dogs, Meares takes WISH on a tour of the lower half of the ware­house, where The Up­side is set to ex­pand af­ter ini­tially oc­cu­py­ing just one floor. Her of­fice will be down­stairs, as will a new space for her de­sign team. “It has grown quickly,” she says. “It is just about keep­ing up and try­ing to sup­port the team, be­cause they are go­ing a mil­lion miles an hour.”

Meares says the busi­ness has grown faster than Tigerlily did (she sold the lat­ter for $5.8 mil­lion in 2007 to Bil­l­abong, which in turn sold it in 2017 to Cres­cent Cap­i­tal for $60 mil­lion). This is mainly due to on­line sales and the rise of so­cial me­dia.

“The world is smaller and it is quicker to get to mar­ket now,” Meares says. “And there are so many mar­kets open­ing up. The growth in whole­sale over­seas has been huge. It is now 50 per cent [of our busi­ness] and will be 60 per cent pretty soon.” She is now look­ing to take The Up­side be­yond sports­wear and into other kinds of cloth­ing – in fact, she wants it to take on the whole wardrobe.

“It’s a big, big vi­sion for the com­pany,’’ Meares says of her 10-year-plan. “I can­not give too much away be­cause a lot of it is un­der wraps and is go­ing to take a long time. But the next thing is launch­ing The Up­side Beach. And we think that is as im­por­tant as sport. I look around what is cur­rently avail­able in that space, but there is still a lot of room for us as I don’t love what I see.”

To be launched in Septem­ber and avail­able in-store by Oc­to­ber, the range will in­clude swimwear, kaf­tans and cover-ups. “It’s a bit 70s rock’n’roll meets Sain­tTropez,” Meares says of the first col­lec­tion. “It’s about the beach for me; I am not re­ally a pool­side girl. And if it’s beach, it doesn’t have to be cut-off denim shorts. It’s about tak­ing re­ally beau­ti­ful glam­orous shapes and pulling them down and wear­ing ratty Con­verse [sneak­ers] with them.”

Be­sides hav­ing grown up in Mer­im­bula, Meares lived in Hawaii for a few years be­fore set­tling more per­ma­nently in Syd­ney. She knows the beach like she knows the yoga stu­dio. “Life­style busi­nesses are the things I love,” she says. “It is dif­fer­ent from di­rect fash­ion; it is a dif­fer­ent space. And I know it be­cause I live it. It’s not just what I do, it is how I live.”

“It’s about the beach for me; I am not re­ally a pool­side girl. And if it’s beach, it doesn’t have to be cut-off denim shorts.”

The Up­side’s col­lec­tion for women and men is surf­ing the ac­tivewear wave.

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