Founder Focus: Leyla Cooper of Pretty Athletic
A brand designed for women who sweat, Pretty Athletic is the brainchild of ex-lawyer and fitness enthusiast, Leyla Cooper, who found herself struck by a lack of products and advice relating to what to use on her skin before and after exercise.
Designed to meet the specific skincare needs of active women, the independent brand has launched into Waitrose, Feel Unique & Holland and Barrett, and is endorsed by ambassadors who are all professional female athletes.
We caught up with Leyla to find out more about the passion behind Pretty Athletic.
What was your eureka moment?
It was when I was heading back to my desk post-run, and caught sight of my sweaty reflection in the lift – despite having had a shower. Back at my computer, I searched “sports + skincare” on the website of a major health and beauty retailer, but was disappointed to see that all the search results were products for men.
I suspected then that sweating and exercise made my skin behave differently. Looking into it further, I learnt that exercise and sweating really does affect your skin (both men and women!) including changing the skin’s pH levels, sebum levels, hydration levels and more.
What is your elevator pitch?
Pretty Athletic is an award-winning, British skincare brand designed for women who sweat. Founded by fitness enthusiast and former lawyer Leyla Cooper, our skincare products are vegan, Made in Britain and at least 95% naturally derived. The brand is supported by a number of top British athletes including double Olympic champion rower Helen Glover MBE, the professional runner Charlotte Purdue, and professional triathlete Non Stanford.
How did you test your idea?
The very first thing I did was get a market research company to survey approximately 900 women who exercise regularly, and get their opinion on skincare. When that came back as supportive of the idea, I used every penny of my savings to develop and manufacture a small range of products and set up a basic website – to test the market and the concept. I had no money left over for marketing, samples, or quite frankly anything else – so I sold the products via my website and gifted full-sizes to press and athletes (by approaching them via social media).
The response was encouraging – we got featured in Elle magazine off the back of following the then beauty editor on Twitter, and we were finalists in a competition held by the buyers of a major retailer.
With this proof that the concept was solid, I set out to find a business partner and investment, so we could improve the product range, and set even higher standards. We officially launched a few years later in January 2018, after taking time to further perfect the products.
What advice would you give someone who wants to start a business of their own?
There is so much information and advice out there so research, research and network! Make the most of all the amazing resources that are available. But also, prepare yourself for hard times, and for problems that seem insurmountable. You need to truly love what you do, as that passion will get you through the tough times.
Do you have a mentor or are you one?
I have two business mentors, one who has started a successful business from scratch, and another who had a successful career in business. They are both very experienced, wise and supportive and I value their opinion immensely. I didn’t go out looking for a mentor, I came across each of them during my time at Pretty Athletic, and our relationship grew from there.
What’s your plan B?
There is no plan B. In the early days I thought I could go back to law (a job I did genuinely enjoy) but now I am just so entwined in my passion for supporting women in sport, and for giving them the best tools to keep their skin and body in the best condition.
What is the most worthwhile investment (time, energy, money) that you have made?
At the suggestion of one of my mentors, earlier this year I began calling up our customers to discuss their love of sport and working out, their skincare needs, and to get their feedback on our skincare products. It’s something I now do periodically throughout the year.
It’s a big investment in terms of my time, but the rewards and insights it reaps are huge. It’s amazing to really connect with our customers, understand their needs, and learn what we can do to better support and serve them.
What one failure are you glad you experienced?
I hate to use the word ‘failure’ and prefer ‘setbacks’. There are many setbacks when it comes to starting, launching and running your own business, in every possible area. It’s a huge learning curve, and there is always room to do better.
When things do go wrong and it’s your own business it feels like the end of the world, but you just need to pick yourself up, go for a run or walk, and then start thinking about how you can fix it, work around it or improve.
What is coming up for Pretty Athletic?
It took us two years from launch of the initial product range to launching our next new product. I am excited to say that we will be speeding up the development and launch of new products going forward.
I frequently receive product suggestions from customers and followers, and we are committed to producing new and innovative products on a much more regular basis to ensure that Pretty Athletic genuinely is the go-to, full-service skincare brand for all female athletes and active women.
What book would you recommend that everyone reads and why?
Shoe Dog by Paul Knight, the founder of Nike. I loved reading about how what is now a hugely successful multinational company was founded by a young man, who loved running, and who was passionate about shoes.
Reading his journey, learning about all the struggles and what he had to go through – whilst knowing what he ultimately achieved – is so inspiring, and makes great reading material for all founders.
How do you find balance in your daily life?
With a business, and two young children, it’s important that I find time to switch off and recharge my batteries.
During the week I do that by going for an early morning run, and at the end of the day it’s by having a hot bath or just taking time over my evening skincare routine. On weekends I love getting outside with the family and going on long walks.