In an exclusive interview, Joshua Hammond at Insider Magazine gets to know the man behind Gym King.
At 28, James Parker is at the forefront of one of the most sought-after brands in fashion.
As soon as you learn about Gym King, you begin to see the brand everywhere. While it may still be in its infancy in business terms, the clothing brand has become one of the most sought-after makes in the UK.
Specialising in ‘athleisure’ wear and primarily aimed at young men, though it does have ranges for women and older men, Gym King was established to respond to the personal fitness boom. Its products have a classic style, so that its customers can go straight from the gym to the cinema or a restaurant without feeling underdressed.
Owner and Chief Executive James Parker, 28, worked for a number of businesses before moving into fashion. He grew up in North Yorkshire and has remained local – though a move to a larger city could be imminent – and left school at 16, initially working for a family business before qualifying as a personal trainer at 19.
Opening his first business venture at 20, Parker launched a beauty salon, with no experience in the market but a good network of contacts in York. He also began selling Herbalife supplements, quickly proving to be one of the company's most successful salespeople, and was asked to speak at company conferences across the UK.
“I was one of the top 25 distributors in the UK in terms of sales out of 25,000,” he says. “I quickly moved into a mentoring role within Herbalife, building and coaching teams, and I took some of those networking marketing skills and applied them to the early days of Gym King.”
Gym King was incorporated in early 2015, making it less than four years old. But the company has seen significant growth.
“I don’t think we could have predicted such growth,” he says. “I have great belief in the product, we’re an aspirational brand and I think we found a niche in the market that’s helped create the athleisure scene".
“At the time Gym King was launched, we started off with only our core product. There were a few other companies out there doing gym wear and I wanted to try and formalise that fitness scene with clothing you can wear in the gym that wouldn’t feel out of place in a restaurant or a bar.”
From its base in Castleford, the company now employs 34 people, including Parker’s brother, as well as working with a number of associates. Gym King’s products are stocked by fashion heavyweights such as JD Fashion, Asos, Germany headquartered e-tailer Zalando and Footasylum, at which Gym King has proved to be the most popular apparel range for the past two years, outselling industry-leading brands such as Nike and Adidas.
The company maintains close relationships with the independent retailers that were part of its initial growth:
“Business is based on relationships and that’s been key,” he says. “We have relationships with our models, influencers and retailers, and we invest heavily in them. Some independent retailers have been with us since day one and we’re still supporting them".
“It's important to look after the smaller retailers – 88 per cent of our stock is still sold wholesale and our retail partners are very active in supporting us.”
Social media has proved to be an invaluable tool. Gym King started to make waves towards the end of 2015, when the brand’s clothes began gracing the social media pages of online royalty and TV stars. The prominent Gym King logo and the high profile of those associated with the brand made its products a must-have item.
The brand’s social media reach has expanded to the extent that now, in any given month, it can directly reach 15-17 million people online. Parker mentions that it will be important for Gym King to “carry on working with the next tier of influencers” for continued growth.
Parker himself has just shy of 25,000 followers on Instagram and still answers all of the enquiries to his own accounts personally. He even found a number of the brand’s models online, long before they had a following. Parker says working with “like-minded individuals” that have “grown together”, has united the Gym King community.
The company has worked closely with global megastars Anthony Joshua and Conor McGregor, organising events and appearances for both. Parker has developed a strong relationship with The Mac Life, McGregor’s personal online brand.
If you look at the business’ Instagram page, it becomes clear that the brand aims to become part of that aspirational economy. Their models look like gods, the clothes show that off and all posts come with the obligatory hashtag #GKLifestyle.
So does the man behind the brand live the lifestyle his brand has espoused?
“I keep fit, and I believe that to be mentally at your best you need to be physically at your best, maintaining a healthy body and mind. I train three or four times a week and I read a lot too. My education has come from my desire to read a lot and further my personal development.”
That focus has led to Parker launching new ventures, including a premium Vodka brand, footwear label ‘Loyalti’ and even an app called 'Market of Mums' for parents to sell new and used baby products. The entrepreneurial spirit is palpable.
“Gym King never stands still,” he says. “I’m incredibly happy with our achievements, but we’re investing in future-proof infrastructure. We have a clear vision of where we want to go in the UK and internationally in the coming decade".
“A lot of people are snapping at our heels and we are launching new ranges to cater to different aspects of the market. We are having discussions about the possibility of opening flagship stores to give people an insight into the brand".
“I believe in time, Gym King can compete across the globe with the super brands.”