History of Vegan Boxing Gloves
Padding and surface materials are the two most important components of a boxing glove. Historically, both were made from animal products up until the 1980ies. That was the time when boxing and martial arts became more popular alongside the newly arising bodybuilding and fitness movement. Manufacturers had to come up with a cheaper way of producing entry level gear for beginners who wanted to start out fighting without buying professional grade gear. The solution was the use of artificial leather as utilized in living room furniture and car seats. Down-scaling the padding with less expensive materials was an additional option. While creating more affordable gloves the decrease in protection to lower quality padding made the sport more dangerous.
The cushion in boxing gloves was made from horse hair, traditionally. Over time as industrial animal exploitation generated alternatives horsehair was mixed with fur from slaughtered cows. For cost cutting shredded cloth and sometimes cotton balls were added. Overall it made boxing a rather dangerous sport with a rising number of hand, face and brain injuries. Apart from that traditional horsehair padding was easily manipulated which resulted in at least one recorded death. In the mid 80ies the Olympic Committee was preparing to ban amateur boxing from the Olympic Games. The sport was too bloody for their view of things.
Innovative Padding replaced Horsehair
But in 1986 a German inventor came up with a ground-breaking concept for a new padding that would replace horse hair and save animals from exploitation. Georg Bruckner, a Blackbelt of Taekwondo and Karate and widely credited for founding amateur kickboxing in Europe, developed the first boxing glove with a molded punch cushion produced from polyurethane. Bruckner combined the concept of kickboxing and taekwondo equipment into the anatomy of a boxing glove. In 1987 Olympic boxing organization AIBA started using Bruckner’s new gloves and his headgear to observe a sharp drop in injuries and a huge decline in fight stoppages. Amateur boxing was the noble sport for gentlemen, again.
Bruckner’s strive to make the fighting safer with his newly developed paddings were based on Polyol, an oil derivative. The inventor, who died in 1992, and his brand Top Ten also pushed forward in replacing leather with artificial materials for surfaces. In kickboxing he succeeded in marketing mainly non-leather products while boxers never did step off of traditional cowboy habits. Today, Bruckners inventions became a standard in the industry that are used and copied by many manufacturers. One of them being the use of velcro straps. The velcro strap replaced widely used shoestrings that in some models were made from leather.
Microfibre and Faux Leather
Large brands like Venum, Fighter and Rival are producing more and more products from microfiber, PU and faux leather. Not all of them are produced in sustainable ways, but at least they prevent animals from being abused, exploited and treated with cruelty. It will take a lot more convincing to bring change to boxing. Most old-school trainers do swear upon leather because they are ignorant about the harm they are causing to the world. They often claim, leather is a by-product of food processing, which is certainly proven to be untrue. Other arguments include comfort and familiarity with the smell of leather.
While changes in abolishing animal products from fighting sports gear have mostly come by the way of innovation, they have already helped to reduce the impact on animal exploitation and raised awareness for important issues. As more and more gear makers are switching to artificial surface materials for entry level products we hope they will start expending this change towards professional grade gear. Certainly, it would help if the family of Olympic sports would call for an embargo on animal products. Let’s hope for the best.