Interview with Sara Hanna, founder of TLC Sport

Read our interview with Sara Hanna, founder of TLC Sport, a brand which offers feminine, technical clothing designed to make their customers feel body-confident every day. 

What’s your career background? 

I opened my fitness centre in Cairo 1984, trained in USA to become an aerobic teacher, and fitness consultant through the organisation IDEA. I started fitness-related manufacturing in 1986. TLC was born in 1991 as The Leotard Company. In 2000 I changed it to TLC, after we moved back to the UK in 1999.

Where did the idea for TLC Sport come from? 

My sorry state of mental health, after getting married in 1978 in Cairo and living there happily. In 1979, I was crippled with anorexia after my grandma died in the UK without me there.

The only thing that made me feel better was exercise, and to this day, it’s a core value that never left me, ever. I only felt better if I exercised, and thus my diet turned to orthorexia. After having so many children there was no time for this indulgence!!

How did you move from idea to actual business?

I just found and rented a flat with a sprung wooden floor, very common in Cairo, parquet was considered elite! Removed the furniture, put in a boombox and did what I did best, share my enthusiasm and love of fitness to as many women as I could reach.

Such was its popularity, my husband bought me purpose-built premises two years later we moved into Valentines Fitness Centre, with two studios, sitting rooms for women to chat, kitchen, massage rooms, spa suite, sun bed and hair removal rooms.

I started WeightLine diet classes from the knowledge I gained from my mother, a Weight Watchers counsellor and was inundated with women who wanted to get healthy and lose weight.

I personally made Valentines aromatherapy Body Bottles, for the skin, make daily healthy flapjack for our customers and continued adding the business plan. I started making tracksuits in the basement of the fitness centre with my children’s nanny until I found more specifically trained staff thereafter.

What’s your brand’s USP?

My absolute passion, my commitment and belief in Exercise solves everything, way back in 1979, and it did, my accessible fitness centred opened in 1984, served all women from the community, and helped women find a common meeting ground for them to get fit and iron out all their issues in life.

Women connected and re connected and its appearance on the Cairo scene is still talked about to this day. I trained many teachers who are still teaching in Cairo today. We moved back to the UK in 1989, the year I had Charlotte, my protégé, and TLC was born 

Who’s your target audience? 

Any women over the age of starting menstruation, used to be my mantra. If you’ve started your period, you’re old enough for exercise to music.

How do you spread the word about what you do? 

I didn’t need to, it spread like wildfire in 1984, that by 1986 we moved to purpose built premises and served the wider community with 6 to 8 exercise classes a day, diet classes, ballet classes for children yoga, beginner exercise classes, advance hi impact aerobic classes and weight training classes, we had a small weight training area and could barely keep up with demand, I started to train teachers and spread my workload. 

What’s been your most successful marketing strategy?  

Being honest, and true to my passion, serving the community for the benefit of the community, and believing in every decision I took, even when I had no tried and tested methods to compare it to. We had to lead, not follow! I still feel this mantra today, to: Lead, not Follow

What’s been the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome? 

Cashflow, cashflow cashflow and Egyptian red tape, as we still manufacture in our factory in Cairo, the perils of being a woman in a man’s world, a foreign woman at that! I just pressed on regardless and never let the frustrations of business and manufacturing hold me back….

And your proudest moment so far? 

Working alongside my daughter Charlotte and seeing my values in her, working together with completely different working methods that just complimented each other so well, together we are better and a true force to be reckoned with.

It’s my sheer and utter pleasure working with Charlotte, she taught me much, I’m unconventional non conforming and random, slightly off the hymn sheet, she’s methodical, reads everything and applies the laws of business to everything.

Why is work so important to you?  

The purpose of life is… a life of purpose. I love helping people, giving women what they need before they know they need it! Spreading the fitness mantra I followed all my life and sharing it. With my TLC fitness leggings giving women garments that boost confidence while allowing them to embrace their true selves, whatever the size, shape or contents.

Who inspires you?  

At the time Jane Fonda! God bless her messed up brain! But at the time, she was the only force we followed. Nowadays, not sure, not many women inspire me!! I need to think.

How do you balance your business with your family? 

I didn’t, during while bringing up my five children, quite simply, they came first, the business fitted around their schedules, now all five have left home,  and I can work 24/7, whenever I feel the need and urge.

I have crazy bouts of creativity, then times when it takes the back burner and business direction becomes my focus, business is on my brain all the time, though I can put it down when I like nowadays and not worry so much, but it’s in my blood day and night.

What are your three top pieces of advice for someone wanting to do something similar?

Believe in yourself, take risks and don’t be afraid of failing, adapt ideas and listen to your intuition, it’s usually right. Don’t let anyone put you off, and have humility and be prepared to really learn from your mistakes, with an open mind for change and growth.

Find out more about TLC Sport.