How do you react when an unexpected invite to attend a luxury world-class tennis event falls into your inbox? Gasp for breath? Jump around like an excited kid? Well, that’s exactly how I reacted when I received an invitation by Henman Communications to attend an exclusive media day out at the prestigious Boodles Tennis—one of the UK’s best-kept secrets in the British tennis summer calendar in the lead up to the championships at Wimbledon. What was even more exciting was the chance to review the luxe tennis collections of PlayBrave—the official tournament sportswear partner of The Boodles.
On Thursday, 29th June, I was up nice and early to prepare for this special day out, which took place on the stunning grounds of Stoke Park Country Club, Spa & Hotel in Buckinghamshire. I managed to fit in a 40-minute run that morning, as part of my fitness regime, without fully knowing what gruelling activities to expect as part of the media clinic. I received an itinerary outlining a clear and concise schedule of events—starting with coffee and refreshments, a visit to the PlayBrave tent to get kitted out and, wait for it, ‘the media coaching clinic on the grass courts with PlayBrave’ led by tennis coach, Matt Bell. Oh, Boy! Had I known Matt would have us shuttle running and testing our stamina in vigorous tennis rallying, I would have ditched the morning run. Nonetheless, PlayBrave Managing Director, Simon Dowell, ensured we, including myself and other influencers and journalists, looked the part and were ready for action in a piece from the PlayBrave collection. I wore PlayBrave’s Nicole Technical v-neck tee and Monique Technical skort in white/light blue. It is no wonder PlayBrave has a growing reputation for being a premium sportswear brand-I pointed out to Simon when deciding on an outfit to wear that the entire collection is tactile and my final outfit choice felt so comfortable and lightweight when on the court. As part of the sponsorship deal with The Boodles, PlayBrave provided clothing for the ball girls and stewards for the five-day event and the brand is recognised in some of the very best clubs in England including Wigmore Sports, The Queen’s Club, and The Hurlingham Club to name just a few.
Style Icon Nat Wearing PlayBrave Nicole Technical V-Neck Tee & Monique Technical Skort
PlayBrave – Style Icon Nat and Jenny Pacey
PlayBrave – Style Icon Nat and Matt Bell
PlayBrave – [Left To Right] Wayne Gordon, Kevin Palmer, Alicja Jasnikowska, Elsbeth Carr, Style Icon Nat, Simon Dowell [PlayBrave MD], Matt Bell, Jenny Pacey
Once the tennis coaching was over, we showered and changed in preparation for a gourmet lunch which included champagne and a three-course meal. Simon was an excellent host from the get-go having pulled out all the stops to ensure we had a great time. I was eager to find out more about the PlayBrave concept, so I secured a brief interview with Simon before I watched the scheduled tournament.
PlayBrave Starter – Crab, Prawn and Avocado Terrine
PlayBrave Main – Grilled Fish With Vegetables
PlayBrave Dessert – Cherry and Chocalate Ganache
PlayBrave, launched in November 2010, was founded by Simon Dowell, who has worked in the sporting industry for over 20 years. I asked Simon what inspired his creative vision. “During a winter walking holiday in the Lake District, I was kitted out in a very thin merino t-shirt and a thicker merino gilet and a shell jacket. It was -10 to -15 degrees. I felt so comfortable in these extreme conditions. I then went back home to my local tennis club and the head-coach was sitting in several jackets about to go to court. He could barely swing a racket.” Says Simon.
Simon then had a eureka moment in which he realised that “…in tennis no one is making garments that will enable someone to play tennis in the winter.” He “came up with an idea for a brand creating performance layers for the tennis player so they can play all year around.”
Simon mentioned that he came across Wigmore Sports on Wigmore Street, which, according to Simon “…is the best racket sports shop that I have come across – a real shrine to tennis.” The synergy between Wigmore Sports and Simon’s idea of “playing brave” felt right to Simon who then approached the buyer with his brand concept. As someone who loves to watch sport and played a lot of sport “playing brave is all about performing in the big moments, when the pressure is on, we all love to watch someone under pressure, playing brave is all about handling the pressure.”
I was particularly interested in the brand design. Simon revealed that he was involved in the design of the product, having emphasised the shield as a part of it. I had not realised the prominent symbolism of the shield, which sums up the story behind the brand in a nutshell.
“The shield protects you from the elements and also from the pressures and challenges of life.” Says Simon. The chink out of the shield in the top edge of it represents that “you are not always going to win.” According to Simon “Behind every great sportsman, there are painful defeats, but those defeats drive you on to become a better sportsman, so it’s not all about winning.” I found this truly inspirational and something we can all relate to, not just sportsmen and sportswomen hence my appreciation of the brand. I was rather curious about the circle in the shield. “There is a circle at the centre of the shield. This represents focus – when you are playing a sport it’s important that you are focused on the moment. If you are distracted in any way you won’t perform well. The ball/circle in the middle is half on the diagonal line and half off the line representing the fine line between winning and losing.” Says Simon.
In light of Simon’s passion for his brand, he also comes across as a man of integrity, having expressed some of the ethical values he applies to his business. “The factories we use are based in Portugal. My only issue would be to avoid any factory that is exploiting people in any way.” Simon also added that he “has been using the same family-run factory he discovered in Portugal since PlayBrave launched in 2010. Good quality and attention to detail are paramount for Simon hence his long-term relationship with the factory. As a wise man once said to Simon, which makes logical sense “A sewing machine is a sewing machine wherever it is located, whether the particular machinist is producing your clothes in the UK, Portugal or China. Actually, it doesn’t matter as long as they are skilled and using the right fabrics.” That said, Simon is also keeping an eye out for the right factory that can produce garments for PlayBrave in the UK. “I wanted to produce everything in the UK. What I discovered, which was disappointing, was the fact that there isn’t the expertise for producing sportswear in the UK or there certainly wasn’t at that time. In the UK, we have a tremendous heritage in tailoring, shirting. Garments where the seams are hidden, stitching is on the inside. With sportswear, stitching is highly visible. There wasn’t the expertise to get that quality produced in the UK.”
Overall, I had a fantastic day out, and it was nice to travel outside of London. Throughout the rest of the afternoon, I got to watch some great tennis between Nick Kyrgios (AUS) and Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER) followed by Alexander Zverev (GER) and Thanasi Kokkinakis (AUS). While watching the matches, I thought back to one of Simon’s comments in regard to an essential part of the product design “I had an idea of functionality that you need as a tennis player – when you are reaching up to serve you don’t want restriction, you want your swing to be completely liberated from your clothing.” Simon Dowell – PlayBrave MD.
PlayBrave Boodles – Nick Kyrgios [AUS]
PlayBrave Boodles – Philipp Kohlschreiber [GER]
PlayBrave Boodles – Alexander Zverev
PlayBrave Boodles – Thanasi Kokkinakis [AUS]
The grand finale took place in the Players’ Enclosure in the form of afternoon tea. I would so do this all over again. Special thanks to Richard at Henman Communications and PlayBrave for such a wonderful experience! Next stop – tennis lessons!
PlayBrave – Afternoon Tea