Luke Dowdney wanted to help. At the end of the ’90s, the ex-amateur boxer found himself in Brazil. And he didn’t like what he was seeing: crime gangs, gun violence, and drug trafficking ensnaring the children of the favelas. So in 2000, he founded Fight For Peace, a charitable organization that teaches boxing and martial arts—and personal development—to help at-risk youth earn get an education and a job. In 2007 Dowdney took the program to the streets of London, and in 2009 he partnered with ?What If! to help it grow further.
Now The Telegraph has recognized Dowdney’s talents, naming him as one of Britain’s "Amazing 15." Via phone from Rio de Janiero, he talked to Lead Editor Bret Begun about the honor; the expansion of Fight For Peace’s clothing line, Luta; and the impact of day-to-day purchasing decisions. Edited excerpts:
Begun: In 12 years, you managed to be named one of the 15 most amazing people in Britain. What amazing things do you intend to accomplish in the next 12?
Dowdney: I’m not exactly sure I’m the most amazing or even just amazing.
Well, either way …
We just secured financing from the IKEA Foundation to roll this project out in 120 locations around the world. We’re building an international team now. They will be split between London and Rio, and some will be traveling a lot!
Brazil and England will be at the center of the sporting universe in the coming months. How will you help Fight For Peace students harness this excitement?
You can feel the excitement in London. It’s a chance for the world to look at the city after the recession, and it’s a chance to celebrate. The London mayor’s office has a sporting fund, which we were able to access. Here in Rio, I’m meeting with government officials.
You’re partnering with Facebook to sell Luta, your line of performancewear.
We’re going to have a Facebook store, and [marketing agency] RAPP will be running an amazing campaign about the brand’s heritage.
It takes time to build a brand. It’s about maintaining the quality of the clothing—and alongside that, getting the story out to as many people as possible. People want to be part of something. People are increasingly aware that the purchasing decisions you make on a day-to-day basis can make a difference to someone’s life while giving you something you need. Previously, the world was very separate. On one side, you had for-profit, on the other side, you had charity—and they were completely different. Our generation has come through and said, It shouldn’t be that way; you don’t have to have a dualistic approach to it. They no longer expect clothing to just not have a negative impact. They expect things they buy to have a positive impact. It’s not just saying, Buy our clothes, we don’t use child labor. We’ve helped up to 7,000 kids in our programs. If this works, 1 million. This will change lives.
We don’t want people to buy because they’re feeling bad. We want them to do it to be part of a movement that empowers and recognizes the champion’s spirit—young kids who are saying, I want an opportunity, and I’ll do the rest. Boxers only win if they train and they dedicate themselves, and that’s like life.
Tell me a bit about the kinds of Luta pieces you’ll be selling.
We’ve got technical pieces around fightwear and trainingwear. We interviewed 300 fighters. Temperature control, moisture management, freedom of movement, and durability [are the issues that came up most often]. A lot of fightwear uses the wrong fabrics because it’s cheaper. You want freedom of movement—total freedom of movement around your shoulders, legs. A lot of the clothing doesn’t accommodate for that. We designed around that. It’s heavily thought out.
We used black mostly for the fightwear. It’s more classic. Sugar Ray Robinson used to wear black shorts. Mike Tyson used to wear black shorts. No massive logos. I wanted it to be quiet. The fighter doesn’t scream and shout, he just does the business. “Luta” means to fight, to struggle, to never give in. The color scheme for the lifestyle collection is based on the palate from the favela—yellows, reds, greens—and reflects the vibe, vibrant and full of potential and creativity.
Illustration by Michael Sendrow.