Fashion Quarterly’s digital content producer Terri Dunn steals a moment with Pip Edwards, the Australian icon behind the modern activewear brand with a fashion-forward focus, P.E Nation.
One of my university lecturers once prescribed starting a story with a description of where you were, recalling ‘overheard on the bus’ as one of his (self-proclaimed) genius openings.
While, ‘sitting on the toilet to conduct my interview with Pip Edwards‘ might not seem like a proper way to talk about one of Australia’s most influential figures in fashion, like Pip, I discovered, there was something so deeply authentic about this moment that I couldn’t bring myself to leave such a detail out – however alarmed my lecturer might be with my literal practice.
We have less than an hour before drinks for the ‘Mercedes-Benz Presents’ opening show for NZFW and I’ve found myself in the bathroom of Pip’s hotel with my questions on my lap and my phone propped on the vanity while the final backcombing is added to Pip’s hair. Moments like this – toilet or no toilet – are few and far between so I waste no time in launching into my questions.
Terri: So what’s your story? How did you get to where you are today?
Pip: “I have no fashion training. I studied Commerce Law at University and went straight into Corporate Restructuring at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) for three years and just before I was supposed to scale up and move overseas I realised all my friends worked in fashion and obviously I was wearing bright orange suits to work and being quite fashionable. I knew I had to crossover.
“I went to Ksubi with all my mates, started off as Dan’s [Single] right-hand man before setting up the PR department there and then went into womenswear. I was there for about six years.
“From there I went to sass & bide where I was senior creative and accessories designer for five years – this is where I met, and began my working relationship with, Claire Tregoning, my business partner at P.E Nation – before going on to General Pants where I was design director and I was there for three years.
“The last two years at General Pants was where P.E Nation was percolating.
“What people don’t realise is that back history; I’ve worked for three quite iconic powerful brands in Australia that each have their own unique story. Through that, I definitely picked up a lot of information on the way.”
You’re known for making things ‘cool’…
“I was always trend forecasting and doing all that stuff – which I think can come naturally. But actually, what makes a business work; commercial versus creative, systems and processes, structuring – all of those decisions, that’s what I really picked up.”
When did P.E Nation happen?
“I was having a drink with a friend when I worked at [General Pants] and she said: “What are you doing with yourself, you should be doing something sporty like PE,” and I literally fell off my chair. It was staring me in the face but I had no idea.
“At this point, I didn’t even know I was going to be doing activewear or sport or whatever, that’s always been my vibe but once I had the initials and the name, everything, the whole vision, was there. I could see it. I didn’t need to go and work on it, it was there.
“As organic as the name came, Claire similarly, is the yin to my yang. The coming together of P.E Nation was definitely a natural unfolding and it’s this essence that makes the brand tick.
“A lot of the genius things that happen tend to be the organic ones and not forced. They’re what resonate.”
How did you make P.E Nation full time?
“I’d work 9am until 6pm at General Pants, and then I’d come home, sort out my son and work from 9pm to 3am every night for a year and a half. I still had to work, I still had to pay bills.
“The big break was when the cash flow started coming in and I was able to support myself and be full time on P.E Nation. We launched March 2016 and it was in May or June that I went full time.”
What inspires your collections, your aesthetic and how do you keep it relevant?
“A lot of it is Claire and I’s personal style. We’re quite sporty, we’re quite ’90s and retro, but we pull references and inspiration from everything: artwork, landscape, music – that’s a big one. We like our lines of perspective which we use through our colour blocking and design lines. We follow high fashion trends; colour palettes, direction, silhouette but then we look heavily into street style. Because the reality is you can be inspired from up there but what are you wearing down here? That’s what drives P.E Nation: What do women want to wear every day?
Is there anything about New Zealand designers that you gravitate towards?
“Georgia Alice and Maggie Marilyn – I know them well, we all launched on Net-A-Porter at the same time. It’s super inspirational over here, you have amazing women behind these brands. It is different to Australian fashion but for the better.”
How did you get involved with Mercedes-Benz?
“At P.E Nation we’re pitching a creative lifestyle and a creative community. A lot of what we do is lifestyle driven; how you wear the clothes, where you wear the clothes, and Mercedes-Benz shares those values. It’s premium but it’s active – their big cars are what get me down to the snow and on the farm.
“I’ve never had a partnership where it is literally completely in sync. Everything we do now, it’s not about thinking about the partnership – it just is. It makes sense, we’re one big happy family.”
Do you have any advice for FQ readers who want to get into careers like yours?
“Yes, say “yes”. In every experience that you have, say “yes” and know what you f**king love.
“Success isn’t a monetary thing or a legacy thing, it’s a feeling. If you love what you do and you feel good, that’s success.”
How important is female empowerment to you and why?
“Female empowerment is two-fold for me. I’m a big advocate for it because I’m a single mother and I’ve worked really hard. But at the same time, I’m all about talent and skill. You deserve to earn your stripes. The charity case is demeaning for men and women. It’s about unity, but it’s also about skill. I’m raising a son, and I’m a strong woman, I need to show him that there’s that give and take. You’ve got to be fierce to yourself.”
Success isn’t a monetary thing or a legacy thing, it’s a feeling. If you love what you do and you feel good, that’s success.
What is your biggest accomplishment at work or a moment you’re most proud of?
“My two babies: my child and P.E Nation.
“I’m proud of being able to grow and push P.E Nation, but I wouldn’t be able to do it without having been a mother. Because you need that anchor to bring you home.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
“The grass is greener where you water it.”
“But my dad – you know, being a Kiwi – also says “be interested, not interesting“. That comes down to being present, being engaged. I think a lot of people – especially in our industry – try and put it on or try and be this interesting character.”
You’ve already achieved so much, what’s next for you?
“Snow is launching in October, then we’re going to New York Fashion Week and we’re having a really big dinner party to launch our merino wool Woolmark collaboration. Next year, America is a really big focus for us.”
As for the ultimate goal?
“There are two: uniforms for the Olympics for Australia – that would just be an honour – and the second one, I want to take on Nike, Puma etc. I want to be a household name and never sell out.”