Fitness buffs and unapologetic gym bros know the angular shark logo when they see it. It’s Gymshark. Though the brand has only been around for a decade, its impact on the world of fitness apparel has been major, helping the UK-based brand enjoy cushy unicorn status.
Though you may know the logo, there’s a lot you probably don’t know about Gymshark. Take, for instance, that the billion-dollar brand was started in a garage by a teenager. Or perhaps that Pizza Hut plays a mighty role in the brand’s truly unique history. Yes, really.
To learn more about the humble beginnings and impressive success of Gymshark, check out these 10 things you need to know about the super-popular athletic apparel brand.
1. Gymshark was created by a teenager and his high school friends.
Then 19-year-old Ben Francis and a group of his high-school friends founded Gymshark in 2012. The UK-based company may only be a decade old, but it has quickly emerged as a major player worldwide for athletic apparel, holding its own with big names like Nike, Adidas and Champion in gyms around the world.
2. The brand was the 19-year-old founder’s seventh attempt at building a fitness brand.
Prior to founding Gymshark, Francis developed six other fitness brands and two fitness apps, trying to find his way into the market. The apps, called Fat Loss Abs Guide and iPhysique, entered the top charts in the UK—though Francis humbly says on his website that competition back in 2011 “wasn’t particularly high.” Regardless, the moderate success of these apps led him to continue with his entrepreneurship, eventually founding Gymshark.
3. The Gymshark name was a “totally arbitrary” decision.
According to a February 2021 interview with Esquire, the name Gymshark has, well, no meaning aside from being an inexpensive domain. Francis told the website, “It was a totally arbitrary decision—a £3.50 domain name from GoDaddy. I just thought it sounded quite cool.”
4. The brand initially sold vitamins, not apparel.
The Gymshark brand wasn’t always a destination for fitness apparel. Instead, the brand got its footing in the fitness community by selling supplements. At the time, Francis couldn’t afford the minimum order quantity required by UK distributors to handle all parts of the business himself. To get around the financial hurdle, he decided to drop ship, which is when a retailer sells a product for a small mark-up then purchases the item directly from a third-party manufacturer at a lower price. In the model, the third party handles order shipping directly to the customer while the retailer acts as an order hub and customer service. Apparel would become part of the Gymshark brand in 2013, a full year after the brand’s founding.
5. Francis paid for early Gymshark clothing operation by working as a Pizza Hut delivery driver.
In Gymshark’s early days, Francis was making £5 an hour at Pizza Hut—or about $6 plus tips. Much of that money funded the early days of Gymshark, paying for the drop ship supplements and manufacturing materials for clothing.
6. The first Gymshark pieces were made out of Francis’ parent’s garage.
Francis says the first pieces of Gymshark apparel took about 2 years to get right—and he did the development himself. The founder learned how to screen print T-shirts from a friend and learned sewing skills from his grandmother. From there, he set up shop in his parent’s garage and got to producing pieces.
7. The brand utilized “influencers” and social media marketing before it was even a thing.
At the time Francis was first developing Gymshark apparel, he and his friends were obsessed with fitness YouTubers. Francis told Esquire that he sent pieces to his favorite “influencers” not because he “wanted anything,” but because he “thought it would be cool if they liked it.” This was largely before the advent of social media marketing as a viable brand-building tool and significantly before the word “influencer” was in daily conversation. But the move helped Gymshark gain a following in the fitness community, with popular YouTubers showcasing the gear organically.
8. Gymshark’s products are sold in 180 countries via websites in 13 languages.
Gymshark has no brick-and-mortar stores, relying on direct-to-consumer sales via websites in 13 different languages. The company ships to 180 countries, and relies on the internet and social media to market its products to consumers.
9. The brand was initially aimed at men, but approximately two-thirds of sales were to women in 2020.
Though the apparel brand was created for male fitness buffs, Gymshark’s target consumer has evolved over the years, partly thanks to the athleisure trend and social media. According to The Economist, about two-thirds of the brand’s sales in 2020 were to women, who experts say are bigger spenders and more likely to buy based on social media’s influence.
10. As of 2020, Gymshark is worth an estimated $1.3 billion.
Not even a decade into its founding, Gymshark was reportedly valued at $1.3 billion by Forbes. That’s more than the estimated net worths of fashion brands like Forever 21 ($1.2 billion), Valentino ($869 million) and Patagonia ($769 million).