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Natalie Lane: Having Her Cake And Eating It

Natalie Lane Pilot Athletic

Half an hour before this interview was scheduled to take place, Natalie Lane texted to ask if it could be pushed back a little. There had been “an incident” at one of the Pilot Athletic stores.

When woman with drive eventually spoke to the luxury sportswear label founder, she narrated an incident that could have easily turned into a retailer’s nightmare. But Natalie, who had deftly put it to rest, sounded remarkably unruffled.

“I do not panic easily,” she laughed. Part of that resilience is inbuilt; the other part was ingrained five years ago when she stood at the brink of a brand new business.

In the lead-up to that moment Natalie, who is a qualified personal trainer, was sorely feeling the absence of an activewear line that boasted high quality and style. In her eyes, most of the existing brands either targeted a much younger crowd or hardcore athletes. And none could double up as casual wear.

With this observation and a fire in her belly that she could not ignore, Natalie set out to introduce a new face in the luxury activewear space. One that would bridge the gap between workout and play with pieces designed for mixing, matching and layering.

The brand, Natalie decided, would be christened Pilot Athletic in a salute to her qualifications as a pilot and her commitment to fitness. There was only one small problem – she was also in the midst of immense personal and financial turmoil.

“I was in a very precarious position when I first started Pilot Athletic,” Natalie recalled. “I had minimal business capital, my stock and no brand. No one knew who I was. It was all up to me to make this happen.”

“I started a pop up store out of desperation in Toorak (an upmarket suburb in Melbourne) but only rented the space for two weeks thinking that was as long as it would last. I ended up staying for a year and a half.”

Pilot Athletic has since established an international footing in almost every continent. Natalie’s greatest triumph, however, is that the brand’s growth has been entirely organic.

“The success has been fast and slow at the same time,” she said. “We have had incredible growth on the retail end in the last three and half years from just one person telling another how much they love the brand and having that word spread via social media.”

But it is not just Pilot Athletic that has experienced growth. Natalie herself has undergone her own evolution especially in her approach to health and fitness as she tells woman with drive.

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Natalie Lane


How has your health and fitness regime changed over the last five years?

I used to do intense weight lifting, ridiculous amounts of cardio and extreme dieting. It was all about what I thought I needed to look like for the world. I have had so many health issues since childhood like rheumatoid arthritis and digestive problems. I used to think I could fix these issues through sheer intelligence and for many years, I chased external solutions only to realise that real change happens from within.

As I got older, I found more acceptance of myself. That mindset shift came from a meditation and mindfulness practice, which has taught me to stay in the present. It has led to profound changes in my health through a change of mindset.

I have also gone from a high-protein, low-carb philosophy to someone who no longer believes in diets that preach extremities. I believe in eating as little processed food as you can, in truly enjoying your food and always buying the best quality ingredients and the freshest produce.


What does your fitness regime look like today?

Four months ago, I finally allowed myself to exercise during the day. Being a single mum, I do not have the liberty of time at the beginning or end of the day to workout. I am also capable of burying myself in work for 15-hour days but I have reached a point in my career where I understand the need to prioritise. So I have joined a health club nearby and my daily fitness routine ranges from a Pilates class or a walk or run during the day.


Do you have a favourite fitness app?

I love tracking things so I use Map My Run and Strava, which gives me all the stats on my workout that get me excited. The other app I use is My Fitness Pal, which tracks your training and food intake for the day. I use this when I feel I need to get things back on track. It makes you more conscious about what you are doing but I do not punish myself over the results like I would have five years ago.


In terms of business, how does Pilot Athletic keep itself ahead of the curve?

There have been many competitors over the last three years but I really do not speculate over what other people are doing. I know exactly what Pilot stands for and we have been steadfast in creating products that honour that rather than trying to keep up with the latest trends. We are not trying to be something for everyone.

A lot of our merchandise is developed from scratch. We do not take stock fabric and throw the latest print on it. For instance, we are launching a new range with printed tights on a nylon-based fabric with compression. None of our competitors are investing in this kind of fabric or development but it is so important to me to maintain our premium quality for the women who buy the brand so they continue to love it. I would lose my own love for the brand if we just started churning out products.


What is your one advice for young mothers with entrepreneurial dreams?

Be realistic. I was pregnant when I first started Pilot Athletic and I had this utopian idea that my baby would sleep beside me in her cot as I punched away on my laptop. The reality was far from it! I also tortured myself a little back then. I pushed myself so hard to be everything – a model mother and a fabulous businesswoman – at the same time. You need to recognise that both are fulltime jobs. Having said that, I would absolutely encourage mothers to follow their business dreams. If they want to have their cake and eat it, then why not?


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