Bella Kinesis: The Ethical Sportswear Brand Moving from Strength to Strength

By Shaleena Chanrai

In school I hated Physical Education. I was never good at competitive sport and I couldn’t see the benefit of it either. When I got to university, there was obviously no mandatory workout and I was living on junk food with no exercise. Eventually, the lack of healthy living caught up with me. I had gained a lot of weight and become increasingly lethargic, and there were days when I was tired of being tired. My only saving grace was that, as a photography student, I was building my own sets and doing a lot of heavy lifting.

I thought it would be easier to control my food intake and workout regime after I had graduated, but I was wrong. Working as an assistant photographer for one of India’s top fashion photographers meant that, most days, I was on set from 5 am until midnight and all we were given to eat were rice-based dishes or pizza. Initially I thought it would be fine as I was burning calories while building sets. However, I was put in charge of computer and camera duties and as a girl, I wasn’t allowed to do any heavy lifting; instead, I was told to sit and watch. I was far from dainty so I couldn’t understand why anyone thought I was incapable. When I started the job, the crew was made up of men except one other woman and myself. A few weeks later, she left and another girl was hired. We were constantly surrounded by models, which did not do much for my self-esteem — especially when at the end of the day my boss would comment on my weight, hair or my “professional look”. Neither of us girls stayed as long as we would have liked. My boss once told me that he didn’t know why women never lasted in his studio and I didn’t know how to answer without offending him.

About a month before I left my job, a young woman who was on a photo assignment was raped and brutally beaten in a studio down the road from where I worked. When we heard the news we were all angry and heartbroken and from that day on I was treated like a glass ornament. I was not seen for my full potential and I could feel my talent slipping away from me, as I was never given an opportunity to prove that I had any. I was incredibly unhappy with my situation — I was not where I had pictured myself being, close to two years after graduating. One day, however, I suddenly felt this fire light up inside me. I had spoken to a friend who understood my passionate feelings towards my situation and also understood that if women wanted to be taken seriously, we needed to work from within the workplace to change the way men see us. This is why we developed Bella Kinesis.

Bella Kinesis is an ethical sportswear brand, inspired by the fact that my best friend (now business partner) and I both had different health issues we needed to address and that when we went shopping together, there was a lack of fun, functional and well-priced sportswear for women of all sizes. The existing brands seemed to be designed by fit people, for fit people and as a newcomer, it was overwhelming and intimidating, so we decided to create our own brand that women could identify with. We manufacture our clothing in the UK, which gives us an opportunity to test our clothing to make sure it functions and does what we say it does. As we were becoming healthier and stronger, we wanted to transfer that strength elsewhere and so we teamed up with the foundation Mann Deshi. For every item we sell, we fund a one-month business education course for women in rural India. By giving them the tools needed to start their own businesses, we are helping them achieve financial independence, which will not only boost their self-confidence, but will also earn them respect within their communities. This will lead to young girls being more valued and therefore pushed towards education and jobs, instead of early marriage or even prostitution. Projects like this have a domino effect; these courageous women inspire others, resulting in a real change in attitude in villages, then cities and then finally on a national level.

For us, combining our idea for a sportswear brand with this push towards women’s empowerment came naturally. As women start to become more active, both their physical and mental strength grow. This increased stamina translates into other benefits, mainly increased self-confidence. Strong, confident women work to help and motivate others. Our brand supports healthy body images and hopes to encourage young girls to keep active, even if they aren’t good at traditional competitive sport.

Bella Kinesis is about self-improvement as well as the improvement of other people’s lives. We call our movement Strength for Strength!


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Author: Gender + the City

Intersectional Feminist digital magazine

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