haysmacintyre’s hot seat: 30 minutes with Anjhe Mules of Lucas Hugh

13th August 2019

An occasional series featuring haysmacintyre’s clients who are leading developments within the creative, media and technology sectors.

This time we speak with Anjhe Mules, Creative Director of Lucas Hugh, a luxury athleisure brand that fuses high fashion design with performance fabric technology.  London-based Lucas Hugh supplies customers in over 65 countries.

Lucas Hugh pioneered activewear by incorporating Olympic-quality designs and construction in its swimwear. Her unique designs were featured extensively in the 2013 film, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.

Why was Lucas Hugh founded?

That’s a big question! Lucas Hugh was founded in 2010, but prior to that I did two years of research and development on the product before we launched. I was doing design for a long time before I launched Lucas Hugh, swimwear mainly. I worked for Marc Jacobs and Alexander McQueen. I’m really into health and fitness, so I saw a gap in the market for a combination of technical sportswear with high fashion and something you can wear outside of the gym. There was nothing ten years ago. It was my mission to bring coolness to exercise and sport because it was a completely boring category. Lucas Hugh was the first brand to combine technical sport performance wear with high fashion. That’s been our focus all the way through, to maintain product integrity and make sure it is the most premium activewear product of on the market. Fashion is a big part of that, and we now deliver five capsule collections per year.

Has you initial vision for the business changed over the years?

First of all, our market has completely changed. We’re not the only women’s activewear that combines fashion and sport now. There’s a lot of competition. We have to be really nimble and rethink how we can connect to our customer and how our core values can be communicated clearly. But that message has not changed: To advance the future of activewear. We deliver unparalleled design for your personal best.

Tell us about your journey to success so far?

I think a lot of the success of Lucas Hugh comes down to that we were a pioneer in the sport and fashion space. What we’ve developed as a product is special and unique. The fabrics we use are made in Italy. The way we construct the garment is with bonded seams, which is quite specific within sportswear. You can see and feel the quality difference between Lucas Hugh and a regular sportswear brand. I think that has been a big part of our success, understanding the product and what we are offering. I’m not focusing on something that would go out of the style.

How long does it take to pull together a collection from initial brainstorming, to sketch to delivery?

That’s a good question; two years. We do a lot of product testing and developments of prototypes, so that’s why it really takes that long to get it to market.

Do you enjoy the sketching side and the bringing to life?

Yes, and I don’t get as much time as I used to, to do that, because there’s many other things that I’m doing. I also have two amazing designers on the team, so it’s a collaborative process.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I think it’s a designer’s job to resolve problems. For example, a friend of mine came to me a couple of years ago having just had a baby. She asked, “Can you just make something that covers your bum, that’s not like a cardigan because I don’t want to wear this mumsy cardigan?” And I said, “We’re going to develop a skirt.”

Where do you get your inspiration for these specific sorts of designs?

For me personally I would say futuristic films. I’m obsessed with futuristic films, which is why The Hunger Games was the perfect movie.

Tell me about the Lucas Hugh culture, what’s it like to work here and what’s the team like?

I would say, it’s very hard working, but very collaborative and very positive. We work out together regularly. It’s where we put the product to the test and get to know it intimately. The work out part of the day is also a nice time to reset because if you’re working hard, like we do, the balance is important to me and to the company. If you’re feeling slightly unwell, we have a policy that you leave immediately.

During the manufacturing process, have you ever come across any set-backs or challenges?

There’s always issues with production, we do everything we can with quality and control. The factory that we work with for most of our production we’ve been working with for eleven years and is excellent, but with every production there’s often an issue that can come up. You have just got to figure out how to manage it with a positive solution.

Do you have any advice for those seeking to build a successful business?

I think anyone looking to start a business needs to do their market research. Considering activewear is so competitive right now, you have to have a unique point of view. That’s the same with any business you’re doing, whether it’s activewear or not. You need to understand who your consumer is, who your tribe is and why you’re making. Is it valuable in the world today? Does the world need your product? That’s my big question. That’s what we ask ourselves every day with everything we are producing because otherwise we’re not going produce it.

How do you stay in contact with your close, loyal customers?

We opened our second retail pop up at 147 Kings road two weeks ago. What we are offering our customers there is excellent customer knowledge. We try to service them in a way by suggesting the right products. We host events there as well, trying to connect our community and our women.

How do you stay ahead in such a fast-moving industry?

I think you’ve got to be nimble. You’ve got to be aware of what’s happening all the time and not complacent. You have to think about what that next thing is because it’s changing so rapidly. Not looking ahead at the trends, but looking ahead a what’s required for the product.

Do you think you’ll ever go into menswear?

I would love to. We get asked that question a lot, particularly because of The Hunger Games, where we designed men and women’s products. That was huge for the brand. We were in newspapers around the world. We even did a Barbie doll.

Designing men’s sportswear really excites me because of men’s physicality. Men are excited by what can enhance their performance. Women care a lot about how they look and how they feel. A big part of what we do here at Lucas Hugh is focusing on that for women. When you bring men into the mix it’s a whole different mindset, so I think that’s for down the line.

Do you have a mentor?

I don’t have one mentor. I love to listen to the “How I Built This” podcast. That’s one of the office favourites. It’s great for entrepreneurs. There are a lot of women in London that I’m inspired by. The woman who owns Flowerbox, for example, I’m friends with her. I think there’s lots to learn from everything. At different moments in my career, I have had official mentors. Like Michael Ward, the CEO of Harrods, he was my mentor for two years through Walpole, when Lucas Hugh won the ‘Brand of Tomorrow of 2012’ and then we won the Emerging British luxury brand of 2014. I still stay in touch with him. I had another mentor who is based in New Zealand. He is a head of a successful air-conditioning company, and he’s so good with strategy.

How do you find working with your husband?

I think it’s good. Jason and I have definite skill sets that don’t cross over. We try to manage those areas.

How do you manage a busy work life with home life?

It merges together. We’ve got two young kids, one-year-old and a three-year-old. I think it’s a nice way to switch off from work. Before they existed, we would have to do lots of other things on the weekend trying to get our minds away from work, like a hard work out. But with children, you come home and are immediately drawn into something. It’s calming and relaxing in a crazy way.

Do you have a specific person or business hero that you’ve strived to follow?

For me personally, having a fashion business has always been my ambition since I was eight years old. I chose the subjects at school, and I went to a special school to train in fashion design. I had a swimwear business when I was in my early twenties. I went to New York with the intention of working for Marc Jacobs, so it really was quite a focus. Working in the fashion industry I saw opportunity because I saw it wasn’t a very healthy environment, generally. I saw an opportunity to combine more of a well-being aspect to fashion. I think the whole world has come that way now.

What has been your proudest moment in your business to date?

I think the little things that happen along the way. Our first wholesale clients, Brown’s was the first and it felt like we made it. The Hunger Games. We launched an online store and one of our first customers bought everything in the whole collection, which was exciting. Rolling on from that, I guess it’s opening our new store.

How have you built your team to ensure you have the right people in place to scale the business?

It’s been hard to find good people, but we’re all proud of the team we’ve built so far. I think we share a common vision and view on how we want to work together. It’s a combination of balance, hard work and personal motivation because everyone is striving for the same thing. Jason and I aren’t telling everyone what to do; we’re relying on them to be self-motivated and come to us with solutions for problems. I think it’s important to find people who are smart enough to run their world on their own.

Particularly, the fabric and how it’s put together and all the technicalities that go behind it, do you find a lot of clientele asking those questions, really intrigued by the fit and how it’s put together?

Having the right retail staff is important. A lot of people are too scared to try on things because they are body conscious. That’s common with activewear because really, it’s a garment that’s so slim-fitting. Women are going to the gym because they are trying to stay in shape and help with their own personal fitness goals. You’ve got to be quite understanding with the consumers who come in. Often, it’s just giving them the confidence to go and try it, because they’ll feel amazing afterwards. We spend a lot of time considering how the woman feels in the product, the way the lines are cut to make them look taller, slimmer and to eliminate any concerns and feel supported. One they go into the fitting room, we have like a 95% conversion rate.  As soon as you’ve got it on, you understand.

What’s the future for Lucas Hugh?

I’ve got a lot of personal ambitions. Working with athletes, especially around the Olympics is something that excites me down the line. Working on menswear a lot more. Having more retail pop-ups around the world globally.

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