Strike with compassion: a chat with Vehement boxing

The "Fight of the Century" is over now, and you could be forgiven for thinking that such a dull spectacle would be turning people away from boxing. However, away from the large sums of money and even larger egos of the professional scene, participation at club level has continued to grow, as it has done dramatically for the past few years. 

More and more people are discovering that boxing is great physical and mental exercise, and great fun, with boxing clubs and gyms being great hubs for bonding with your fellow pugilists.

Gone are the days when boxing is purely associated with brutish heavy weights senselessly pounding each other: as the amateur sport grows exponentially so does the appreciation of technical skill and tactical thinking. Nor can anyone try and claim boxing is an exclusively male pursuit: the rise of high profile champions such as Cecilia Brækhus has mirrored the increase in women participating at an amateur level, indeed, female participation is growing even more rapidly than it is amongst men.

And as the sport continues to grow so too does the number of vegans who want to get involved, and so it was only a matter of time before a company came along to cater to their needs.

Vehement launched with their first pair of vegan boxing gloves in 2013, and recently released a new line of products to cater for boxers, kickboxers, muay-thai and MMA fighters. We got in contact with them to discuss their goals as a company and how their veganism plays into their goals, and into boxing as a whole.

Hi! Who are the people behind Vehement? 
My name is Jan Lenarz, I founded Vehement two years ago because I needed vegan boxing gloves and the plastic ones on the market were of poor quality and/or ugly as hell. As a coach for branding and graphic designer it was easy for me to start a brand but developing the first batch of boxing gloves was tough. It took a while till I found a manufacturer that understood my ideas and had sweatshop-free working conditions.
I met my co-founder Maria at the Social Impact Lab in Berlin, a scholarship for social enterprises where she worked . She is a non-profit manager and could help me with a lot of things and liked the brand from the beginning. She is the CEO now.
 


You produce vegan boxing equipment, but are you vegan? If so how and when did you come to veganism? 
Maria and me are vegan, but not everyone involved is. All our products are vegan and will always be vegan, but I don´t define Vehement as a strict vegan company, because other things are as important for us: reduction of waste, sustainable banking and fair and healthy working conditions.
I became a vegetarian when I was 18, that was back in 1998. It was pretty uncommon in the small German city I grew up in, but as so often, music helped to convince me. Especially the German crossover band Thumb with the song Cavemen in Disguise made it click for me. Since then I ate veggie and later vegan.

 

What is your  background in boxing and fighting sports? 
I started Muay Thai in a youth center in a squat in Hamburg 10 years ago and trained at various dojos since then. Maria started kickboxing as she started to work at Vehement. I am not active in the scene nor do I watch pro fights. Me and all my friends do it for personal fitness and mental growth. The circus surrounding professional events is not what martial arts is for me. And I feel that most of our customers feel the same.



Though vegan-leathers and other materials have existed in fashion and sportswear for some time, boxing is particularly focused on leather, why do you think that is? 
It is only an image thing. A lot of trainers teach that leather is the only option because it is so durable. They don´t know that boxing gloves rarely break because of the material, but because of the stitching. If the overall quality is excellent you can use artificial leather as long as leather. Our faux-leather is called Battleskin. It is glued on a special fabric and there is no way of tearing that in training or a fight. 
We get a lot of emails of customers that showed our vegan boxing gloves to their trainers that couldn´t believe that it´s not leather. So I hope this will lead to an overall better image of artificial leather in the sports industry.

We get emails from customers that showed our gloves to their trainers and they couldn´t believe that it´s not leather.

You work with athletes who choose not to use leather or are vegans, do you find this is a minority position in the sport or are more people coming around to these ways of thinking? 
As big as the vegan hype is (at least in Germany) it is still and will stay a minority. As long as leather and meat is so dirt cheap people will not change their behaviour. Most people don´t even think about why meat is bad and so they don´t care. There is a huge amount of young people though that care about moral and environmental problems regarding a non-vegan lifestyle. And veganism has the potential to become more popular once the "hippie" image is gone and annoying show-off vegans become a minority. That´s actual one of the biggest problem of veganism. Lots of people that are into it start preaching it and don´t realize how much damage they do to this sustainable lifestyle. We get emails from a lot of people that say we are not militant enough about veganism. We think these people are part of the problem. But anyway, I am afraid that people will continue to exploit animals as long as it is affordable. But with offering stylish and cheap vegan sports equipment we can convince more people to make this better choice. We get a lot of emails of people that say that they are not vegan but like our products and the design. And I am totally fine with that. After all it doesn´t matter why people use vegan products, just that they do it. 

Some people that say that they are not vegan but like our products and the design. And I am totally fine with that. After all it doesn´t matter why people use vegan products, just that they do it.

Not only do Vehement remove the need for leather in boxing products, they also operate in a way as to maximize their sustainability. Here are a few of their business practices that let you know that you are buying from good people:

- All products are sweatshop-free
- All fight gear is vegan
- All cotton is organic
- Zero waste policy, no polybags
- Fair wages
- Sustainable banking
- No air cargo
- Donations to charities


How did you settle on the wolf as the logo for the company? 
Vehement is not a usual fight gear brand so we were not looking for a loud and garish logo, but a reflective, elegant but still martial one. I think the wolf is the best choice for that. The wolf´s connection to nature very close, living deep in the forests. I think that is very fitting.
 

 


You recently expanded your line of products, what do you plan to do next and what aspects of fightwear/equipment do you feel are really in need of vegan options?
Making even better boxing gloves, new shin-guards and MMA gloves was the most important thing for us. We plan to make rash guards and pads, but we also want to transform Vehement into a universal sports brand. A high-quality vegan running shoe would be something that most of our current customers could use, for example. Nearly all martial artists do fitness and running too, so these are the things we look into right now.
 

We want to transform Vehement into a universal sports brand


And finally, how did you feel about the "fight of the century?
It´s over already, but as I said, I am not interested in professional boxing. Most people involved are weird.
 


Vehement are currently selling their range of products online here.

If you are interested in boxing there are several boxing clubs around Oslo which you can try out and find the best one for you.

 

For any other boxing equipment, Fighter Sport on Storgata has a good selection and helpful staff.