It started with the dream of empowering women in the outdoors which, through sheer determination, became a reality.
From a small tenement flat in Edinburgh to a vast HQ in North Wales, ACAI is the first of its kind outdoorwear brand made by women for women.
ACAI Co-Founder and Creative Director Kasia Bromley moved to the UK from Poland in 2004, with one ambition: To make it in the world of fashion. After securing a place at Edinburgh University, Kasia studied hard. Upon her graduation she swapped the North for the South to work for the king of haute couture, Alexander McQueen. Here she was selected to be part of the team that would go on to create the famous Butterfly Dress.
It was a defining moment for the young designer. Kasia developed her first real sense of the direction she wanted to pursue. “It was an honour to work in the McQueen fashion house where I learnt so much, but for me fashion is more than creating works of art that hang in museums. I am passionate about designing clothes that are functional, serve a purpose and can be enjoyed by thousands of women.”
In pursuit of her dream, Kasia joined Scotland based cycling brand Endura, where she began designing men’s mountain biking garments. Immersed in the sector and with her passion for womenswear burning ever strong, Kasia identified the opportunity to develop an activewear brand specifically for women.
"There was a real ‘pink and shrink’ mentality towards women’s outdoorwear at the time," said Kasia, adding, "So many brands were just looking for a quick and easy fix.
“Companies would just take male clothing and tweak it slightly to make it more feminine i.e. smaller and pink or purple! There was no real consideration of female form, individuality or expression. I took it upon myself to start designing active garments that I felt were relevant and desirable for women.”
It was while working in Edinburgh that Kasia was to meet her future husband and business partner Joe, who at the time was working as an offshore engineer. When the opportunity to work in South Korea arose, the adventurous couple grabbed it with both hands and headed overseas.
During their time here, Kasia had the freedom to focus on her passion and she got to work designing a range of outdoorwear specifically for the female form. Thus, the first line was created entirely on her sketchpad and a single sewing machine she'd bought from a local vendor. Not long after, ACAI was officially born, with this very pair of Skinny Outdoor Trousers at the heart of the collection.
When the oil recession hit in February 2016, and with a baby on the way, Kasia and Joe decided to return to the UK. Armed with a small pot of savings, they registered ACAI.
Conversations with manufacturers were opened but, as a start-up company, gaining trust was difficult.
Eventually, with a range of samples in hand, ACAI was launched at London trade show PURE where the couple secured their first order. Just two weeks later at Moda in Birmingham ACAI was picked up by an agent who got the brand listed in House of Fraser in their very first season.
The excitement of being listed in a major retailer was quickly replaced with the reality of the challenges, with strict supplier guidelines and low margins seeing the couple face financial struggles.
In July 2017, with all savings drawn, Kasia and their young son moved in with her parents in Poland as Joe picked up a temporary job in sales, staying on his sister’s couch and working on ACAI in the evenings and weekends.
“It was an incredibly difficult time”, said Kasia. “We sold our furniture and car, with Joe picking up a run-down lime green Ford Fusion which we affectionately called the ‘Snot Rocket’ in order to get to work.”
Unphased, the couple grew more determined.
Identifying growing interest in their product Kasia, still based in Poland, taught herself how to successfully promote ACAI via social media with the help of her beloved brother, as Joe fulfilled orders every morning before work.
By the end of August 2017, having sold out the first batch of the original Skinny Outdoor Trousers, Kasia returned to the UK.
Orders were now flying in.
Just as things were looking up, the couple hit another obstacle as cash flow challenges saw them unable to pay the balance for the stock. Refused help from the bank and with all borrowing options exhausted, they opened pre-orders.
It was a risky strategy but within 12 hours of contacting subscribers, they had enough to pay for the delivery.
The Outdoor Skinnies had sold out again by February.
It was a major turning point for the company.
The Skinny Outdoor Trousers continued selling at great speed, enjoying incredible customer feedback. It was clear women wanted outdoor walking trousers that are stylish, flattering and would help them feel more confident in the outdoors.
Spurred on, Kasia expanded the range introducing a greater choice of colours, sizes and lengths, along with new styles and products to better serve all women.
Since the web launch in February 2017 ACAI has enjoyed remarkable growth with a 2000% increase in revenue. The company that started on a dining room table now operates from a warehouse facility in North Wales and in 2019 secured £350,00 investment from respected business figures, to underpin the next phase of expansion.
“It’s an exciting time for ACAI” said Co-Founder and Managing Director, Joe Bromley. “We have an incredible product that is making a measurable difference to women. Customer feedback is hugely positive, and our team is determined to continue pushing the boundaries of women’s outdoorwear.
“Women have been a secondary thought in the outdoor activewear sector for too long. It’s our mission to revolutionise the face of the global female outdoorwear market and play a pivotal role in encouraging women all over the world to spend more time in the great outdoors.”
ACAI Outdoorwear aims to inspire and empower women in the outdoors, providing women with stylish, well fitted and functional outdoor clothing designed with their body in mind.