BOXING PUNCHES UP ACTIVEWEAR INTEREST

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Step into the ring.
A flurry of boxing-related movies and a new crop of female fighters are making boxing more appealing to women, who are punching, jabbing and ducking in their health clubs. Some are also dressing the part, wearing tank-tops, baggy shorts or pants, and hooded tops.
Some feel the interest has also been spurred by Tae Bo workouts — last year’s fitness craze that combines self-defense, boxing and dance.
Whatever the reason, activewear makers and retailers are tying into the boxing trend. Everlast is hosting kickboxing demonstrations for shoppers, Fubu is courting an amateur female fighter and Danskin is using images of women kickboxing on new hang tags.
Photographer Larry Fink, who shot boxers for more than a decade before turning more of his attention to runway shows a few years ago, said the two worlds aren’t so far apart.
“They’re two different vanities — one built on muscle, the other on style,” he said. “They both have inherent violence and planned obsolescence.”
“The Hurricane,” “Fight Club” and “Play it to the Bone,” three movies released in the past five months, helped draw more attention to men’s boxing. Now a few female fighters are being spotlighted on the screen.
Tyrene Manson, an amateur fighter who wears Fubu, is one of three fighters profiled in “On the Ropes,” a movie that will air April 4 on The Learning Channel. The film won high marks at last spring’s Classically Independent Film Festival, an event sponsored by Dockers Khakis.
“Girlfight,” a film that focuses on an amateur female fighter and won the best dramatic film award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, debuts this fall. Adidas provided some of the workout wear for the film, said Karyn Kusama, the film’s screenwriter.
“We were purposely taking a backseat with the clothes,” she said. “The film nods toward realism. It’s an unglamorous take on feminism.”
Some better-known boxing names are also trying to raise awareness about the sport.
Muhammad Ali’s daughter, Laila, a pro boxer, inked a sponsorship deal with BUM Equipment in December. As part of the multiyear deal, she competes in the brand, appears in its advertising and makes special appearances to promote the product.
“From a worldwide standpoint, the exposure has been staggering,” said Steve Marra, vice chairman of SOS Management, which oversees the BUM brand. “We had a Shopko executive send us an article about the deal that he saw in Thailand.”
With Laila Ali’s first televised fight set to air next month, women’s boxing is expected to gain more credibility and publicity. She also appeals to BUM’s target audience — “independent, casual, performance-oriented women” between the ages of 17 and 35, Marra said.
She isn’t the only female fighter teaming up with an apparel company. Former boxing greats Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Roberto Duran, Archie Moore and Ingemar Johanson each have a daughter competing in the sport.
Having spoken with the women about sponsorship deals, George Horowitz, president and chief executive officer of Active Apparel Group, the maker of licensed Everlast apparel, said he is waiting to see which one becomes a standout.
Meanwhile, many women in area health clubs are already sparring.
Equinox and Crunch, two New York-based chains, each offer five different boxing classes. About 30 women — no men — turned out Tuesday afternoon for an hour-long “metromorphis” class, a kickboxing-inspired workout, at Equinox’s club at 541 Lexington Avenue.
Equinox’s members at its club in Scarsdale, N.Y., are enthusiastic about a pilot program that bows next month. Enrollment for “The Contenders Club,” an eight-week boxing program that culminates with an actual bout, is already sold out, said Carol Espio, exercise physiologist for Equinox. Women account for 20 percent of those enlisted.
To try to capitalize on the popular boxing look, Crunch now offers satin-looking shorts with the Crunch logo across the bottom in the $25 to $30 range, said Donna Cyrus, national group fitness director. About 300 pairs are sold each week — triple what used to sell a few months ago, Cyrus said.
Emily Woods, president and chief executive officer of J.Crew, is another advocate of the sport. As someone who boxes four or five times a week and has done so for more than 11 years, she said the interest among women should definitely continue.
“Aside from being impossibly hard and a great cardiovascular workout, it never gets boring,” she said. “Sparring with one person is completely different than sparring with another. There’s also a self-defense aspect that gives a sense of confidence.”
While volunteering recently at the Children’s Storefront in Harlem, a private school, Woods and a friend offered a kickboxing class for the students during recess. She said the girls were “so excited” about the prospect, they comprised 90 percent of the participants.
Everlast is the obvious choice to capitalize on the trend. In the past six months, Everlast’s product requests have doubled. Film companies aren’t the only ones looking for samples. The company has been shipping out apparel for such popular shows as “The Sopranos” and “Oz,” Horowitz said.
For its first “Everlast Week” at Gart Sports and Sportmart stores, Everlast will stage kickboxing demos in 12 locations this Saturday. For the April 1 opening of a Modells sporting goods store in Harlem, Everlast will set up a boxing ring outside the store on 125th Street. Kathy Collins, a pro boxer who has sponsored Everlast for the past few years, will be among the fighters sparring in the ring.
Everlast recently extended its sponsorship of the Heavyweight Explosion, monthly fights in New York, through the end of the year. As part of the deal, “the ring girls” — women who display a card with the number of the upcoming round — wear Everlast activewear or swimwear. The company is also offering the World Kickboxing Championship, which will be held April 1 at Crunch’s gym on Lafayette Street.
The company will also offer kickboxing demos on April 29 when Galyan’s Trading Co. opens its first store in Buffalo.
Non-boxing-oriented companies are also getting into the action.
Lucy.com, an e-commerce site that caters to active women, will post an online feature about kickboxing beginning April 7. It will be accompanied with four images of women wearing outfits appropriate for kickboxing, said Vicki Reed, marketing director.
Lucy.com decided to develop such an article since so many consumers wanted to know what to wear for the sport.
For its new sports bras, Danskin photographed women kickboxing because the sport is so “hot,” a company spokeswoman said. The new Supplex blend product, which will be in stores in June, has a mesh lining and is geared for activities like kickboxing that require more support, she added.
Burton, a Burlington, Vt.-based company that specializes in snowboarding, opted for an image of a female kickboxer to promote its women’s tour, a 13-city event that wraps up Saturday at Hunter Mountain. The icon also appeared on one of its women’s snowboards introduced last year.
“The dynamic gesture of the design and the powerful but distinctly feminine attitude were something that both women and men thought was pretty rad,” said Liam Maher, marketing manager for Burton. “They thought it characterized our women’s team, women’s product and the women’s tour pretty well.”

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