Over the past couple of years, as I’ve taken a step back from the day to day operations at parkrun, I’ve been working on a new project—something separate to parkrun but inspired by the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with folk at parkrun events all around the world over the last 14 years.
I’ve always wanted parkrun to be inclusive. To be encouraging and supportive. To remove as many barriers as possible to physical activity. And I’m immensely proud of what we have achieved together at parkrun: the world’s biggest running event positively impacting the health and happiness of more than three million people so far.
But one barrier has persisted. One that we’ve not been able to overcome through parkrun.
Too often sports brands exclude individuals before they’ve had a chance to get started. They make clothes in sizes that only cater for the average person and if they do offer any bigger sizes they insensitively refer to them as ‘plus sizes’. Even worse the design isn’t changed to reflect different body shapes and so kit is either unflattering or doesn’t fit at all.
Worryingly, the process for making this kit is often horrendously exploitative with many factories in the Far East employing questionable practices, paying the lowest wages and exposing their workers to dangerous conditions. This is something that has always made me feel really uncomfortable.
The role these brands play in defining the accepted image of an active person is huge. Bombarding us with constant advertising, the message is to try harder, sweat more and push further if we are to be like the fit, toned and ‘beautiful’ people in their marketing. The implication is that if physical activity doesn’t come naturally or easily to us, we’re probably just not trying hard enough.
And for all of this—a process that is exploitative, a product that is not inclusive, and advertising that shames us rather than supports us—we are asked to pay a premium price: because we are made to believe that subscribing to this narrative is the only way we can become fitter and happier. Not doing so is to be lazy, unfit and unhappy—with only ourselves to blame.
14 years of talking to hundreds and hundreds of different people has reinforced to me the damage that this approach is doing to the self confidence and motivation of those taking their first active steps. It is a barrier, and a barrier that exists purely for the profit of big business at the expense of everyday people.
But what if there was a different way?
What if there was a sports brand where the kit is ethically produced, using quality fabric and the best design, manufactured in European factories paying staff a fair wage. A range of clothing in sizes that fit everyone, without gender-specific colours, and with advertising that seeks to support and understand, instead of shaming and patronising. And with all of the profit going to parkrun.
This is the project I’ve been working on, one that I hope will help more people believe exercise and activity is just as much for them as it is for everyone else, one that respects all people equally, including the people that make it as well as the people that wear it.
Big business has constantly used lack of demand as a reason for making choices and decisions that support their own profitability. I have believed for some time that a brand that supported people over profit would work and it is something I have wanted to test.
I’m delighted to say I am very close to launching a new brand that does all of these things. This is a personal mission, driven by my frustration with an unacceptable injustice: that sports brands still exclude the majority of people from physical activity. I want to create a sports brand that stands for inclusivity and fairness.
Later this month we expect to go on sale with the first pilot range. We’re starting with a small number of items to test and see if there is a market for what I believe in. The range includes a performance short-sleeve, long-sleeve, base layer, tights, capri, tank, cotton t-shirt and a hoodie—all available in ten sizes for both men and women.
I’m really excited about this project and can’t wait to share it with you when the online store goes live.
Maybe the established sports brands are right. Maybe it simply isn’t possible to create and sustain a clothing brand with the values I’m passionate about. It’s certainly never been done before.
But I want to try.
I hope you’ll join me.
Paul Sinton-Hewitt, CBE