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In conversation with Ali Cotton of First Base

Walking up the tree-lined, boutique filled streets of Paddington, you’ll find First Base.

Opened just four weeks ago, the space is the first permanent home for the sports lifestyle brand which began in Bondi and has become a go-to for ethical women’s activewear and swimwear.

We sit down with founder and long-time yoga lover Ali Cotton on her no bullshit approach to business and balance, finding a husband at BodyMindLife and why she’s trading up profits to make a difference.

When did First Base take off? We launched with an idea and a concept but without a really solid business plan. I simply wanted to build a B to C company so we built a website and I ordered stock. A lot of stock. Too much stock. And when it arrived, I had no idea how the hell I was going to sell it all. We didn’t have lookbooks or many retail contacts so I sent out images from a campaign we had shot to a few bloggers - and Oracle Fox ending up writing a story on us and posting them. God bless Amanda Shadforth! (creator of Oracle Fox). Tuchuzy was on the phone the next day and the buyer wanted to see us within 24 hours. I’d left them so many messages in the weeks before I’d lost count. They placed an order almost on the spot and another a few weeks later for several hundred more garments. I remember thinking at the time, ‘how have they already sold out?’ but they had, and they continued to do so. The wholesale market for us exploded and helped spread the word of the brand. Once Tuchuzy were on board with the brand, other stores followed suit.

But now you’re setting up your own thing? I’ve always wanted to have our own set up and get back to my original plan of going direct to our customer so we could have that connection and dialogue. Wholesale can be really challenging because you get a lot of ‘feedback’ and it can take you off course trying to constantly please everyone. You have agents and stores putting in their requests for what they want you to do and you can end up making a heap of tank tops if you’re not careful. You’ve got to work hard to stay on your course and to do what you’re passionate about. We’ve sort of gone full circle and the new store in Paddington gives us a place to be able to fully deliver the brands complete vision and message.

How did you come to find yoga? I broke my back when I was 17. I was in hospital for weeks and then in a brace for a number of months, which lead to 10 years of chronic back pain and ongoing issues. When I moved to Sydney nine years ago, I wanted to make a big change and I was determined to find a way outside of medication to get out of pain. Physically I was not in a good place for a 27-year-old. I was working in Surry Hills and Googled yoga and BodyMindLife came up. I went to class the next day and Andrew Hampson was the teacher. I quickly started going religiously three or four times a week. Within a month I felt a massive difference . I remember bending over at work to pick something up one day and it was the first time in ten years I was able to do that without being in pain. It was a revolutionary moment. Since then yoga has become non-negotiable in my health routine.

And you met Andrew? Yep. I clocked Andrew straightaway and was like, OK, I’m committing to yoga. I’d be lying if I didn’t say he was some of the inspiration for going to class but initially it was solely because I thought he was the best teacher on the schedule and then maybe later because I thought he was a babe. We were married three years ago.

Tell us about sustainability and First Base? After a surf trip to Byron Bay, I had an epiphany moment that we could do so much more. It’s an ongoing process to continue to move towards sustainability and to be honest, it’s not easy as everything takes a lot of R and D and truly costs three to five times as much as non-sustainable alternatives. It does affect your bottom line, but I don’t see it as a choice anymore. Once you know what goes on behind the scenes in fashion from an environmental perspective you can’t unsee that. We’ve made the switch to 100% certified organic cotton and sustainable bamboo in our basics, only work with factories that are WRAP certified (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production), we use 78% recycled lycra in our activewear, recycled paper and 100% biodegradable materials in all our packaging and office supplies. Over the next couple of months we’re going to introduce an amazing recycling program where customers can drop off clothes that have reached the end of their lifespan, into our Paddington store, and we will facilitate the recycling of them and reward our customers for doing good too! We’re also supporting local non-profits like The Human Kind Project with Cool To Be Kind tees - 100% of profits go to the foundation, which works to empower women and educate those less fortunate than us.

What’s your approach to health and wellness? 80% healthy, 20% gin and cheese.

And work/life balance? As I’ve gotten older I’ve learnt not to be so damn hard on myself. If I’m tired, I stay in bed. If I’m really fresh I’ll do two classes in a day. If I’m thirsty I’ll drink some gin. I try to leave work at a reasonable hour and have some down time from it. Sometimes that works sometimes that doesn’t. You just sort of constantly go in and out of balance and that’s just life really. Oh and break rules and don’t take things too seriously.

Any other tips? Do you want to know the best life hack ever? Stop worrying about what other people think of you. It’s really none of your business anyway. Not being attached to what other people think of you is true freedom. Visit the beautiful new First Base store at 5/168 Oxford St, Paddington and see


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