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Boxing, Branding and Social Enterprise: LUTA

31st May 11

Posted by Mel Exon

Posted in business models, Social

Author: Anika Saigal (@anikasaigal), BBH Labs Intern

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We love businesses that turn our expectations positively on their head. Luke Dowdney, the founder of the charity Fight For Peace, did exactly that when he came in to see us about the launch of a new clothing brand, LUTA (@lutaclothing). Check out the trailer above, directed by Seb Edwards at Academy Films, for a powerful introduction.

Founded with the support of private investment, LUTA is a “collection of fightwear, trainingwear and streetwear that brings together real fight performance, favela style and a genuine social mission”.  We’ve been working with Luke behind the scenes and so went along to hear him tell the story behind the brand at its launch last week, which was held at Fight For Peace’s East London academy.  LUTA aims to be a brand built on favela spirit – “Real Strength” is its motto – quality performance clothing to compete with established brands and also on the basis of a 50% profit share scheme.  That’s to say that LUTA pays as much of its profits to Fight For Peace as it pays its shareholders. ‘Even if the brand doesn’t pay its shareholders a profit in any given year, it will still pay FFP a minimum of £10,000 for that year, ensuring that its support is stable and ongoing.’

Brazilian national boxing champion and LUTA ambassador: Roberto Custódio (left) began his boxing career through training with Fight For Peace. Photos courtesy of LUTA, via Flickr

The model here is social entrepreneurship which we’re seeing more and more of – from Rockcorps channelling the power of music and celebrity to make volunteering a part of youth lifestyle, to TOMS matching each pair of shoes purchased with a pair given to a child in need. We’re seeing, too, more and more mainstream brands seeking to put their mission statements into action on the ground, often through social and CR initiatives.

What’s interesting with LUTA, however, is the reversal of that model: the ‘philanthrocapitalism’ of this potentially lucrative, profit-driven brand.

Idris Elba, star of HBO’s The Wire, supporting the launch of LUTA clothing

What could marketers – non-profits or otherwise – learn from the approach Luke is taking?

It strikes us that charities often go about securing donations by capitalising on either our compassion or on our resolve to remove the awkward guilt that ensues when we turn away from a good cause. We need to know the story behind the charity first though, in order to feel moved enough to do something about it. And it follows that, to get people to listen, conventional charities need to be opportunists in their approach to securing donations. The flow of income may be unpredictable, making it difficult to plan projects.  What’s more, a ‘landmark’ Harvard Business Review article, published two decades ago, describes the flaws in charitable foundations.  These include the finding that little effort is devoted to measuring results, and that these foundations have unjustifiably high admin costs.  That article has been repeatedly cited, years later, to bring home the fact that even though the flaws are widely acknowledged, not much has changed.

In the conventional charity model, endorsing the perception of their beneficiaries as victims may be necessary in order to incite charitable motivation. But this also, however unwittingly, can further remove potential supporters from the reality of their plight, so that those who could/do donate feel more like outsiders watching from afar.

Idris and the Fight For Peace Youth Council

In the case of LUTA, it’s a very different story.

LUTA focuses on the quality of its clothing in order to make it a credible competitor to existing brands. The fact that half the profits go to a good cause simply adds incentive to a purchase that would, regardless, have still been considered.  This seems to make more sense in terms of behavioural economics.  We instinctively avoid guilt and chase inspiration. So, instead of encouraging people to give, literally, for pity’s sake, it’d be more effective instead to stir action-provoking emotion through an aspirational brand that embraces themes of determination and hope.

Are there other learnings we’ve missed or other great examples? We’d love to hear about them if so. In the meantime, enjoy Academy Films’ powerful film made to promote LUTA:

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A little about Luke:

Luke Dowdney MBE is a social anthropologist and former amateur boxer from East London, he’s spent the past decade establishing and running the Fight For Peace boxing and education academy in the Complexo da Maré, one of the biggest agglomerations of drug gang-controlled favelas in Rio de Janeiro.

Luke speaking at the LUTA launch

Fight for Peace offers youths in favelas an alternative to becoming involved in organized armed violence. It offers the opportunity for them to gain strength and self-respect through the discipline of martial arts, as well as providing them with supplementary education and preparation for the job market.  He’s since opened another FFP academy – this time in East London – with the aim of continuing to grow internationally.

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