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The rise of Lorna Jane activewear

Almost 30 years ago, when fitness instructor Lorna Jane Clarkson set about filling a gap in the clothing market, she couldn’t have foreseen where it would lead. Here, she brings her story up to date.

Lorna Jane

“As a fitness instructor who couldn’t find any decent workout clothes, I just decided to make my own. This was more than 28 years ago, so when I started designing and wearing my own ‘fashionable’ activewear the women in my classes went crazy – having seen nothing like it before!

After a year of designing and sewing on my dining table every night and on weekends, I decided to get serious, setting up a design studio and opening my first retail store. I quit my day job and started making activewear full-time. One store led to another, and soon I had Lorna Jane stores Australia-wide and was selling my products globally.

In about year three my husband Bill came on board to help run the business so I could focus on the design and creative side. Since then, we’ve been side by side through the best of times and the most difficult of times, which I believe is one of the secret ingredients to our success and longevity in the market.

Building a business comes with its fair share of life-changing decisions and in the early days my husband and I sold our dream home to buy a factory (where we lived on the top floor) so that we could work 24/7 and completely focus on making our dream a reality.

Everyone thought we were crazy but this decision would prove to be one of the best we ever made – with this building providing the equity we needed over the years to grow our business to where it is today.

Lorna Jane has grown into a brand that inspires women not only to workout (in activewear) but to chase their dreams and build an incredible life for themselves as well. We have built a brand that empowers women and this is what continues to motivate us today.

Ups and downs

When you build a company that is all about supporting and empowering women you have to stand up for yourself and the people that work for you when there are claims made against everything your brand stands for. Five years ago a claim was made about Lorna Jane (a staff member said she had been bullied and fat shamed) that was completely unfounded. But that didn’t stop the press getting on board and reporting it as if it was true.

Lorna Jane

At first I was in shock, I couldn’t believe that I could spend 25 years building a brand that inspired women and then with one clean sweep (and a scathing current affairs show based on unfounded allegations) the Australian public were happy to believe the opposite. It was an extremely difficult time for the brand and for me personally. We could have quite easily settled out of court and avoided all the heartache, but I think there are times when you have to stand up for yourself and your business.

We live in a world where people can say whatever they want, where they can attempt to get money out of businesses by appointing lawyers on a no-win, no-pay deal, and where the media is willing to run with allegations without getting both sides of the story. It is not okay, and I think more companies should stand up to this type of behaviour.

Love You

I started writing a book about the importance of self-belief because I had been going to schools and talking to young girls about my Active Living philosophy and saw how much my presentation resonated not only with the students but also with the teachers and parents.

I started Love You by simply writing about the things I knew about positive thinking and taking care of yourself, and it was only after a couple of weeks of writing that I discovered I had something more to say. I realised that I’d lost some of my self-confidence during the time the media had been hounding me.

Bill encouraged me to tell my personal story about this time because it was a powerful illustration of how determination and self-belief can help you get through adversity and out the other side, possibly stronger than you were before. It was difficult to write and there were quite a few tears, but I think it ultimately helped me to put the whole ‘trial by media’ thing behind me and move on.

A gender bias?

I’m not sure the media outlets treat me any differently than it would male CEOs in the public eye. What I do know is that the media, like any other business, is looking for new customers, and how they do that is by creating headlines that attract people to read their magazines or watch their shows. They chase down controversy, and pay less attention to the truth and more to how many clicks, views or new viewers they can get. This is dangerous because it is damaging to people’s lives and businesses.

Ahead of the curve

From the beginning, I haven’t tried to compete, match or better other brands that make products similar to Lorna Jane’s. I think if you want to stand out, you need to have the discipline to concentrate on your own brand, vision and products. The world doesn’t need another brand; it needs brands that think differently and create change.”

Find Lorna’s new book Love You in all Lorna Jane stores or online at and follow Lorna herself for more inspiring insights @LJClarkson.

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