Boxing Shorts: How Fight Label Is Bringing Fashion to the Ring

Rob Lancaster@RobLancs79Featured ColumnistApril 24, 2015

Amir Khan punches Devon Alexander during their welterweight bout Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
John Locher/Associated Press

When Amir Khan defeated Devon Alexander in Las Vegas, it wasn't just his display that dazzled in the ring.

The British boxer's performance at the MGM Grand last December, and his post-fight comments about wanting to fight Floyd Mayweather, certainly grabbed the attention of the media.

So, too, did his custom-designed kit.

In the build-up to the bout, Khan revealed he would wear a pair of shorts that included a 24-carat gold fabric used in the waistband. The material used put them at value somewhere in the region of £30K.

They were the creation of Sophie Whittam—the owner of Fight Label, a company that caters for luxury custom fight wear.

Back then, however, it was her first experience of working with a boxer: Khan had suggested she come up with some designs after they met at an event, and things just snowballed from there.

It actually snowballed into an avalanche, one she was not fully prepared for.

"Usually, Amir doesn't reveal his kit before a fight," Whittam said. "The first time you see it is when he walks to the ring.

"However, on either the Monday or Tuesday, all the press went to his suite (in Las Vegas). He mentioned then about how he couldn't wait to wear his shorts. That got people asking questions. He explained about them, and then the press said they needed to see them. 

"They eventually got them out, and people asked who had made them. They said it was me and that I was flying out to Las Vegas for the fight.

"From there, they found out my company name and started ringing the office. I was actually on the way to the airport, and they eventually managed to get hold of me. I was finding myself conducting interviews while I was actually boarding the plane.

"Then, from the morning I got there in Vegas, it was non-stop. The phone was constantly ringing to do interviews. It was madness."

It was a dramatic introduction to the sport for the Sheffield-based designer, and things have really gathered pace since.

Whittam has gone on to work with around 25 fighters. Among the list of customers are current and former world champions Kell Brook, Andre Berto and Billy Dib.

It was Whittam's choice to get involved in boxing. It already appears to have been a very, very wise one.

There are plans to start mass-producing training kits bearing the Fight Label logo, including shorts, gloves, boots and hand wraps.

Whittam already had another company, Sophie Costumes, which designs couture outfits for figure skaters.

It is tough to imagine two more contrasting worlds than ice skating and boxing. While one worries about landing a triple lutz, the other is more concerned with landing left hooks.

A self-confessed perfectionist ("I probably wouldn't want to work for me"), Whittam had to make a "brutal decision" at the age of 16 over which career path to take.

"As an ice skater you have a fairly short shelf life. There's always someone younger and better coming through. It is a cruel sport," she said. "Kids can grasp it fairly quickly and suddenly believe they are going to be Olympic champions. But I always had my head screwed on. I never had any delusions of becoming a world-famous skater.

"I was fashion crazy. With the hours needed for my college course, I couldn't skate, as well. Fashion took a hold of me, and once I learned to sew, I began to do costumes for my friends who were competing on the ice.”

A route into boxing came about through knowing someone in the fight game, but Whittam admits she had never before designed a pair of boxing shorts when she teamed up with Khan late in 2014.

He donated the golden pair worn against Alexander to a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, where 132 children were killed by Taliban gunmen last December, per Martin Domin of the Daily Mail.

She revealed that, depending on what material they are made of, the shorts can be washed and reused.

However, a lot of the fighters don't choose to do that, instead opting to have them framed. Whittam believes they are “worth a lot more when covered with someone's blood, sweat and tears.”

They are not just a canvas to design on but also a space to advertise. Per Aaron Flanagan of the Daily Mirror, Manny Pacquiao will earn as much as £1.5 million for adding sponsors' names on his shorts for his money-spinning showdown with Mayweather.

Real leather is apparently the pick of the materials to use, and you can then make additions to add a personal touch.

"We stuck around 4,500 Swarovski crystals on Brook's shorts (for the fight with Jo Jo Dan). I don't think I could have fitted any more on there, to be honest," Whittam said at her company headquarters.

“When Kell came out in those shorts, I felt proud. It was in my city, Sheffield, and that meant so much. That was so important, both for me and for Fight Label as a whole."

So how far could the designs actually go?

“We will pretty much make anything anyone wants. I know that no matter what they ask for, somehow, I will be able to do it," she replied.

“If your kit is really good, you feel really good. It's not just about taking the worry out of it for the boxer, it's about making them feel special.

"I don't worry about people's comments, either. So long as I like them, and so long as the boxer likes them, that's all that matters.”

Boxing is a sport that is all about the high rollers. Talent helps, of course, but so does gaining a reputation. It is all about making an impression, about getting yourself noticed.

To that extent, choosing what you wear can make a difference. As Whittam said, Fight Label has found "a nice little niche" in the market.

“Whether you're winning or losing, you have to fight with style," she said. “Boxing is now a fashionable sport. It goes hand-in-hand with the custom design. It's the elite level.

"And even if you end up being knocked out, at least you'll look good!”

Fashion and fighting—the odd couple that seem to be perfect for each other. 

Rob Lancaster is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained via interview.

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