“Shrink it and pink it” is not the most helpful way to describe the equipment needs of a female athlete, but it is exactly what boxer Kristina Ejem has been hearing for years.
“Women in male-dominated sports tend to be the afterthought,” Ms. Ejem said. “So, they make it pink or purple. There are some designs that realize that there is a market and they are coming up with cooler things, but they’re few and far between and hard to find.”
It’s the reason Ms. Ejem has co-created a new line of boxing equipment for women, made by women. Ms. Ejem is the founding partner and chief executive officer of Toronto-based Girls Just Wanna Box, an educational program that allows girls and women to take boxing classes either for fun, or train to fight competitively.
Her business partner Helene Jafine said, “In order for females to train and compete in this sport, we need to have proper equipment that fits our bodies.”
The two hold their classes for girls and women ranging in age from 6 to 60 at Mind-Set Strength & Conditioning gym in Toronto. They will offer online coaching sessions in January, as well. “Our new line of boxing gear is so important to me and women because it is designed and made for us.”
Traditionally, when women have taken boxing classes or trained for competition, they have used smaller versions of men’s gloves, which Ms. Ejem and Ms. Jafine say do not consider differences in bone density or structure for female boxers. Men’s boxing gloves can have insufficient padding, too wide a hand and a huge cuff that doesn’t protect a woman’s hand and wrist.
The new Girls Just Wanna Box (GJWB) line launches today, with two lines of gloves and a line of hand wraps available for pre-order, which will be sold based on a woman’s frame, right down to her movement in the ring. Orders are expected to ship during the first week in December, and a clothing line will be released later.
“We’ve changed the pattern of the glove to fit women based on their fight weight,” Ms. Ejem explained. “Everything we’re doing with our line will be based on your fight weight, as opposed to a small, medium, large, or extra large. … We’re using a four-layer foam, which we find feels better than other options, such as a moulded glove or a two- to three-layer glove.”
Ms. Ejem and Ms. Jafine have also considered their clients’ financial and sustainability choices – their polyurethane glove is budget friendly (made with less pricey materials than the signature glove), and their signature glove is made of vegan leather, by hand. The process was no easy feat, and Ms. Ejem said she and Ms. Jafine have hit a few walls.
“We’ve spent the past year really dissecting what is a boxing glove,” Ms. Ejem said. “It was actually very hard to do. We’ve spent a lot of time with boxing glove-making experts, asking questions about how we would make a glove that would feel better for women.”
While the polyurethane gloves and hand wraps are manufactured in Pakistan and North America, respectively, one woman makes each of the signature gloves by hand, taking about a day to make each. But her identity remains top secret. (“No one divulges who makes their gloves in the boxing world,” Ms. Ejem said.)
The GJWB hand wrap will also be made with extra padding to aid in stabilizing the wrist and protecting the knuckles. It also has a reversible design, allowing women to change their look.
“Wrapping your hands is a really interesting ritual for people,” Ms. Ejem said. “No one has redesigned the hand wrap. We wanted to do something different.”
For boxer and makeup artist Melanie Whitmore, who has turned to Ms. Ejem and GJWB throughout various milestones in her life, including pregnancy and successful postpartum fights, the rituals of training pack a punch outside of the gym.
“It’s important to myself and my daughter because it’s more than just equipment and cool apparel,” Ms. Whitmore said. “GJWB is about respecting females. We want to help them learn to be strong, build confidence and to feel supported in a community where the only common denominator is their love of boxing.”
It's a concept that female athletes across Canada are embracing, and not just in boxing. At Fast and Female, an all-girls’ sports education organization founded by Olympic gold medalist, Chandra Crawford, biathlete Erin Yungblut thinks innovations like Ms. Ejem’s are essential to changing women’s views and positions within sports from childhood. Ms. Yungblut, along with Ms. Crawford and their team, hold non-competitive sporting events for girls throughout North America, and Ms. Ejem has consistently been one of their expert speakers and coaches.
“Innovators like Kristina, and organizations like Fast and Female, are working toward a shared vision – that all women and girls can have positive, empowering sport experiences,” Ms. Yungblut said. “If we can make sport fun for young girls and women alike, through creative programming, inspiring role models, and kickass gear ... more females will stick with sport for life. In the very near future, we want girls to embrace feeling both strong and beautiful.”
And sticking with it seems to be the crux of the problem. According to data released in 2016 by The Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS), 41 per cent of girls ages 3 to 17 don’t participate in sport, and if a girl does not participate in sport by age 10, there is only a 10-per-cent chance she will be active later in life.
With statistics stacked against them, even small advances in equipment design can help.
And female spaces that acknowledge the specific needs of many women can also encourage participation, especially in a sport not traditionally associated with women, such as boxing.
“A lot of people say, ‘Why all-women [spaces]? Women can stand with men,’” Ms. Ejem said. “Yes, women can stand with men, and women can train with men, but I am going to encourage boxing gyms to include programs for women to work with women, because the industry is lacking in women. We never have enough women to spar with; we never have enough women to fight. It’s the only way for the industry to evolve.”
Finally, one important consideration drove an aspect of the GJWB glove design: a logo that acknowledges women’s desire to be strong AND beautiful.
Printed on the globe cuffs will be the logo (and social media hashtag), Protect the Pretty.
“One of the most important things in boxing is to keep your hands up to protect your face,” she added. “For a lot of my clients it wasn’t clicking until I said, ‘For the love of God protect the pretty.’”
And this fights back against a perception some people have that women don’t look tough and so are not strong, or that they need to make a choice between beauty and strength, she said.
“For us it runs a lot deeper. It’s more than just protecting your face. It’s also taking back this thing that a lot of women boxers get told, ‘What about your pretty face?’ Or people ask me, ‘How can you be a boxer? Your nose isn’t broken.’ Well, yeah, because I know how to protect the pretty.”