People in fashion: Captain clubwear

Queens of the gym and the dancefloor stay cutting-edge by shopping at Graham Haines' Sports Locker. Hester Lacey met him

Sports Locker, says Graham Haines, owner and founder, is the kind of shop where a mere handful of cash is not enough to guarantee customer satisfaction. "You need to have the body," he says candidly. And this is true. Never in one men's clothing store has so much Lycra been gathered together at any one time. The shorts are thigh-hugging, the T-shirts are chest-clinging. This is a Mecca for what Haines calls "the body elite". The Sports Locker collection is extremely high quality designer gymwear, swimwear, underwear and clubbing clothes, most of it exclusive imports, all of it designed to enhance the six-pack torso and the bubble butt. This is gear for men who seriously want to show off.

It is obvious straightaway that this is no ordinary sportswear shop; it bears about the same relationship to the drab high-street sports chains as Harrods' food hall does to Netto. It is kitted out like a gym, in solid black accessorised with steel mesh and zinc, with lockers round the ceiling. Club music blares over the speakers. The changing rooms are shower cubicles, complete with tiles, soap dish, plug hole and stripy shower curtains. And a bank of video screens shows the current collection, modelled in- store, or offers previews of what's coming next. Currently premiering is a tape of the catwalk show of Tom of Finland clothes, a new label that has already created a sensation in New York. Sixteen of New York's top male models parade around in clinging shorts and sculpted trousers; a distracting sight, particularly when they are sporting backless swimming trunks ("provocatively contoured" is how Graham Haines describes this particular label).

Tom of Finland is coming to Sports Locker later this year, and, like 90 per cent of the brands stocked, it will be exclusive to the store. Most of the labels will be more familiar to American visitors than British shoppers; trans-Atlantic names like Verge, LA Sporting Club, YMLA and Body Body. Graham Haines's customers, he says, don't want the labels everybody else is wearing. He prides himself on his sharp eye for the trends that his rivals won't be carrying for months or even years - he was the first, for example, to import now-ubiquitous Calvin Klein underwear and Polartec fleeces.

Sports Locker has carved out a unique niche in the market; others have tried to jump on the elite sportswear bandwagon, and all have failed. "Four or five predators have tried to copy me and fallen by the wayside," he says. "I think the reasons are that we now have such a wide exclusive range that anyone else would be hard-pressed to offer a similar choice. And we have been very focused in what we are doing: we do purely gym and active-wear, we don't do badminton or tennis or cricket or golf clothes." He does offer underwear and club gear, but this, he says, is a logical progression from the active-wear core. "Most of our customers work out by day in the gym and by night they are nighthawks. They go to clubs like Heaven, the Fridge and Trade where there is a strong masculine environment and everyone is very body conscious, so we are simply following through by selling what is really a complete lifestyle."

Behind this cutting-edge trend-setting lies a solid marketing background. Ten years ago, Graham Haines was handling the marketing for new projects for Forte hotels. He frequently visited California, where he noted the extremely high-quality, effectively marketed sportswear business. "No one was doing it here; British sporting goods stores have always been atrocious in their presentation. Women were very well-served by companies like Pineapple and Gamba, but there was nothing for men," he says. He started Sports Locker as a modest mail-order company, using a catalogue modelled by three friends from the YMCA gym where he worked out, advertising in Time Out and Gay Times.

After the second catalogue he had made enough profit to open a shop in Notting Hill, a cosmopolitan area with a large ethnic and gay population. "My gay customers are very much at the forefront of pushing the company forward," he says. "We didn't set out to be a gay shop, but gay men are ahead in gym culture and ahead in style terms too, which is good for me - it means I have to stay directional, constantly be ahead, be new."

Sports Locker made the move into Covent Garden, central London, six years ago. "I knew if I didn't move into town someone would pinch the concept and get in first into a central location." Now, he says, he is seeing a wide celebrity clientele - "actors, presenters, pop stars, everyone from professional men to the kid in the street". Around 20 per cent are women, who appreciate "strong colours, not mints and pinks and pastels, and clothes that are generously cut and well-made," according to Haines.

These customers are prepared to fork out for exclusivity and quality. Current most popular lines include a classically shaped V-neck cotton/Lycra T-shirt by Body Body at pounds 34.99 and gym pants with metallic reflective stripe, pounds 45.99; Speedo trunks with the logo cheekily stamped across the behind at pounds 24.99; or a clubbing outfit of stretch trousers and acetate/Lycra shirt that comes to slightly under pounds 150. Short shorts are currently out - a longer drop to mid-thigh, though still with the vital lycra grip, is de rigueur at pounds 25.99 from Body Body.

Graham Haines's personal style is a little more forgiving than some of the lines he carries - though he is no slouch in the fitness department. "I swim three times a week and work out twice," he says. "I'm not as dedicated as my customers. The business takes up a lot of my energy. I'm getting on and the clockwork is running down," he adds with a laugh. "I'm into comfort."

Sports Locker, 17 Floral Street, London WC2E 9DS. Enquiries and mail order, tel 0171 240 4929. Website: www.sportslocker.co.uk

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Apprentice Telesales & Marketing Opportunities

    £10400 - £14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive / Sales - OTE £38,000

    £22000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The role is a mixture of office...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Hosting Support Agent

    £17100 - £20900 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the North West's leading...

    Day In a Page

    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests