Tell us about the original launch of GymTote back in 2012?
Helena: I was working in a job where I had to look smart for work, but loved to work out most days after being in the office and at meetings. So my dilemma was always what bag to use! Most of the gym bags I used where pretty basic in terms of their functionality and design, so I either had to carry one of those, or stuff all my kit into a smart handbag and wrap my trainers in a plastic bag. I knew there had to be a better way! So I came up with the idea for GymTote in 2012. I started researching designers and then met Nicola - who very quickly became my business partner and the other half of GymTote.
Nicola: I was running a busy design consultancy helping start ups build brands, and was just about to start work on my own collection when I serendipitously met Helena. I agreed to work on getting the brand up and running for her, but I quickly fell so in love with her vision that I decided to come on board as her partner. The rest is history!
After a successful few years with the brand, why the name change?
Nicola: Quite simply we had to. A lot of our customers loved our unique compartmentalised designs but weren't necessarily needing them for sport, such as mums, commuters and frequent flyers. We realised that the handbag market in general had a real lack of bags with the functionality that women - not just the fitfam - needed and wanted.
Our range offers a designer attention to detail, but a practical attitude to life whatever you’re doing - taking a flight (who wants to pull out their pants in the passport queue - yep been there!), out and about with baby (who wants a bag bag with a million elasticated pockets where you can never find a dummy?) or heading on a date post work (shoes wrapped in plastic bags shoved into handbags - I have seen so many of these on the tube!).
Tell us about the different designs?
Helena: They are basically taken from our own needs - Nic and I carry a LOT of stuff! We hate rummaging around to find everything so we try and build the designs around the real needs of women, such as specific compartments to keep water bottles upright or store a soggy umbrella.
Nicola: We are our fiercest critics so if we wouldn't carry it, we won’t produce it.
We hate rummaging around to find everything so we try and build the designs around the real needs of women
What other exciting things do you have planned?
Helena: We are expanding our range later this year to bring in some more lightweight, relaxed styles that offer the same great functionality. Not many activewear bags have got dedicated laptop compartments for example.
We’re also working on a new yoga bag - we’ve had so much feedback on this from people who are struggling to find a great yoga bag that does everything, as well as carrying a yoga mat and maybe your laptop. Of course, there are yoga bags out there already, but they are not really satisfying that desire for function and style that people increasingly want.
Who is the 'Fact+Fiction girl'?
Nicola: Anyone who has a lot to carry that they don’t want on public display when they open up their bag! She might be a gym bunny, mummy, laptop lugger, commuter or a traveller.
People have tried to copy your compartmentalised bags - how do you stay ahead of the crowd?
This is such a bugbear of ours. It's so frustrating when your ideas are copied by other ‘designers’. But that's life and it means you’ve got a product that works. The best way to stay ahead is to continually refine our designs and innovate our tech - copycats will always be a step behind. For example, we’ve just added military grade, trade marked anti-smell technology to all our bags that no one else is using!
Tell us a bit about yourselves:
Your hometown? I live in Leigh-on-Sea on the Essex coast. It's a beautiful village that still has a small fishing industry, plus it has a beach, loads of great independent shops, cafes and bars. It’s a perfect commuting distance from London, so I get the best of both worlds.
Favourite ways to sweat? Working with my trainer, Ben Ogden - The Motion Coach. He’s brilliant as he mixes up my training every session, so it never feels repetitive, but I always love anything we do involving weights; I’ve come to really value my strength. I also enjoy a good run to clear the head.
Best gym class in London? Living out of London, I rarely get the opportunity to take a class there. But I do keep promising to try Barry's Bootcamp with Helena!
Favourite ways to chill out? Being a mum of two, relaxation is very different from what it used to be. Nowadays, it's the simple pleasures, like coffee and reading The Sunday Times cover to cover the day it comes out, rather than a week later. Other than that, reading, photography and catching up with friends.
Favourite Fact+Fiction bag? I’m in love with our newest addition for AW17, the Cali Tote. Cali stands for CAn’t LIve Without It, and since we trialed the first sample back in April, I haven't put it down. I’m obsessed with her - gym, shopping, day trips, she does it all.
Strangest things people put in all those compartments in your bags? I think the dog in the top of the Sophia was the most original one for me!
Your hometown? I’m from a small fishing village on the East Coast of Scotland called St Abbs. Its one of the most beautiful places I know. I’ve lived in London about 10 years and Twickenham is my southern home.
Favourite ways to sweat? Anything really! I LOVE Soulcycle so much and am so sad that it's not in the UK. I also love a good plyometrics or body weight session, and really want to get back into Bikram yoga.
Best gym class in London? Barry’s Bootcamp
Best Trainer? Bar none - Dalton Wong at TwentyTwo Training
Favourite ways to chill out? Anything that involves being in nature (especially in Scotland), or spending time with a dog. I also love long hot baths with Epsom salts.
What is your favourite Fact+Fiction bag? I love the Charli backpack because it means I can carry my laptop and gym kit all day with zero problems. I was so anti-backpack before but now I am a total convert! She’s also the perfect companion for any long haul flights.
Strangest things people put in all those compartments in your bags? Our fave is the lady who took a full picnic in her Sophia Tote to Wimbledon!