British track and field star Lorraine Ugen is launching her own self-funded sportswear brand, Unsigned, for athletes without sponsorship contracts.
World, European and Commonwealth Games medallist Ugen wants the label to highlight the growing number of athletes who don’t have endorsement deals.
The long jump and sprint specialist, 30, also hopes the budding business can supplement her UK Sport funding, which does not cover all of her training and competition expenses.
“There are so many world-class athletes who don’t have a contract. I want to raise awareness of that,” Ugen told City A.M.
“I want the brand to take the stigma away. I want it to be like a movement, a statement, a way for people to feel like they have a community if they’re not signed.”
Ugen had the idea for Unsigned after being dropped by sportswear brand Spyder during the pandemic, when she looked set to miss the Tokyo 2020 Olympics through injury.
She recovered quicker than expected and competed at her second Summer Games, but that did not attract any sponsors who were even willing to offer her free training kit.
So Ugen created Unsigned, designing and helping to sew and print the first batch of athletic and leisure wear herself, which she showcased on social media this week.
The enterprising Londoner is now outsourcing production and building a website so that she can sell her new range beyond her current customer base of friends.
“I’ve had the idea for a while but sat on it for fear of whether it would work,” said Ugen, who won Commonwealth Games 4x100m relay gold for England in 2018.
“I guess [I did it] because I haven’t been signed for a year. I was living out of my savings account and needed to generate some income.”
Ugen realised she was not alone when she saw numerous elite athletes launching crowdfunding pages to solicit donations.
“I wanted to set up a brand so that people could support me but get something back,” she said.
“There are a lot of athletes that are unsigned. A lot of people got dropped during the pandemic. Sometimes people are not signed and they’re too embarrassed to say anything.
“So they’ll continue to wear a brand. It will come off as if they are [signed] but they’re not. And I didn’t want to go that route.
“I want to make sure it’s clear: I’m not signed; I don’t have a contract; I’m available so if somebody wants to sponsor me, I’m here.”
Ugen has got Unsigned off the ground herself but, as she looks to take the brand to a wider audience, is open to investment.
If the project works as intended and highlights her lack of endorsement deals, she could find herself fielding offers from the brands that snubbed her.
In that scenario she might accept a shoe contract, as she is not designing her own, or seek a collaboration between Unsigned and a larger brand.
“I hope to stay under my own brand and take control of my own destiny,” she said.
Even if she did team up with a new sponsor, Ugen intends to keep her new label going as a business interest and for other athletes.
“I want to build a brand so that other athletes behind me don’t have to have that stress of how they’re going to make money,” she said.
To learn more about Unsigned follow @unsignedsport on Instagram.