It’s widely accepted that physical activity helps boost your self esteem, sleep quality and energy levels, but what do you do if your body doesn’t fit society’s preconceived notion of a “fitness physique” and finding activewear suited to your lifestyle is nigh on impossible?
I had the pleasure of chatting recently with Dr. Bryna Christmas, founder of Ran by Nature, an adaptive, sustainable and inclusive activewear brand that advocates for human rights. As an Associate Professor in Exercise Science (she holds a BSc., MSc. and Ph.D in Exercise Physiology), Bryna has spent the last decade researching the benefits of exercise on health in underrepresented groups. “The mission of Ran by Nature is to make fitness and fashion inclusive,” she tells me. “I wanted to create a community to help breakdown barriers to movement, and provide a safe and inclusive space for marginalised groups.”
Originally from Keighley in Yorkshire, Bryna moved to the Middle East in 2015, but the production of pieces for the Ran by Nature brand remains firmly rooted in the North East of England, with the main production studio being based in Newcastle. Sport and exercise has always played a huge role in Bryna’s life and as a junior athlete she competed for Great Britain as a race walker. “I’ve always enjoyed playing a variety of sports,” she says. “I am a keen runner, and recently I took up the racket sport padel. In 2019 I ran 90 km with a group of women to raise money for Free to Run, who work to create a positive impact on the lives of women and girls who are living in regions of conflict. I would much rather be outdoors, always. I love nature and animals, and am passionate about mindful and sustainable movement.”
Bryna tells me that the design process for every Ran by Nature piece begins with awareness and research. “The fashion industry does not currently consider, or offer enough solutions for, individuals from ethnic minorities, different religious groups, LGBTQIA+ or Disabled people,” she says.
“Specifically within activewear and athleisure, clothing can be a barrier to engaging in exercise. Disabled people are almost twice as likely (43%) to be physically inactive1Sport England. Leggings that cannot fit over a prosthesis, pants that feel restrictive and uncomfortable for a wheelchair user, or zips and buttons on tops that make it difficult to take on and off can present huge challenges to Disabled people.”
Specifically within activewear and athleisure, clothing can be a barrier to engaging in exercise.
“38% of African American women avoid exercise because of sweating out hairstyles and the time it takes to wash, dry and style hair after a workout2National Library of Medicine. And in England, Muslim women are more likely to be inactive (doing less than 30 minutes of moderate activity per week) than other women3Women in Sport. Only 50.7% of Muslim women are active in England (doing at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week), compared to 72% of women of no religion and 63% of women of Christian faith. Presently, the fashion industry does support or represent the diversity that we see in society, and is therefore only serving a narrow group of individuals.”
The average British woman wears a UK size 164Fashion United, which the mainstream fashion industry often considers to be plus size, while products available above a UK size 18 remain at just 14% of the total market5Mintel.
“A size 4 and 34 should be able to shop in the same way for the same item of clothing,” Bryna tells me. “A one-off size inclusive campaign by a fashion brand may be performative if individuals of different body size are not included in the design and development of these products.” Inclusivity means providing clothing to represent everyone in society, which includes short stature people, tall people, Disabled people, BIPOC/BAME, religious groups and the LGBTQIA+ community. “Inclusivity means not seeing these ‘groups as others’,” says Bryna. “Everyone should be able to shop freely and find clothing suitable for their body.”
Alongside her academic research, Bryna consulted friends, running groups and those who engage in physical activity, and asked if activewear was currently meeting their needs and, if not, what changes they wanted to see. “I created a survey and distributed this on social media,” she says. “I joined groups on Facebook and asked for input and feedback on current products available on the market. And I have been working with groups such as Active Inclusion, Run the World and Black Trail runners to help in the design, development and testing of these products. I gifted the products to these underrepresented groups, and even now I am continuously collecting feedback on how I can improve the products to make them even more accessible for everyone.”
“When it comes to the sustainability of Ran by Nature products, Bryna took the same meticulous approach to her research. “I looked into everything from the UN’s SDGs to statistics and data on the carbon emission of different fabrics, production of the yarn, dyeing process, trimmings, pattern cutting, production, electricity/water use, packaging and shipping. I had virtual meetings with suppliers, freelancers and have spent time visiting the production studio back in Newcastle to ensure Ran by Nature’s values of integrity, loyalty, trust, honesty and protecting human rights were being upheld throughout the production process.”
All fabric, trimmings and packaging used by Ran by Nature is sustainable (recycled, organic or natural), and all orders are sent via fulfilmentcrowd (who are based in Chorley), using carbon neutral shipping. Carbon neutral shipping is achieved by calculating the carbon emissions per transaction using the integrated Cloverly app on the Ran by Nature website, which are then offset with a project as closely as possible to the location of the initial carbon producing activity. Customers are provided with a link and detailed information of this project within the checkout process.
Bryna tells me it was important to her to work with diverse female-founded businesses and freelancers where they could. “It’s important that we are breaking the bias, and creating a fair and equal society where the production of the clothing does not cause harm to the planet, or the people involved.”
Lack of equality, diversity and inclusion is not only limited to the fashion and fitness industry. But perhaps it is an area that is most prevalent, given the rise and growth of fashion brands and the fitness industry. “Both fitness and fashion has become increasingly popular given social media, #fitspo and the ability to generate income on social media platforms with influencers’ constantly promoting new products, and trends,” says Bryna. “Young people want to copy the image of their favourite influencer. Our generation is a generation that wants instant results. I mean, it’s called instagram for a reason.”
“This most definitely needs to be addressed, and it starts with brand founders, CEOs and in the boardroom. These people have the choice and ability to ensure equality, diversity and representation; from the person growing or picking the cotton, to those who reside in the boardroom. They have the choice to prioritise the planet and people over profit. Of course, in order for a business to be sustainable it needs to make a profit – otherwise it is a charity or a social enterprise. But brands can still make a healthy profit, and treat people and the planet with kindness. It simply requires a change in values and culture.”
For Bryna, the whole mission and purpose of Ran By Nature is to be of service to a community. “This is why I created ‘The Inclusive Clothing Club’ as part of RBN,” she tells me. “A supportive and safe community where I can share mindful and sustainable tips in terms of movement. I also created a podcast and YouTube channel, where I interview individuals who are working to create equality in fitness and fashion, and also share tips and information on fitness and fashion, debunk myths around movement and raise awareness about how we can make fitness and fashion inclusive. For me, the brand is all about awareness, accessibility and accountability, and I want everybody to be part of the conversation. The only way we can create real change is to help and support each other.”
Her dream is for Ran By Nature to become a B corp, allowing her to put all the profits back into charities and initiatives that focus on getting underrepresented groups into sports and activity. “Maybe that’s funding a disabled person to become a personal trainer, or helping to sponsor a BAME/BIPOC swimming club in the UK,” she tells me. “I also have plans to grow the business in other directions.. although that’s a secret I can’t reveal at the moment!
All photography © Ran By Nature, used with permission.
Kate is the founder and editor of Fabric of the North, borne out of her passion for supporting mindful, aesthetic and sustainable small businesses. Based in the North West, by day she helps thoughtful small brands and solo business owners achieve meaningful growth through 1-2-1 guidance, intentional strategy and considered content creation. She is also a veteran blogger, having launched her award-winning interior lifestyle blog Fabric of my Life back in 2009.