How Whit­tam brings bling to the ring for box­ing’s elite

York­shire­woman who is shorts de­signer to An­thony Joshua took the glitz of fig­ure skat­ing ring­side when an in­vi­ta­tion to pro­duce ‘some mad out­fits’ for Amir Khan launched an ex­cit­ing new ca­reer, writes Sammy Mngqosini

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Women's Sport Monthly -

She is An­thony Joshua’s trusted box­ing shorts de­signer; her de­signs have been worn by an A-list of box­ing icons from Floyd May­weather to Katie Tay­lor, and the cast from the Hol­ly­wood block­buster movie series, Creed.

From hum­ble be­gin­nings So­phie Whit­tam, a for­mer fig­ure skater from North York­shire, has built a global box­ing shorts em­pire. Such is her in­dus­try renown that for May­weather’s iconic fight against Conor McGregor, in 2017, the US star turned down a mil­lion-dol­lar cheque and a pair of shorts from Ger­man de­signer Philipp Plein, choos­ing to wear Whit­tam’s de­sign in­stead.

From leo­tards to Las Ve­gas box­ing rings, Whit­tam’s is a unique ca­reer tra­jec­tory. “Peo­ple think a Ly­cra pink sparkly dress and a pair

Knock­out de­signs: So­phie Whit­tam, a for­mer fig­ure skater, with the shorts she de­signs for the world’s top box­ers; Floyd May­weather in ac­tion wear­ing them (above right), and Whit­tam with An­thony Joshua (right) of shorts that a fighter is punch­ing some­one in are op­po­sites,” says the 31-year-old.

“But when you break it down, they are quite sim­i­lar. Both are cos­tumes made for a spe­cific event. I make the bat­tle gear, which boosts the fighter’s con­fi­dence and matches the char­ac­ter they have cre­ated in their head for that par­tic­u­lar fight. I’ve brought the bling, crys­tals and I’m now be­daz­zling all these heavy­weight fight­ers – you wouldn’t think they like sparkles, but they do.”

Whit­tam grew up in Bar­low, North York­shire, a painfully shy only child who tried just about ev­ery sport from horse rid­ing to gym­nas­tics. But her world changed for­ever when she saw fig­ure skat­ing on TV.

Mes­merised by the cos­tumes, she begged her mother, Vicky, to take her to the lo­cal ice rink. Vicky re­lented, but gave her daugh­ter an ul­ti­ma­tum: “You’ve got 10 min­utes, if you can’t do it then get off the ice be­cause it’s cold in here”, she says.

Whit­tam took to skat­ing im­me­di­ately, train­ing be­fore and af­ter school ev­ery day. While she loved the sport, she did not want to pur­sue an Olympic path­way or be­come a coach. So, at the age of 16, she learnt how to sew and started a fig­ure-skat­ing cos­tume busi­ness along­side study­ing fash­ion. Her ca­reer took off and she found that by keep­ing busy – trav­el­ling the world, grow­ing her busi­ness – she did not ex­pe­ri­ence the ex­tent of emo­tions that many ath­letes en­counter on re­tir­ing from elite com­pe­ti­tion.

It was Amir Khan who first con­vinced Whit­tam to de­sign him some “mad box­ing out­fits” ahead of his fight against Devon Alexan­der in 2014. The pair met when Whit­tam at­tended one of Khan’s speak­ing en­gage­ments with the hope of de­sign­ing some crop tops and hot pants for the ring girls, but the Bolton-born boxer per­suaded her to de­sign his shorts in­stead.

De­spite not be­ing a box­ing fan at the time, she cre­ated a hand­ful of unique shorts that Khan loved. For his fight in Las Ve­gas, Khan’s team sent Whit­tam a piece of 24-carat gold fab­ric to make him the world’s most ex­pen­sive shorts – a mam­moth task that launched her brand, Fight La­bel, at the high­est pos­si­ble level.

Since then, life has been a whirl. Whit­tam has been Joshua’s go-to de­signer since 2015, mak­ing the shorts he wore when he re­claimed his ti­tles from Andy Ruiz Jr in Saudi Ara­bia last year. “An­thony likes white mostly, which is el­e­gant, time­less and the shorts are al­ways re­flec­tive of where he is fight­ing,” she says. “For the fight against Ruiz, I took the art­work from the red and white tra­di­tional scarves and em­broi­dered it around the legs of the shorts and all down the robe. When he fought Alexan­der Povetkin, we did red, white and blue to match the Great Bri­tain flag be­cause the fight was at Wem­b­ley. We added a bit of green for the Car­los Takam fight since it was in Wales.”

For May­weather’s fight against McGregor, Whit­tam cre­ated some­thing spe­cial. “I im­mor­talised him in a de­sign of a mil­lion dol­lar May­weather note in gold leaf on black leather shorts with black python waist­band and put his ‘The Best Ever’, all in Swarovski crys­tals. He ab­so­lutely loved them.”

Soon af­ter, she re­ceived a call ask­ing her to come to his house for a fit­ting. He ex­plained that he loved the shorts, but was be­ing paid $1mil­lion to wear an­other de­sign. Whit­tam was dis­ap­pointed at the out­come.

But, as she sat in the crowd, wait­ing for the fight to be­gin, a mes­sage popped up on her phone. It was a photo of May­weather wear­ing her shorts back­stage. “In that mo­ment I knew, he’d picked my shorts de­spite be­ing paid one mil­lion dol­lars to wear some­one else’s de­sign.”

Her work has also fea­tured in the fran­chise star­ring Michael B. Jor­dan and Sylvester Stal­lone.

With the coro­n­avirus pan­demic bring­ing a halt to live sport, Whit­tam’s busi­ness en­dured a tough few months. But the re­sump­tion of box­ing be­hind closed doors has of­fered some respite, de­sign­ing for Tay­lor’s fight against Delfine Per­soon last week.

Whit­tam ad­mits she was not pre­vi­ously a box­ing fan, but now she at­tends her clients’ fights and stud­ies their box­ing style, which in­flu­ences her de­signs.

As soon as the new date and venue for the Joshua-Kubrat Pulev fight is an­nounced, Whit­tam will take up her sketch book and be­gin try­ing out her ideas for the next big bout.

‘In that mo­ment I knew, he’d picked my shorts de­spite be­ing paid one mil­lion dol­lars to wear some­one else’s de­sign’

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