When an athlete comes to the realization that their playing days are done, they often think about what they are going to do next. Unfortunately, some of them often struggle to stay afloat post-career. Long distance runner Lornah Kiplagat wants to be the exception, not the rule.
“After several years running, I wanted to combine ideas,” said Kiplagat. “I thought there was a way to create a brand for women. I wanted to see something with more design and more color. Because of my African heritage and where I come from, I wanted to use the colors of Africa.”
Kiplagat, who is nicknamed “Simba” in her native Kenya, competed in the last three Olympics for the Netherlands. She has won marathons here in the states as well as in Europe. She is also a four-time world champion and holds the world record in 5K at 14:47. These days, she wants to take the competitive spirit she harnessed during her running career over to the workout apparel arena.
Lornah is launching a self-titled apparel line, which debuted this week at the Running & Fitness Event for Women convention in Chicago, that plays up to not only her nickname, but her Kenyan roots. It is also the first time American consumers will see the clothing line.
“The logo is a design of a lion and my nickname and my style of running,” sahe said. “I trained so much, that people started calling me Simba. I wanted to bring that aspect to my clothing line.”
Kiplagat’s husband and business partner, Pieter Langerhorst, says that the initial feelers they’ve put out bodes well for possible funding and expansion for the brand, “Lornah.” He says that some Americans saw the clothing line in Munich and asked where they could get it.
“It's amazing,” said Langerhorst. “We just launched in April in the U.K. We have distributors in Ireland, Germany, Kenya and South Africa. Next, we have Denmark, Switzerland, Norway and Finland. The African heritage is very important. Beautiful people. The color is very important.”
“We’re selling very well in Kenya, but 60 percent of the people buying are white people -- in Kenya,” Langerhorst continued. “Africa is very hot at the moment. The economy in Africa is doing better than anywhere else in the world. Everyone is focusing on Africa.”
Kiplagat knows that she won’t be able to compete with Nike, Adidas or Under Armour. However, she believes that the major apparel giants underestimate the buying power of African consumers.
“I don’t see myself as competing with them,” Kipligat said. ‘But there are so many people who want something different. This is meant for people who want something different.”
Even though Lornah spends time between Kenya and the Netherlands, along with getting her clothing line off of the ground, she has used her earnings from running to engage in several philanthropic endeavors. In 2000, she created a school in her native Kenya called “High Altitude Training Center.” Athletes from all of over train there according to Lornah.
“Now, we have a curriculum,” she said. “The girls will stay there and they will train there. We have enough room for the space.”
Kiplagat also knows that she was lucky to get out of Kenya when she did.
“A lot of Kenyans are farmers ... that means planting maize, planting wheat, milking the cows, getting the milk sold to cooperatives ... the women have to take care of all these things,” she once told PBS’ Frontline. “So that means, at the end, that women are doing all the jobs for the people to have food in their stomach. It's up to the women.”
Because Kiplagat knows how hard it is for Kenyans to do something else with their lives other than farming, she decided to make sure that the generations behind her have more options.
She and some of her friends pay for underprivileged Kenyan students to go to college in America. Most of the students end up going to Ivy League schools. According to Lornah, many of the students often come back to help out after graduating.
“We select 12-16 kids,” she said. “It’s been very encouraging to see what they do after. Some of the companies they come back and work for pay just as good, or even better than they would get in America.”
Kiplagat also has a sports academy she named after herself that will only train Kenyans initially. She wants to train the next generation of Kenyan long distance runners. Currently, there’s not a tentative date for the academy’s opening.
“I want it to be one of the best academies in the world,” she said. “We don’t have many academies here. We want to get more Africans in.”
Although she hasn’t officially retired, her status for the 2016 Rio Olympics will be determined if she decided to hang up spikes for good.
“If I don’t make it to the 2016 [Olympics], I’ll retire,” she said. “I’m doing so many other things. Now, I have to find a balance between helping out at the school and the training center.”
And there’s also her fledgling apparel line.
“African culture is rich and most people don’t realize it,” she said. “If you look at the colors, it makes you happy. As a Kenyan, I want to see something that represents my community. It’s motivating.”
For more information on Lorna Sports, visit https://www.lornahsports.com/en