Do you know the joke about crossfit enthusiasts? “How do you know someone does crossfit? You don’t need to – they’ll tell you anyway.”
Anna-Mari Niutanen used to be one of those people, following the fitness regime that really makes people sweat. Sweating, on top of all the stretching, pulling, pushing and lifting, means that crossfit clothes are taken to some pretty difficult places.
Back then, in 2014, Niutanen was simultaneously looking for two things. She had recently graduated, so number one was a job, but nothing really caught her interest. Number two had more to do with her hobby: she wanted sustainably and ethically produced activewear that would suit her intense exercise.
As neither seemed to be readily available, she started to contemplate combining the two. What if, she thought, she could be the one bringing these clothes to the market and, at the same time, create a job for herself?
However, Niutanen had no experience in the fashion industry. Through a mutual contact, Niutanen got hold of Essi Enqvist, a textile professional with similar ambitions. They met in May 2015 and spent the summer developing the idea of a sustainable activewear brand further, whilst wondering if it could, really, ever work out.
In November that year, they walked the talk: Népra was founded and its website was launched.
Niutanen says that at the time it took time and patience to try and explain to people what a ‘responsible’ piece of clothing actually means and why some other clothes might not be ecologically or ethically manufactured.
“More recently, the impact of the fashion industry has been much more spoken about, including in the mainstream media,” she notes. “Now it’s much more common for people to understand that it’s one of the biggest polluters, but just some years ago this wasn’t the case.”
The two founders have found crossfit to be an excellent environment for testing their products. Rapid movements, extreme positions and the rubbing of barbells make for a true challenge for garments and seams.
“You very quickly notice whether your trousers stay in place or not or if your shirt is somehow hindering your performance,” Niutanen points out.
Népra was founded on the idea of solving these two problems: to create clothes that are ethically manufactured and excellent at their job at the same time. All Népra items are designed by Enqvist, the certified activewear fabrics come from a family company in the north of Italy, and the products are manufactured by a partner in Estonia. Lazywear – the less crossfitty collection by Népra – is manufactured in collaboration with Pure Waste, a company producing clothing and accessories of recycled materials.
Reaching new heights
Népra started out small. Now, Niutanen says that it’s obvious they’ve reached the famous next level.
“We’ve been really happy with the journey,” she tells. “We started the company straight out of school without having ready-made models for pretty much anything. Now, we feel like we’re headed in the right direction.”
Thus far the focus has been on the home market, but Népra keeps a keen eye on Europe as well. Particularly Germany is of interest, as Niutanen shares her life between the two countries anyway.
Increasing international presence means that the two-strong team will soon need to begin considering hiring helpers and scaling up production, so there are all kinds of growth in sight. Instead of looking for resellers, Népra wants to focus on spreading its webshop to be able to share its message both to consumers and to others in the industry to show how things, in their opinion, should be done.
With big plans lined up, does Niutanen still have time for crossfit?
“That faded at some stage,” she admits. “Recently, the gym, yoga and outdoors have taken precedence.”
Her choice of trousers hasn’t changed, though.
“I wear our clothes all the time, indoors and outdoors, including right now. If I say so myself, they’re just so comfortable that I’d wear them even if I had nothing to do with Népra at all.”