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Science and fashion may seem to be an unlikely pairing, but Nicholas Harris created a startup that successfully marries the two. His company, Human Performance Engineering (HPE) Activewear, has become a leading technical sports apparel brand that's sold in high-end stores ranging from Bloomingdales to Bandier.
With over 15 years of experience working as a human performance specialist with Formula 1 Champions and Olympic medalists, Nicholas Harris wanted to start a company focused on the science behind fashion. So he launched HPE in 2013, creating activewear from high-tech fabrics that reduce fatigue, inflammation, and stress in the body to ensure optimum athletic performance.
Recently, we spoke with Harris about his brand’s business model, his vision for HPE in the next year, and his advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. Below is an excerpt from that conversation.
VAULT: How did your professional background influence your decision to start HPE Activewear?
HARRIS: Being a physiologist, which studies how the body functions, gives me a very different point of view from probably a lot of other brands in the marketplace right now. For me, it’s all about creating the systems and sciences to ensure maximum human performance. My experience working with some of the world’s biggest athletes, in my opinion, has been a huge advantage for me in bringing a meaningful product to market.
VAULT: Why did you make the decision to add a subscription box service to the business model?
HARRIS: The subscription box service in many ways rewards loyalty. I think giving consumers the ability to select their own items from the box is very different from other models in which you fill out a questionnaire of your likes and dislikes and then get a bundle that’s probably pre-merchandised for you. When customers have different assortments they can select from, that is unique. Also, customers who don’t have the ability to buy our full-price model can experience the brand and product at a lower threshold.
VAULT: How would you describe the company culture of HPE?
HARRIS: Our strapline is that your body is the greatest thing you’ll ever own, so we really like to create an environment that centers on the belief that hard work can bring success. It’s all about investing in your body, not just through how you exercise, but also through how you live your life—what you eat, whether you hydrate, and how you interact with your family and friends. It’s all about creating that positive feeling.
VAULT: What is your vision for HPE in the next year?
HARRIS: The plan is ideally to be a legacy brand. I’d like for the brand to be here in 50 years’ time, which is long beyond me. I think the ingredients every great brand has are a good founder’s story, a unique and original logo, a strong brand identity and DNA, and a loyal customer base. And already at a very small level, I believe we check those boxes. I think once we build a narrative around each of those landmarks, we will be able to create a larger audience. I believe we can be a global brand that can stand the test of time. We follow the expression, “You can’t win the race in the first quarter, but you can lose the race in the first quarter.” It’s not about how you start that matters; it’s how you finish that counts.
VAULT: Can you tell me about a challenge you’ve faced so far as an entrepreneur?
HARRIS: Every day is a challenge. When you decide to create the road of your own journey, then every day you’re laying yet another foundation, brick by brick, stone by stone. You might not make the right decisions all the time, so you do question yourself, and you do question others. It’s about having the inner ability to follow what your heart and mind believe to be right and then motivating others to get the best out of themselves too. At the end of the day, an entrepreneur is only as good as their team.
VAULT: Do you have any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs out there?
HARRIS: I think if you have a dream and a vision, no matter who tells you that you can’t do it, always believe you can do it. With hard work—and of course some luck and belief—you can always achieve a percentage of that dream. And as you begin on that journey, you begin to realize what that percentage looks like. Even having just a percentage ownership of your dream is so rewarding and fulfilling. You should never not follow your dreams.
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