The Vehement brand from Berlin is the world’s first supplier of vegan martial arts products. So now it‘s clear from the outset, what they are up against in the ring.
Anyone who believes that the tough guys and girls don’t care about people, animals, and the environment, aren’t thinking any further than the typical cliché allows. As if agression wasn’t controllable and that their tough appearance speaks against good intentions.
Apart from that: Where does the strength in martial arts come from? Especially in the combined disciplines it is not only about muscle strength, but more so about stamina and technique. These are the characteristics that you can’t get by just taking nutritional supplements. For this you need a clear mind, a healthy lifestyle, and massive amounts of discipline.
From there the road towards a vegan diet and a sustainable lifestyle is but a stone’s throw away. As such, it is almost a miracle that Jan Lenarz is just first introducing his business idea for Vehement and is producing vegan martial arts gear.
The scene takes a similar view: the first batch of one hundred pairs of the Wolfheart X1 boxing gloves were snapped up by customers overnight. The rest were grabbed by the online dealer Boxhaus, which was a clear signal to the market in favour of this small start-up company.
The radicalness of martial arts as initial spark
Jan Lenarz himself has been a thai boxer for a couple years. It all began in the Rote Flora in Hamburg: the symbol of the radical left-wing resistance. “Initially, I landed in the hospital fairly often, but that subsided after I switched to a different club and the training became more controlled.” It is an integral sport. One where you immerse yourself in, use every muscle, uses all of your energy and sharpens the senses.
One place to channel all of your innate potential aggression into. “First of all, you get over your fears. Initially the pain, then other threats.” That is where the slogan comes from: “Destroy your enemies, not your planet“, that is used by Lenarz for Vehement. “It is less about actual enemies, and more about personal demons. Fear and doubt. If you don’t stand for something, then nothing will ever change.”
The radical nature of fighting sport as an initial spark to examine your own personal values? Veganism also is in its own way quite radical.
As Lenarz was searching for an alternative for leather boxing gloves, he found only cheap pairs of plastic ones. He discovered a new niche: high quality, synthetic leather variants, fair and vegan. He went in search of a producer who would understand his idea. “It is incredibly hard to find non-animal based products for the colouring and stitching” he explained. A small production facility in Pakistan was able to fulfil his requests. The results were able to be certified by the Vegan Society. He trusted the manufacturers who sent him only a picture and eagerly signed the contract based on the ILO-core working standards.
As a graphic designer it was quite easy for Lenarz to create his own studio. The products arrived, and were very high quality, and practically sold themselves! With his freshly earned cash he ordered another round of production, but double the original amount. “The second batch looked like a bootleg copy of the first batch. Shoddy workmanship, foul smelling material, the printing was inferior.” Lenarz lost his trust and put the project on hold.
But the problem was that Vehement became a fast selling item at this point in time. All of the relevant online forums created hype about the amazing quality and how it had set a new benchmark. The synthetic leather doesn’t get rough with use, doesn’t reek of sweat, and is washable, unlike real leather. This is a huge advantage considering the amount of body contact these gloves have to withstand.
Professional boxers spoke about the product, other prominent people raved about the sustainable materials, all of this without ever stepping foot in the ring. Ultimately, it was another very strong momentum from others, a right hook, to say, that brought Lenarz back on course.
Maria Gross learned about the company in the Social Impact Lab in Berlin, a co-working space where social entrepreneurs come to work, network and cooperate. The business economist and non-profit manager presided over the branch in the German capitol and was thrilled from the get-go about Vehement. She convinced Lenarz to apply for the “Social Impact Start” Grant financed by the SAP and the ministry of family, seniors, women and youths.
As it happens, Vehement got the grant and was supported over eight months with about 12500 Euro in the form of coaching and mentoring through SAP staff. Gross felt good about the project and offered to buy into the company. Today she takes care of the commercial issues, contact with the shareholders and the company’s marketing.
Her first official act was to step foot in the ring and fight it out for a round in the boxing studio. She wanted to learn about the sport and was absolutely outgunned by the fight he was able to put up against her. “After my first training I was completely exhausted, and my mind was clearer than it had ever been before.” Nowadays she trains regularly in the boxing studio. “Martial arts changed me. I approach people more safely and they react differently to me.”
Lenarz and Gross worked together to bring Vehement to the next social business level. The demand in the USA is incredibly big. That is why they established a Limited and are cooperating with a third-party logistics provider in Los Angeles. Thanks to a Kickstarter campaign in late 2014, new products are able to be financed.
With many prominent advocates, such as former UFC fighter Mac Danzig or the punk band Boysetsfire, they have developed many close cooperations. The toughest opponent Vehement faces is certainly for the benefit of social responsibility and protecting the environment, especially in the production facility in Pakistan.
Monitoring the social standards from so far away and with so little funding is hard. That is why they are considering moving production to the Netherlands. “My goal is to certify Vehement as a fair trade operation. Stemming from strong convictions and because a product like this is desperately needed. The consumers are ready” states Lenarz.
On the other hand they create synthetic leather using polyurethane, which compared to the life cycle assessment of real leather, is much better, but it is manufactured using fossil fuels. “The commonly used recycling material would not withstand the high forces that boxing gloves face. That is why we are concentrating on post-consumer recycling and are entertaining the idea of a trade-back system, and what we can use the worn out gloves for” said Gross.
“We are eagerly watching the developments for new types of synthetic leather: cork or synthetic leather created using plant materials. We would rather use a 100% plant-based boxing glove as a recycling product” Lenarz stated. Milestones like this can only be achieved over a long period of time and with strong partnerships. “Who knows, maybe someone will contact us because of this article.” Gross grinned smartly.
It would not be out of place in the whole story of Vehement’s development. And if Gross and Lenarz know one thing, that is to say, always keep your eyes on the opponent and strike if and when they break cover.