Body Work

How two Bengaluru athletes created a sisterhood in sport reaching over 3,000 women

Founded by elite fitness coach Swetha Subbiah and ace footballer Tanvie Hans, Sisters in Sweat has made sport accessible and fun for thousands of women in India

By Neha Kirpal

Last Sunday, on 27 November 2022, over a hundred women met for a ‘Sweat Fest’ at Smartworks Sargod, Ashok Nagar, Bengaluru. They had an hour and a half of workout in three formats – 25 minutes of yoga followed by 25 minutes of piloxing (a combination of pilates and boxing) and then 25 minutes of dance, with breaks of five to 10 minutes in between.

Some of these women had never attempted anything to do with sport or fitness earlier; some had been active in the past but had dropped out for various reasons. Now, thanks to the efforts of a community called Sisters in Sweat, they were inspired to get take up sports once again.

Founded five years ago by Swetha Subbiah, a 37-year-old performance coach, and Tanvie Hans, a 32-year-old footballer, Sisters in Sweat was envisioned to “plug the gaping hole of women dropping out of sport, especially after school or college due to a myriad of reasons,” say the founders.

The organisation has helped thousands of women from all walks of life gain accessibility to sport regardless of athletic ability, age and socio-economic status. Their mission is to “level the playing field” and to add an element of fun to movement and wellness. Headquartered in Bengaluru, the organisation offers seven sports.

Sweat Fest at Bengaluru, 27 November 2022

Swetha, who is a personal trainer and fitness coach with over a decade of experience, is one of four Nike-certified instructors in India. Sport had always played a crucial role in her life and she has participated in various sports, such as tennis, squash and badminton at the school, college and club levels. She also represented the state of Karnataka in under-16 Hockey.

The other cofounder Tanvie is one of the best-known female footballers in the country. She is among a handful of Indian-origin players who have played for popular English clubs such as Tottenham Ladies and Fulham Ladies FC. She started her journey playing with the boys in her school in Delhi, and ended up playing at the state and national level for many years. She is currently captaining the Karnataka State team and the Parikrma FC team in Bengaluru.

The founders describe Sisters in Sweat as “a happy accident”, as they had never intended it to be what it is today. They designed their first session for a friend in November 2017. When Tanvie and Swetha showed up on the football turf that morning, they had low expectations – they assumed only a few girls would show up and it would be a one-off event.

As it turned out, that first session had 17 women and everyone had a great time.

L-R: Swetha Subbiah and Tanvie Hans, cofounders, Sisters in Sweat

At the request of these 17 women, the founders decided to do the session every weekend. “It was just a bunch of friends getting together,” Swetha says, looking back. That friends’ circle started growing gradually through word of mouth. In no time, a WhatsApp group was created, which spread the word further.

“At some point, we realised that there was a real gap in the market. There was a need for women to play recreational sports, and we were catering to that gap in a very small way,” says Swetha. It was time to look at this as a serious venture so that they could reach out to more women.

Starting with a small group of 17 and reaching over 3,000 registered members today in two cities is no small feat. A string of sponsorships followed, such as tying up with Manchester City football club in their ‘SameGoals’ campaign to inspire female footballers. There were also tie-ups with big brands like Nike, Adidas and Tata Soulfull.

The Sisters in Sweat team at Manchester City Premier League trophy tour

Beyond these visible milestones and achievements, however, the founders say that some of their biggest achievements are actually reaching women who have never played sport in their life, or bringing sport back to women who dropped out because of various reasons.

When the pandemic hit, the founders wanted to keep their community engaged because it had already grown to a sizable number by then. “We wanted them to stay active and engaged, and not to lose the community feel because we didn’t know how long the pandemic would last,” reminisces Tanvie. So, they started doing virtual sessions in a variety of formats – from dance to yoga, piloxing, virtual football and art therapy.

Once everything started to reopen, one of the team members came up with the idea to combine a couple of the formats and have a physical event where all the women who had attended the virtual sessions could do a session with the instructors. That’s where the idea of the Sweat Fest came about.

The first edition had about 50-60 participants, the second edition had about 80, and the third edition, held last Sunday, had more than 100 participants.

Sisters in Sweat was launched in Bengaluru in 2017; it made its foray to Mumbai in 2022

This year, Sisters in Sweat launched in Mumbai, where the predominant offering is football because of the beaches. Given the success of their beach football sessions there, they plan to launch basketball and many other sports in the city.

“Every single thing that we put out there and offer to the women gets booked out in a matter of seconds. The response has been incredible. We are really pleased with the welcome we have received in Bangalore and across India,” says Swetha. 

In future, they plan to take the venture to other cities but are content with slow growth as it will help them maintain quality while maintaining a ‘community connect’ with members. “That will remain our core. The sports that we offer are more of a tool, but it’s really the community element that makes us a success,” explains Tanvie.

A Sisters in Sweat group session in progress

Five years down the line, they want Sisters in Sweat to be synonymous with sport for women in India. Tanvie adds, “We want women to think of us the moment they think of playing a sport with other women. We want to be a household name in this regard. We hope to change the culture around how sport is consumed by women, especially after a certain age. We want to provide easy accessibility and really build a community for sports for women.”

That’s a lot of hard work and sweat ahead for them, but these women certainly have what it takes.

2 comments on “How two Bengaluru athletes created a sisterhood in sport reaching over 3,000 women

  1. Pingback: कैसे बेंगलुरु के दो एथलीटों ने 3,000 से अधिक महिलाओं तक पहुँचने के लिए खेल में भाईचारा बनाया - eShe - Sarkari Yojan

  2. Pingback: कैसे बेंगलुरु के दो एथलीटों ने 3,000 से अधिक महिलाओं तक पहुँचने के लिए खेल में भाईचारा बनाया - eShe - Sarkari Yojan

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