Welcome back to the twenty-fifth feature from the Collective Series by The Idle Man. Where we meet up with interesting men who either work in the creative industry, or we just admire the work they do. written in the words of our Editor Georgia Jackson, read the full feature below as we believe it's more about what we do, rather than what we wear.
Meet Louis Pearson, founder and CEO of OLY Clothing, an up and coming sportswear brand. Starting the company at just 20 years old, Pearson had always had a passion and drive for competitive sports and even studied health physiology at University. It was during his time at university when the idea sparked in his mind and today the story continues.
Since starting out Pearson wanted to create an impact and encourage change in the way the younger generations viewed health and fitness. He embarked on his journey and began designing and selling his own t-shirts and it has been growing ever since. From just a few boxes in a bedroom, he started to expanding to ever-increasing warehouses. Setting his first goal when he started the company, Pearson aimed to have his brand on show at the CrossFit world championship by 2020. Already achieving that goal Pearson sent two athletes this year to compete in the US, being the only brand to send two athletes to the games outside of the big names such as Nike and Reebok.
Setting out as a clothing line for men and women OLY Clothing was designed for more than just sportswear. Pearson felt that more and more people were failing to understand or recognise their unhealthy lifestyles. Alongside OLY Clothing, Pearson is determined to change this by delving deep into education to show people why it’s so important to exercise and eat a balanced diet.
Wanting to hear more about Pearson’s ambitions, The Idle Man sat down with the CEO to discuss OLY Clothing and his goals to change peoples minds.
Let’s start right from the very beginning, had you always had an interest in sport and sports clothing?
I'm big in health, fitness and well-being and always have been, it’s a big part of my identity and who I am.
What led you to start OLY Clothing?
I was studying health physiology and we were sitting there one day and the teacher said by the year 2020 more deaths will have happened due to chronic disease, sedentary lifestyle and metabolic disease than every war, every virus and every illness on earth. The thing that stood out to me and the reason why this is so significant is the sheer fact that chronic disease and cardiovascular disease and metabolic disease are all totally preventable through a healthy lifestyle. It hit me like a lightning bolt and I needed to do something about this, it was the first time in my entire life that I had felt I needed to take responsibility.
What did the company look like when you first started?
I was carrying about t-shirts in the boot of my car and selling them at university. You tell people it’s a business when really it’s just two boxes of stock in your sister's bedroom and a clothes rail. That was literally it. That’s one of my favourite things because it’s all so raw, I can literally remember being in the garage folding tops on the iron board and we still have that ironing board. All these tiny details in the early days which make you value having a nice warehouse with a coffee machine, I’m living like a king in my head.
What do you think it takes to start up your own business in fashion?
A lot of nativities and you won’t know your naïve. You won’t have money at the start but earn as much as you can through trial and error, read books relevant to what you’re doing. Also start to understand your market space, who you’re selling to, think of that individual in your head who is wearing your top, who are they? What do they look like? Boy or girl? What sports are they in to? Do everything possible without money and there’s a lot of things you can do without money. You need confidence, you need courage, you need to know that there’s going to be a lot of hard work. There will be a long time before you’re getting paid and have some financial stability and I’m talking years, not weeks, not months, years. Don’t do it for money because there are going to be times where it’s just not worth the money.
Where did the name and design for the logo come from?
It’s really funny, literally, I made that logo on Microsoft word, no word of a lie. The circle is a circle with no fill and a thick edge, the OLY is Aerial text, the barbells in the middle are just different shaped rectangles that I formed. It’s so simple. I remember approaching graphic designers and they said, ‘yeah, £250 for a logo and facebook banner’, fuck that! When you’re a start-up you just don’t have that kind of money and I suppose I’ve done everything from marketing to branding to sales and development of the products. You kind of become a jack of all trades because you just don’t have the budget to by a swanky logo. The name actually comes from the ‘OLY’ in Olympic and it actually came from whenever I was training with my rugby pals, I was always into Olympic lifting whereas they were into biceps, triceps and six-packs and that really wasn’t my jam so the lifting platforms were upstairs in the gym so I’d say "I’m on my way up the OLY lift" which meant Olympic lift and it kind of just rolled off the tongue.
What’s the staple item for all lovers of the brand to have and wear?
Our core range is a vest for females, a unisex jumper and a t-shirt for males and that’s what we started off at and now we are quite synonymous for our signature jumpers especially over here in Northern Ireland and Ireland. The girls and boys love the jumpers and we’re kind of one of the first companies to utilise unisex products and it’s a unique feature of our site.
Outside of fashion and sport, what else do you enjoy and how do you spend your spare time?
I’ve changed a lot since starting my own business, I like my own time now and I’ve pulled back from a lot of bad relationships and friendships. I’m big into my health still and I’m training 5 days a week. I’m trying to do competitive CrossFit and I’m very social, I like to see my good friends. I like to get outdoors as much as possible and go hiking and camping. I’ll generally try any sport that I think I’m good at and if I’m not good at it I won’t do it. I’m still ridiculously bad at time management and being on time for anything.
What's it like seeing people in your clothing?
It’s strange, and the start it was so surreal, you almost want to go up to the people and say thank you. It’s not a rare occurrence to see someone but it's strange when you go to one of the cities like Belfast. I get sent photos all the time, a friend just sent me a photo of his friend who was hiking in Japan and he was walking past someone in an OLY jumper there. It was crazy but it coincided with why started this and that was to raise brand awareness and to make clothing that people wanted to wear so we could deliver the mission statement. It’s confirmation that everything we are doing is working.
Are you a lover of CrossFit too?
Now that I can’t do rugby I needed to fill that competitive urge, I was lucky that I carried a lot of my strength and fitness over from rugby and took really well to CrossFit. It’s a brutal sport to do at a high level and I’m training 3 or 4 times more than I was for rugby within the sessions itself. It’s awesome. The goal is to be able to compete, not at a high level but at local comps and be able to hold my own and if I can get podium that’s the dream.
You’ve just sponsored two athletes at the World Championships in Wisconsin, US. What was that like, seeing your brand/image out there in front of the CrossFit world amongst other well-known brands such as Nike and Reebok?
Yeah, that was a really, really big thing for us, Micky Smith from Ireland and Arminas Balevicius from Lithuania. Micky came 26th and Arminas came 43rd. For us, that’s incredible in terms of brand association having them on our athlete team. It was crazy for them, Micky has now on his Insta bio that he is the 26th fittest man on earth. It was a pinch-me moment as we said we wanted to get the CrossFit games by 2020, as it was one of the first goals I set when we started the company. We have now been involved in the path and journey of someone actually getting there. We had a lot of energy come our way but mostly it was great being able to see the lads show their capabilities out there. To know that all those athletes there roll in with the best brands, there was no other company other than Nike and Reebok and maybe one other in Europe that had two athletes at the CrossFit games this year. It’s the first time I’ve ever been able to put us on that level in some way shape or form and that was awesome.
What inspiration do you have for OLY Clothing, what would you like to see the brand achieve?
The mission statement of the company is to spread health, fitness and wellness and that comes from what was said earlier about the disease and unhealthy lifestyle. We as a company have an obligation to do that. We’ve got a big education platform in the works now and essentially what it's going to do is provide health, fitness and wellness information that is easily digestible and credible so that people can go make decisions based off the information. With regard to their health, I want a no-bullshit approach, I want my Gran to be able to go on and understand the effects of a circadian sleep cycle, what does it mean to get 8 hours? What does it mean to go to bed without drinking coffee? That’s just an isolated example but that’s the big goal. I’ve set the goal to start making people aware by 2021, the goal is to do that to 100,000 people. We have also started to expand into the GB market and we want to expand into Europe as well by 2021 to give us a bigger market space.
You talk about education being one of the biggest areas of OLY that you set out to tackle, what do you mean by this? How do you plan on educating people?
We’ve got a couple of ideas on how we are going to execute it, it won’t be built into the clothing side. We need to make it relevant and stick to what’s happening in the world right now. We set up a deal with the University of Ulster, which is a huge opportunity for us and we are trying to get OLY Education into the syllabus of a couple of different degrees and use it as a communications module. That’d be great for us as it means we will be getting regular content that’s all credible and referenced and it’s been written by people who know what they’re talking about.
Do you have a motto or philosophy that you like to live by?
Easy, small victories repeated daily. I actually have it tattooed on my arm, that’s the sum of success. You can’t climb Everest overnight, you might climb 200/300 metres a day and over time you’ll get there. Just do a bit every day, even if it's tiny because quintessentially you’re one step closer to your goal. That’s our company motto, a lot of things don’t go to plan but if we’re working on it then we know that it eventually will.