Contra garments are designed to be comfortable and practical for a range of body shapes – and are not for profit
Contra garments are designed to be comfortable and practical for a range of body shapes – and are not for profit

Case study: fair wage, fair deal – and profit

Bucking big business manufacturing practices is worth the risk, says a new ethical sports brand Contra

Sports clothing brand Contra launched at the end of last year, the aim to manufacture fitness clothing without gender-specific colours, in sizes suitable for those just starting out on a fitness journey, and with advertising that seeks to support, instead of shame. And to do it using top-quality, sustainable fabrics in European factories that pay fair wages.

A project two years in the making, the not-for-profit describes itself as still a “total experiment”, but it is one its founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt CBE, believes is worth the risk. 

Sinton-Hewitt is also the founder of parkrun, a free measured weekly 5k run/jog/walk route, and all profits from Contra go back into parkrun.

More than three million people across the globe have participated in the event since it was launched in 2004. He says the idea for Contra clothing was based on hundreds of conversations with people taking part in parkrun events.

The former marketeer feels sports brands exclude individuals by making clothes in sizes that only cater for the ‘average’ person, with the design failing to reflect different body shapes. “It is a barrier, and a barrier that exists purely for the profit of big business at the expense of everyday people,” he says. “It was time for a sports brand that is ethical, inclusive and fair; that doesn’t shame people into physical activity, but supports them and puts people over profit.”

Sinton-Hewitt was also concerned about the supply chain and purchasing practices of some businesses in this sector. “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 workers to dangerous conditions.”

Contra factories are all based in Europe, and Sinton-Hewitt and the product designer visit the factories regularly. He wanted to build a brand that was based on equality for the individuals making the clothes as well as for the people who wear them.

“Big business has constantly used lack of demand as a reason for making choices that support their own profitability. I’ve believed for some time that a brand that supported people over profit would work and I wanted to test it.”

The range includes tops, base layers and leggings, which are available for men and women, sized B-K. Product details explain the garment’s origin and material – and all profits go to parkrun.

“Maybe it isn’t possible to create and sustain a clothing brand with the values I’m passionate about. It’s certainly never been done. But I want to try.”

Tied to activity

When parkrun was established by Paul Sinton-Hewitt in London’s Bushy Park in 2004, his mission was to create a healthier, happier planet.
The free weekly walk/jog/run now takes place in 24 countries around the world from the Rocky Mountains to Russia, New Zealand to Namibia, Stockholm to Singapore. 

Events take place every Saturday morning, with a Sunday 2k organised in some locations for junior runners. 

All events are organised by a group of dedicated, local volunteers who mark out the course, direct and time runners. The format of parkrun is simple: register once (at www.parkrun.com), print your barcode, then turn up and take part wherever you want, whenever you want. Those who are registered are sent their results following the event.

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