Sara Hanna and Charlotte Ayoub, the mother and daughter team behind TLC Sport, are another example of inspirational women who make a difference. Founded by Sara in 1984, TLC Sport is an inclusive sportswear brand that produces beautifully crafted and sustainable fitness clothing for women of all shapes and sizes. Passionate about building confidence and designing active wear “to support, inspire and encourage women to achieve their goals and flourish in their bodies”, it was a pleasure to catch up with them both to talk all about their ethos, their brand and a few fitness tips.
First of all, can you tell us all about TLC Sport – your motivation behind the brand and how it began?
Sara: In my early twenties, fitness really helped me to cope with changes happening in my life, and I suppose I just wanted to share it with absolutely everybody so that it could help them too. I set up a fitness studio in Cairo and taught aerobics to a group of women. I knew early on in 1980 that exercise was something to be celebrated – it brought women together, not only in the fitness space but on a personal level too, creating a kind of sisterhood. Keeping fit and sharing that space together meant that we could also open up about our lives and naturally, offer each other the support that comes with that. Word soon spread and I haven’t looked back since.
Charlotte: Well at this stage, I wasn’t even thought of! TLC was born 5 years before me.
What do you think it is that makes TLC Sport different to other activewear brands?
Sara: Oh, so much. Firstly, we are completely female driven and focused and Charlotte and I work hard to ensure every single thing we do is driven by what will improve her life. We like to think we give our customers what they want, catering for a range of shapes and sizes in order to accommodate as many women as possible – be it a size 8 or size 28.
Also, unlike most, we are a purpose-driven, family run business, with a mission born out of a passion for fitness, not profit. We don’t do what the rest do; we take time to understand and respect the female form and we create our products accordingly.
Charlotte: I agree with mum. We were born out of genuine passion for women and fitness, which still runs deep within the company today. I love our heritage and our ethos – you can’t buy that – it sets us completely apart from our competitors. At TLC, we are not just about providing pretty tops or flattering leggings, it’s so much more than that. It’s about understanding the female psyche and nourishing it. It’s about the whole package – concept, design, fabric, service, policy, tone, partnerships, affordability, sustainability and legacy. It’s about all the right things coming together at once, to create something special and we do that really well.
What are the influences for your designs and fabrics?
Sara: There is only one key thing that influences our designs and our fabrics and that’s our customer. We constantly innovate and develop our bespoke fabrics and fits in order to create a truly superior product, which is not only ethical and sustainable but also accessible.
Charlotte: We don’t follow the latest trends, we don’t run off four prints a year and drop collections month by month according to the latest celebrity style. We build and nurture an environment where our products are valued and looked after, not worn for a season and then replaced. We are the evergreen of activewear and we design with this in mind. Our products are built to enhance and support everyday life, products which can be relied upon on time after time, season after season and wash after wash.
How do you both balance the day-to-day working together as a mother and daughter team and family time?
Sara: Easily, we are driven by the same goals, and have a complimentary skill set! Charlotte is very academic and focused, whilst I am the wild card! I tend to come up with the ideas and Charlotte makes them happen. I love working with Charlotte, truly. I'm blessed to have the opportunity to share doing what I love with the people I love.
Charlotte: Having Sara as my mum and my business partner means we spend a lot more time together than we would otherwise, and we both feel very lucky to have the chance to grow the business together. Although sometimes work can take over, we both make an asserted effort to separate the two – we don’t talk shop during mother/daughter time and that’s non-negotiable.
Hardest challenges you’ve both had to face?
Sara: Manufacturing in a developing country, with an unstable economic climate and imbedded female stereotypes is not easy. Alongside the challenges we’ve had to face in the UK from Brexit and the pandemic to what is now looking like a global recession. But at least we are all in it together.
Charlotte: There have been a number of challenges we’ve had to face, especially recently. I’m sure after the last few years every small business owner will identify with the resilience needed in order to persevere. Running a business is a responsibility almost akin to having a child; you’re in it for the highs and there’s no escape during the lows. As we are both so personally invested in TLC, it’s difficult to detach our emotions from the business, and managing that can be a challenge sometimes.
Sara: Reading our reviews after surviving the last 34 years in the UK as a small and self-funded business – they mean the world to us. Also Charlotte graduating from the Goldman Sachs 10KSB Programme was one of my proudest ever moments.
Charlotte: I’m so proud of the impact TLC has made on women. We’ve achieved so much from live TV, national press, launching on major retailers and having celebrities wear and enjoy the brand. But really, it’s the little things that make me most proud – reading our reviews – they make everything feel worthwhile.
With so many different fitness activities out there now – what are the main factors midlife plus women should consider when it comes to exercise?
Sara: To commit to it daily. To include it in every aspect of their lives and to understand that it’s a way of life, it gives life and the benefits can be enjoyed the minute you start. Chose any sport/activity and just get started, be it walking, swimming, jogging, paddle boarding, anything as long as you move!
Charlotte: I’m no expert, but as somebody who has often floated in and out of fitness habits, it’s so important to enjoy what you do, because if you enjoy it you’re much more likely to keep it up. Forget about the numbers, the steps, the reps and focus on doing little things every day which you enjoy, because it’s those daily habits that will ultimately win over the intermittent gruelling workout.
What are the best forms of physical activity for our mental health wellbeing?
Sara: In my humble opinion, any kind of physical activity will benefit the mind and body; however, if you can also enjoy it, then, bingo.
Charlotte: I agree with mum on this – it doesn’t matter what you do, it just matters that you do something. There’s a lot of noise out there with regards to most efficient workouts and best ways to meditate but the truth is, we are all so different and what works for others may not necessarily work for you. I think taking time out to do things you enjoy – whether that’s reading a book in the garden, shopping with friends or watching your favourite film – is really important. You need to see yourself as a battery, and this downtime as your charge time is not a luxury, it’s a necessity. You charge your phone every day, and it’s important you do the same for yourself.
Your top tips for a good health and fitness routine?
Sara: Remember four things:
1) Do it regularly
2) Keep it varied
3) Once you get fit, enjoy it. Try something new like ball sports, hiking, water sports, whatever takes your fancy.
4) The body is designed to be used, it thrives on being driven ...
Charlotte: Keep it consistent, keep it simple, but most of all, keep it fun!
What advice would you give to women who begin to feel less confident as they go into midlife and beyond?
Sara: OMG! Where to start! STOP … Take back your power, nobody is watching you and nobody cares! Just be yourself and be true to yourself only. Be brave and seize the day with a big smile.
Charlotte: I haven’t hit midlife just yet but I am already comparing myself to my younger self and making marked criticisms with regards to how I have aged, and honestly – it’s just so unhelpful. What I find helps is to take care of myself. I don’t know about everyone else but during lockdown I gained weight, didn’t dye my hair, didn’t shave my legs, didn’t do my nails or eyebrows, didn’t invest in makeup or clothes and by the end of it I felt like a totally different person, a person I didn’t like. So what did I do? I just started doing those things again, and soon enough I felt myself. That’s when I realised that the little things are so important. It is so important to do the things that make you feel good, and if people think it’s self-indulgent, so what? You take care of you, because nobody else will do it for you.
The top beauty must-haves in your makeup bags that you cannot be without?
Sara: At my age I'm afraid it’s a magnifying mirror. I can get away without anything but that!
Charlotte: SPF 50 Moisturiser. Charlotte Tilbury Concealer, Benefit BANG Mascara, any brow brush and pencil and NARS Laguna Bronzing Cream. Also – not in my makeup bag, but I can’t be without my vitamin E, D and Bs.
And finally, your favourite quotes to live by?
Sara: The Truth is Easy. Effort takes Effort.
Charlotte: Do what’s right, not what’s easy.
Well done is better than well said.