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Q&A: Stella Heng, co-founder Sports Philosophy

Renee Waters
08 August 2016

Sports Philosophy encapsulates two key movements at the moment: athleisure and altruism. The new brand offers premium activewear in a market that is booming (just this weekend Mintel revealed that sportswear sales in the UK would hit a record £7bn this year) and the business is also a vehicle for its own charity, the Freedom for Children Foundation, that fights child labour. It co-founder Stella Heng speaks to contributing editor Renée Waters.

Tell us how your brand came to be?

Sports Philosophy started with the idea of developing a new corporate concept whereby a company would be both for-profit and non-profit. The aim was to create a business which seeks to directly influence and improve environments it affects. Being passionate about fighting child labour, we decided to enter fashion; an industry that is widely affected by this issue. With all our founders taking great interest in sports and fitness, we realised that our concept did not exist in the sportswear market and, as a result, Sports Philosophy and our own charity, the Freedom for Children Foundation were born. Our focus is specifically on luxury athleisure which is an attractive niche and is becoming increasingly popular amongst consumers.

Sports Philosophy

Stella Heng and Matthias Tietze

What do you both [co-founders Stella Heng and Matthias Tietze], bring to the label?

Matthias brings a very strong banking and financial planning background as well as a real passion for campaign against child labour. He also helps with negotiating various contracts and is responsible for expanding the business overseas.

I lead the creative direction of the brand – from marketing and branding to the prints and lines we chose for each collection. Having trained as a lawyer, it was a steep learning curve, with lots of ups and downs, but definitely all worth it!

Sports Philosophy

10% of profits go to Freedom for Children

Why have you selected the ethos of a brand with a charitable effort, ending child labour?

The idea of fighting child labour initially came from one of our co-founders Wolfgang Spiess-Knafl. It seemed incomprehensible to us that in our modern world over 160 million children are in some form child labourers. We felt that fighting child labour was left to underfunded charities and corrupt governments whereas it is our hunger for consumerism and profit that significantly aggravates the problem.

The collapsed factories in Bangladesh in which many children died were a real eye opener. Eager to make a difference, we founded Sports Philosophy and subsequently our own charity, the Freedom for Children Foundation. At least 10% of our profits are dedicated to our charity. It is our proactive approach to fighting for change which clearly sets us apart from any other brand, not just in luxury sportswear, and we are very proud of that.

Who are the Sports Philosophy consumers?

The Sports Philosophy customer is a strong, intelligent, health-conscious and independent modern man or woman, who cares about quality and style, as well as where their clothes come from and the potential impact on the environment and other communities. He/she runs from a pilates class, straight into a board meeting or goes to an intense bootcamp followed by brunch on the weekend. Our clothes are designed to help you through your workout and beyond.

Where can we find/purchase Sports Philosophy at the moment?

You can find the whole collection on our website, as well as a couple of stockists including Fashercise, Active in Style, Fitique, and Pretty Active, as well as a store in Cannes. We also had a pop-up in the Old Street Underground in June!

Sports Philosophy

What makes your product special compared to other athleisure products?

Firstly, the quality of our products – we pick the finest Italian performance fabrics we can find so all our collections. Further, we spend countless days and nights coming up with designs that give our clothing a fashionable edge. Our reflective artwork on our women’s compression leggings, for example, is absolutely unique in the market and great for night time running.

Finally, as described earlier, at least 10% of the profits from Sports Philosophy go to our own charity, the Freedom for Children Foundation. This clearly sets us apart from any other brand, not just in the luxury sportswear market.

Give detail on the collaborations with athletes and fitness leaders

We recently collaborated with fitness blogger of the moment – Zanna van Dijk. We have been working with Zanna from even before Sports Philosophy was officially launched and as a collaboration, it really just made sense to work with someone who lives in activewear!

Who will you be looking for to join the company as it grows?

We like people who complement our skill set and can help us grow our business. Running a start-up is not always easy. As a young and fast moving company anyone who joins the team needs to be able to keep up with the pace and feel like an owner. You may have your expertise in a certain area but you need to be able assume other responsibilities, which may be out of our comfort zone, as well. So far we have been very fortunate with everyone who has supported us and we hope we can find more individuals with a strong entrepreneurial spirit as we expand our business.

What are future plans for the brand?

We would like Sports Philosophy to be a global brand, with beautiful stores all over the world, including a big flagship store in London! In fact, we are currently considering to launch Sports Philosophy in Latin America.

We also hope that the Freedom for Children programme will become a big success in improving lives and eradicating child labour. And also encouraging other brands to support our cause or take more responsibility for the communities they affect.

Images: Gary Morrisroe for Sports Philosophy

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