They had zero background in fashion and retail, but that didn’t stop 32-year-old Hongkonger Sarabe Chan and 21-year-old Moe Thitsa from launching activewear brand Sparks in November last year.
“We started an education venture together in Yangon, which was recently acquired. We spent a lot of time in the yoga/pilates studio next door because we wanted to be more committed to taking care of our physical and mental health. We were both not very active people to begin with, so it wasn’t easy for us to be constantly motivated. The turning point was stylish activewear,” shares Sarabe.
Sparks is the duo’s second venture that combines their love for wellness and activewear, while incorporating their passion for social enterprise and the environment (the brand’s motto is literally “do good, live good, and feel good through charity and sports”).
With prices ranging from $53 to $81, the affordable activewear brand gives 5 per cent of net profits back to a charity of the customer’s choice – choose from planting trees in Myanmar, sending children to schools in rural Nepal, and providing sports empowerment sessions for refugees in Hong Kong.
“We picked small but impactful NGOs to ensure that the funds go to programmes and beneficiaries, instead of, say, administrative costs. As our business grows, we will be able to support more charities and make a bigger impact together, as well as raise awareness on the issues that are going around now and how we can support them,” says Sarabe.
Focusing on versatile designs specifically tailored for Asian bodies, Sparks also tries to be inclusive with its range of XS to XXL sizes in nature-inspired designs. And the founders say they are always seeking feedback from customers and fitness experts.
“Before we list an item in our store, it has to get ‘internal approval ratings’ based on the comfort level, durability and functionality under different temperatures,” says Sarabe.
The brand is known for Sparks- Luxe, a fabric that is exceptionally soft, yet supportive enough for all kinds of sports and activities. This is achieved through working with lingerie experts, as lingerie has to be soft, supportive and comfortable. The brand also uses 3-D knitting technology to produce seamless activewear for greater comfort.
“We had to spend more time than planned to do rounds of product testing before we officially launched. And we are constantly recruiting new ambassadors and design partners to upgrade our products,” says Sarabe.
Getting people in Asia to wear workout gear as athleisure is one of the challenges Sparks faces, so the brand has collaborated with fashion bloggers and ambassadors to teach its followers on Instagram on how to style activewear in a casual way.
“Moe and I always talk about how it’s important to have sparks in our lives, which is basically anything to shake things up a bit. It could be something that we do happily outside of our daily routine, like joining a local yoga group, or going on a trekking trip. We believe that the more you are willing to try new things, the more you will feel that ‘spark’ in life,” shares Sarabe.