Close-up of bamboo

Re-thinking Sports and Sustainability

Founded on his passion for both geography and economics, 2019 University of Reading graduate Caolan Humphries is making waves in the sports industry with his innovative approach to sustainability and sportswear. 

Caolan shared with CONNECTED his journey from student to entrepreneur – including how his time studying Geography and Economics inspired him to start his own business and what advice he would give to new graduates.

Caolan will also be joining us on Tuesday 23 April for an Instagram Alumni Takeover. Follow @uoralumni on Instagram to watch his takeover and ask Caolan about his career.

Stand-out memories

Although Caolan first had the idea for his business, Kata Sportswear, while sat in a lecture theatre at Reading, he admits that it hadn’t crossed his mind while he was deciding which course to study.

He said: “When I started university I just decided to study a subject that I enjoyed. I’m a bit of a geography nerd. My dad studied geography years ago and got me interested in it growing up. I liked the aspect that people, culture and place all interact with one another, and I enjoyed the logical side of economics.”

Reflecting on his time at Reading, Caolan recalled fond memories of campus life: “I had a great time! I particularly loved the campus. I’m from London so it was refreshing to be on a campus that is so open and green.” 

During his time at Reading, Caolan took advantage of the ample research trips available. He remembered: “The Geography Society was a real social hub for me and did loads of trips. We went to Prague, Lisbon and Budapest which were stand-out experiences.

“The Geography Department also did really amazing trips – which for me was great because I love visiting new places and experiencing different cultures. We spent a week in Berlin and it was a great learning experience, where we were able to choose our own research topic to gather data and report on.

“It was really educational to have free reign over how we researched our own topic – and to do it in another country was an amazing opportunity!

“I’ve used a lot of what I learnt during that trip while running Kata Sportswear. For example, the different techniques for analysing data have helped me with things like business loss sheets, survey responses and inventories.”

A sustainable spark

It was during a lecture on global labour and sustainable development at Reading that the seeds of his entrepreneurial venture were planted. He said:

“I was sat in a lecture theatre and a professor was discussing labour rights for people in different countries and which companies do things well and not so well, and I was fascinated by it.

“I was wearing gym gear and I thought ‘this is all just synthetic materials’ and from there I realised there must be a gap in the market for someone to do something better.”

Although it was this realisation that sparked his determination to create a more sustainable alternative for sports clothing, Caolan had other priorities to focus on at the time. He explained: “I was in my final year so my studies had to take priority. Lockdown hit when I graduated so I used this time to start looking at clothing samples but I didn’t have any experience with product design or creation. I found that I was teaching myself about these things while also trying to learn how to run a business – it was a really long process and a challenge.”

After graduating, Caolan embarked on a diverse career path that included roles in outdoor leisure management, personal training and coordinating fitness programmes across Europe. But the thought of starting a sustainable business never left him.

In April 2022, Caolan met his business partner, Jimmy Dunster, and they officially launched Kata Sportswear, with a focus on providing sustainable fitness wear and promoting environmental consciousness within the industry.

Their flagship product is crafted from mechanically produced bamboo. Caolan explained: “There are two different ways to create bamboo products. The method we use is basically crushing the bamboo with a machine, extracting the fibre and using that fibre to create yarn, and using that yarn to create the clothing. The alternative production method is to make bamboo viscose which is popular because it’s cheaper but it involves washing the bamboo with chemicals which isn’t good for the environment – which is why we avoid it.”

While environmentally conscious clothing is a top priority, for Caolan the most rewarding aspect of his work lies in building a community around sustainability and wellness. He emphasised:

“It’s all about people and community. We’ve developed this supportive network of people and that’s really exciting.

“They really care about the planet and they want to ensure there is a world left for future generations. It’s great to meet and connect with like-minded people.”   

Looking to the future

For anyone looking to start their own venture, Caolan explains that the journey is the most important part. He said: “Sometimes you just have to go for it. It’s about teaching yourself and taking a leap of faith. We’ve faced a multitude of challenges along the way but the journey and the people you connect with make it all worth it.

“It’s about turning up even on the hard days and being consistent.”

Looking ahead, Caolan hopes for continued growth for Kata Sportswear, alongside a broader cultural shift towards sustainability in the sports industry. He explained: “We hope that we can continue finding solutions to the climate issue to help society.”

Make sure to follow us on Instagram to catch Caolan’s Alumni Takeover on Tuesday 23 April. Caolan will be taking over our Instagram stories to show you what a day in his life looks like and answering some of your questions.

Were you inspired during your time at the University of Reading? Share your story with us.