Women On The Cutting Edge Of Success
A duo with designs on sportswear: Helen Stark and Bex Whattler’s HER Studio prints grace the coolest athleisure brands
By Amy Sedghi
Helen Stark and Bex Whattler like to laugh. Spend five minutes in the company of the founders of hip print studio, HER Studio London, and they’ll have cracked each other up several times already. For the best mates, who combined their 2o years of experience in the textile and fashion industry to set up a female-led print studio in 2016, they’ve got a lot to be delighted about.
They’re currently in the midst of their latest drop from a collaboration with adidas. The wildly popular partnership, which came off the back of an unassuming Instagram DM at the end of 2018, has seen them work on three seasons worth of products for the global sportswear brand.
“It was really exciting,” recalls Bex of their subsequent visit to adidas HQ in Nuremberg, Germany where they met with the various teams including footwear and accessories. “Normally we sell a print into a brand and then they can do whatever they want with it. You never really have much control of what’s going to happen, but with adidas we were involved in the whole process,” explains Helen. The pair were blown away by the scale of the range too as the adidas team brought out an array of the different products they’d like to put the studio’s prints on. “When they brought out the sliders, I lost my mind,” laughs Bex.
Stacks of adidas shoe boxes and a rack full of samples sits in Bex’s office when we chat over Zoom. When asked if she has a favourite item from the range, she excitedly jumps up and grabs a few pieces, bringing them up to the screen to show off the details. A pair of white adidas Superstar trainers and a black hoodie, both with a bold blue, green, yellow and pink floral print from the first collection are firm favourites. The duo are also fans of the cherry print range, which consists of items such as shorts, bralettes and backpacks emblazoned with a striking graphic of the aforementioned fruit. “That print was so popular,” adds Helen.
Although Covid and the various lockdowns of the past year or more put a dampener on some aspects of the collaboration – such as throwing a launch party – they do feel fortunate that it was focused on an area within fashion that saw growth over a testing time. “The collaboration has allowed us to get through the pandemic without too much stress and opened up our eyes really to what we can do,” explains Helen. “It’s been a big learning curve for us. We’re a small business who are in control of everything that we do, so working with a global giant has been a real eye-opener. There’s so many levels to what they do.”
Founded in 2016, Her Studio London was driven by frustration and dissatisfaction at the environment the pair found themselves in: “We were so sick of working in this industry that had been taken over by men who behaved like rockstars, essentially. We were girls who had to step aside and do it for ourselves.” So, Bex and Helen did just that by creating a female-led print studio that aimed to provide a good culture in the workplace and to nurture designers. The East London-based studio’s list of clients is proof of their success: Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Nylon magazine, Uniqlo and Speedo are just a few of the big names they’ve worked with.
Given that both Bex and Helen are self-declared athleisure fans that love a spot of walking, pilates or yoga, partnering with a sportswear brand seems a perfect fit. “Both Hells and I wear just athleisure most days, because that’s what we love wearing. Hells lives in Cornwall and is always going for walks. I’m at the gym quite a lot of the week so to be honest, having our prints on athleisure is the best.”
But that love for sportswear hasn’t always been the case, admits Bex. “I do feel like sportswear’s never been an appealing look until the last few years for anyone that’s got a curvy body or anything bigger than a size 8.” When at school, she recalls having hated wearing her sports kit: “I was terrified of it. I absolutely hated it and felt gross.” Helen says she felt similar, describing a pair of “horrible little sport shorts” she had to wear under her hockey skirt.
Fortunately, athleisure and sportswear offerings have improved over recent years with the fashion industry also waking up to the fact that activewear needs, and should be, modelled on a diverse range of bodies. “If I treat myself to a nice new pair of leggings, I think ‘ooh, I can’t wait to wear them’, whereas 10 years ago, that wouldn’t have been the case at all,” says Bex.
“We’re both interested in health and fitness and are regular gym goers who love to learn new things and go to different classes, but a lot of that has come from wishing I had a sport,” explains Helen, who says she lacked the push to get involved in sports when she was younger. It’s something Bex can relate to: “I did sports like hockey and netball at school, but it was always a bit embarrassing. The boys’ teams were so well looked after, and girls’ sport was definitely secondary.” As such, both would love to be involved in promoting sports education and women in sport. “adidas has given us a bit of a step up,” says Bex, who would be keen to work with campaigns such as This Girl Can. For her it would be a dream to kit out the England Women’s football team.
Speaking during the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, they’ve both been inspired by the achievements of the female athletes they’ve watched on TV. “I wasn’t really into sport as much as I should have been as a child and teenager as I didn’t get enough encouragement,” shares Helen. “Maybe I’m naive to think that’s changing but I do think it is. If we can get involved with any form of change, we would love to because it’s so important.” Bex agrees: “It would be great to have that narrative [that boys sport is more important] changed.”
Certainly, it seems the world is their oyster. Going forward, Helen envisages the studio working on around four collaborations a year: some large money makers and some smaller projects. “We’re a print studio at the end of the day so it’ll always come back to print, design and female power but there are a million places where that could go.” We for one, can’t wait to see what’s next for this brilliant pair, who are sure to have a laugh along the way.