It took frustration from a family member for Phebe Liston and her husband, Scott, to hatch their business idea. It was Phebe’s mum, Meg, who prompted the plan: in a bid to get healthy, she’d begun exercising and found nothing to wear that could support knee joint and back pain – either what was available for joint support didn’t stay put or was too restrictive. With Phebe working as a full-time physiotherapist in Melbourne and Scott working as a full-time graphic designer, they put their heads together and created a solution: Articfit, clever compression sportswear that gives targeted compression support while exercising, preventing further injury. Now it’s a fully-fledged business, and one that was chosen as a winner for our Lexus Start-up Competition.
Although both are from a non-business background, their combined career experience proved to be “pivotal” in coming up with designs for the product. Actually getting a prototype made was a different story.
“Our first step was to find someone who could help put our 2D designs into a real product,” Phebe explains. “Although Scott had experience in apparel manufacturing, we realised to create the effect we needed (targeted compression zones), we would have to use circular knitting machines, which is a whole other ball game.”
Although the founders found a contact in Melbourne who could help them get their heads around this new technology, it sent them further afield.
“[Our contact] helped us realise that the technology to develop them wasn’t available in Australia and that is when we then had to go offshore to China, which had its own challenges.”
But that wasn’t the pair’s biggest obstacle, according to Phebe.
“[The biggest difficulty was] gaining credibility initially,” Phebe explains. “This was helped after I was a semi-finalist in the Women’s Weekly Qantas Women of the Future competition for our tights, as people started to realise, ‘Wow, these guys must be onto something…’.
“Competing with the big activewear brands is always difficult, but we are starting to find our way to niches within the alpine sports, in particular skiing and trail running, which are sports that are commonly associated with joint issues.”
Now working with professional athletes across the skiing and mountain biking industry, the pair has seen the impact of their product in a professional context. The team has also developed its own strategies of research and development: while “finding their way” initially meant brainstorming and researching online, followed by consulting their team of legal support or accounts to see whether ideas were viable, Phebe and Scott have since started seeking advice from expert contacts directly related to the sports industry.
“This year, we have started working with a mentor through the Australian Sports Tech Network [ASTN],” Phebe says. “After only a few sessions with him, we have already learnt so much and have several things in motion for this year that are completely left field to where we thought we might be heading; he really challenges us to think outside the square.”
Of course, the young founders are still learning too. As a doer, Phebe’s hunger for getting things done is her strength as an entrepreneur, but also, she says, her weakness too.
“Personally, I need to learn to be less impulsive,” she explains. “I seem to always want to get things ticked off my list ASAP and have this constant feeling that I should always be working on something. I have realised that I need to learn to acknowledge that some things just take longer than you want them to, especially when they are out of your control.”
Rather than consider the uphills as daunting, Phebe sees it a different way.
“The fact that we are working on something we are truly interested in and passionate about, it can become quite addictive,” she says. “It’s the feeling of the unknown, the what-if and the unexpected direction changes that keep it exciting.”