Sarabe Chan, 32, and Moe Thitsa, 21, are founders of Sparks Active, a Singapore-based activewear brand with a mission to help its customers “look good, live good, and do good”.
Sarah was born in Hong Kong, but she has lived and worked in various countries such as New Zealand and Myanmar. After pursuing a Masters Degree in Poverty and Development as a UK Chevening Scholar, she went on to work in a social enterprise in Myanmar.
Moe was born in Myanmar. Her parents relocated the family from the rural region to Yangon, Myanmar’s capital city. She began working in a social enterprise too.
Their two worlds would have never collided if not for a YouTube video. We spoke to Sarabe about her experience as a social entrepreneur.
How Sarabe met Moe
In 2017, Sarabe watched a TEDxYangon video where the then 17-year-old Moe shared her experience of starting a mobile library.
Sarabe said: “I didn’t know her personally back then. I just watched her talk. They introduced her as the youngest TEDx speaker who initiated a number of social enterprises and education projects to benefit the local community.
“Then, I met her at an event. The whole thing was in Burmese, and she was the one translating for me”
After bumping into each other at several more events, Sarabe then invited Moe for coffee, and the pair instantly bonded over shared beliefs towards education and the environment. This led them to start their first business venture together in April 2018: Hysan Education, an education centre that taught young Burmese the English language at an affordable rate.
In the two years they ran their venture, they would exercise together to unwind and maintain their fitness. They would do yoga, HIIT workouts, run, Zumba or play tennis. But as people who were “not those hardcore workout people”, motivation to exercise did not come easily. To get in the mood, they would search for and buy fashionable workout clothes.
“Before activewear, we were exercising maybe one to two times [a week]. With activewear, [it was] four or five times? That is not an exaggeration because it did motivate us.”
However, they realised there were limited affordable options available. So they decided to take matters into their own hands. They found manufacturing partners and suppliers to create the versatile, quality, affordably-priced activewear line they were looking for.
Look good: Quality, fashionable activewear for all
On the Sparks Active online store, you’ll find size-inclusive matching sets, breezy tank tops, and modest long-sleeved workout tops and jackets. The brand also champions the body positivity movement – A quick scroll through their Instagram page shows models with different body types.
“We try to normalise not just very fit, athletic, or skinny bodies. We’re not really into that because, you know, a lot of girls that are very beautiful and are a bigger size. We want to normalise that because that’s what you see every day, that’s how normal people look.”
Their product is also designed for versatility and durability. It is lightweight, soft and breathable, sweat-wicking and quick-drying, so you can focus on your workout without worrying about sweat stains or possible wardrobe malfunctions.
Live good: Fashion and sustainability
Aside from being stylish and flattering, their activewear kits are made from a custom blend of soft fibres and sustainable Tencel. Products are packed in biodegradable material and made in ethical factories in China, which the pair have personally visited.
Activewear for sale at Sparks Active.
PHOTO CREDIT: SARABE CHAN
Sarabe said: “Being a part of the fashion industry, when we realised that the fashion industry is the number one culprit to harming the environment. Humans and nature [are] interconnected. To sustain life, the environment needs to be good.”
“We are not only promoting an active lifestyle but also a lifestyle where self-care meets caring for the planet. So when you wear Sparks, you are not just wearing it for the quality and design but to show that you care about making a difference with your conscious choices!”
Do good: Helping charities and small non-profit organisations
As 5 per cent of the brand’s proceeds go towards giving back, each purchase aids a child’s education in Nepal, plants a tree for a community in Myanmar, or benefits a refugee or asylum seeker in Hong Kong. Customers also can donate to a charity of their choice. Additionally, the duo makes use of their non-profit expertise to target smaller charities that lack resources.
Sarabe clarifies that wanting to look good and caring about other people and the environment are not mutually exclusive.
“We want to encourage people to have an active and healthy lifestyle and take care of the environment that they’re in. Not that you have to do something grand, but your small gesture can mean a lot.
“Even things like knowing who you buy from and making a conscious purchase decision are part of you not doing more harm to the environment.”
Starting An Activewear Business That Does Good
As we wrap up our conversation, we ask Sarabe for advice on what young people should expect or do to start a business or social enterprise.
“I’m very lucky to have a co-founder in Moe, but many people just don’t have that. You cannot really wait for a co-founder, enough money or security before you start something. You just kind of have to just do it first. And I always believe the right people will come along if your mission is right and you communicate that.
“I know that a lot of young people, ourselves included, may feel overwhelmed when we want to make changes because there are so many issues in the world.
“But I feel a sense of purpose and gratefulness when working on Sparks, simply because we are not advocating for grand gestures but small things that we could do with our conscious choices. So I’d say that our days are filled with great fulfilment from knowing that small actions can translate to something much bigger.”
BANNER PHOTO CREDIT: INSTAGRAM/@sparksactive