Life & Culture

No gym? She fixed it

When we locked down last March many Orthodox women found their usual exercise routine wasn't possible, as they didn't have suitable clothes for running outside. Batsheva Netzer set out to design a solution.


For most women, figuring out what to wear for a run in the park is not a problem thanks to the explosion of fashionable active wear brands. But it’s a dilemma for many Orthodox women, who won’t wear tight-fitting tops and lycra leggings.

When the gyms closed during the first lockdown, Batsheva Netzer, a nutritionist who is Orthodox, panicked. Going to the gym daily had become her lifeline since her father passed away five years ago. And then in March her father’s younger brother died suddenly, throwing her life into further turmoil, when she needed exercise more than ever. How would she cope, without being able to exercise outdoors? So she decided to develop her own brand of modest sportswear, including a “weightless” sports skirt to be worn over leggings.

“It was always in my head to do this, as I thought ‘why isn’t there anything out there?’ but I never really did anything about it till lockdown,” she says. “I got used to a level of active wear from Nike and Lululemon [for the gym] so I knew exactly what I was looking for.”

Sportswear has come a long way since her teenage days in the 90s, when any old cotton t-shirt, hoodie and tracksuit would do. “Once you start wearing the technical materials available today you can’t go back,” she observes. “No more sweat patches that leave unsightly marks, or leave you damp. I wanted to create a skirt that was so obviously sportswear. It had to be super light, sweat wicking and waterproof.” And so b7active was born, its message to women to: “stand out, blend in”.

She firmly believes in the concept of “enclothed cognition,” a term coined by Hajo Adam and Adam D. Galinsky, to describe the effect which clothing has upon a person’s functioning abilities. “Buying the right sportswear is really an investment in your wellbeing,” she says. “When you look good you feel good, which motivates you to work out and feel great.”

A gifted artist, she always enjoyed sketching dresses when she was growing up. The challenge now was to create a flattering, stylish design, before finding the right manufacturer. It was an intensely busy period for the mother of five, as many of her clients from her weight loss consultancy were struggling in lockdown, turning to her for support, while she was grieving for the loss of her uncle. Plus she was home-schooling the youngest three of her five children. Launching b7active turned out to be a healthy distraction.

“My uncle lived on my road and was like my second dad. Creating this business was an outlet in itself. It got me through such a dark time.”

Taking advantage of the government’s Bounce Back loan scheme, she found a reputable manufacturer to produce her highly specified requirements. Realising that a skirt alone would not be a business model, she extended the line to include a t-shirt, hoodie and baseball cap. Recognising the needs of her Orthodox client base, the t-shirt is long sleeved, not too fitted while still lightweight and the baseball cap is stretchy, designed to cover all of a woman’s hair. The idea is for the activewear to double as fashionable daywear so it can be worn while out and about, before heading to the gym, or for a run.

In the summer she went with her Italian husband and children to her in-laws in the Dolomites, to test the range while performing extreme sports, such as white-water rafting. The clothes passed the test in time for launch just before Lockdown Two. The response has been very encouraging: “So many people have told me that since buying my activewear their workouts are enhanced in terms of speed and endurance.” She is now producing leggings that match the sports skirt, while also creating a summer t-shirt and skirt.

She has always been inspired by healthy living, through nutrition and exercise. Her motivation started young, when she was just 14 and overweight. She was determined to get to a healthy weight by the age of 16, which she did thanks to a disciplined approach to food and exercise. She knew then that this would be her career path. Aged 18, she was married, followed by having her first two babies in the next two years. Undeterred she went to night school at Barnet College to study diet and nutrition. By the time she was 21 she had her first client, and has not looked back since.

Her busy days are now split between her two passions — food and fashion — inspiring people to look and feel good through healthy eating and regular exercise. Recently, on a whim, she created her @b7diet Instagram account, including no-frills recipes, just as a way of sharing healthy food ideas within her community.

It became so popular that it attracted people from Israel and America who wanted her to help them with their food plans. Until then she had been seeing clients only face-to-face but soon realised that she could help a lot more people with weight loss globally if she went online. This has turned out to be especially important during the pandemic, when many people have been feeling low and meeting in person isn’t possible.

Monday is her busiest day — as people want a weigh-in from the weekend — when her phone is flooded with amusing pictures of toes on weighing scales. “Even before corona I was already online,” she notes. “I insist on seeing a picture of the scales as it is a more empowering way of dealing with weight loss or gain.” Her biggest advice for effective weight loss is to stop nibbling, which is especially difficult these days, as people are spending more of their lives at home than ever before.

“That grazing effect takes away the focus. If you have had a good day but you’ve been picking, you typically won’t lose weight.”

Many women have careers in their 20s, and families later on, but she has done it the other way around. She remembers her 20s as a big blur of babies, sleepless nights and hard work. Turning 40 later this month, she feels empowered and ready to take on this new challenge, aiming to build an international brand, not just for Jewish women but for anyone who just wants to “blend in” for whatever reason they choose.

“The fact that my company is enhancing the mental and physical well-being of women and girls worldwide is my dream come true,” she says. “I did everything the wrong way round, but it has worked for me.”

Instagram: @b7active

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