Written By Sason Bishope Parry
Times are changing rapidly, and with the planet facing many challenges, including global warming and climate changes, that change can’t come fast enough. One company looking to make an impact by creating sporting goods with sustainable, vegan materials is ECO-SPORTS, founded by athlete and entrepreneur Troy Akin. Being the youngest of three boys, Troy loved to play and grew a passion for sports, including tennis, basketball, and football. He went on to play college tennis and later found passion in professional Pickleball. After retiring from college sports, Troy discovered plant-based foods and realized immediately how much his health, sleep, and recovery from training had improved. As he dove more and more into a healthier eating lifestyle, he started to grow a passion for environmental causes and animal welfare. This led him to the realization that so many sporting goods either use leather, which is outdated and cruel, or they use topical chemicals like PVC that have BPA’s and other forever chemicals in them. Troy thought there had to be a better solution for sporting goods. In many sectors like food or beauty products, vegan, nontoxic products were gaining huge popularity but had not made their way to mainstream sports yet. Hence, Eco Sports was born, and Troy found purpose again, kickstarting the company in 2021.
“My passion for sports is matched by my passion and compassion for the environment and animal welfare, and I knew I had to make a difference. Eco-Sports is bringing sustainability to sports.” – Troy Akin
Since its launch, Eco Sports has been readily received and achieved a lot of initial success, selling over 5,000 balls, working with 50+ Schools and 10+ camps, and is currently on target to becoming a premier sporting goods company. Using a non-toxic, biodegradable, cruelty-free leather is the key to Eco Sports success. However, being a pro athlete, Troy knew he had to keep his performance high, or people wouldn’t want to use the product. So he and his father, Paul Akin, one of his initial investors and biggest supporters, combined their Rolodex of athletes and tested as many balls as possible. These included basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, volleyballs, and baseballs. They were able to gather a plethora of great feedback to help them create some of the highest-performing balls on the market and ones that don’t cheat sustainability.
As Troy puts it, “Cheaters never win!”
Going forward, Eco-Sports has big plans to expand and continue its footprint in the sustainable sporting goods category by continuing to outsource the best vegan and eco-friendly materials. As veganism expands its footprint into fashion and sports, many materials like cactus leather, corn fibre leather, pineapple leather, and even bamboo leather are becoming very popular amongst inspiring, forward-thinking designers and entrepreneurs looking to create change. Troy says that he is excited to try many of these vegan leather sources. With his current passion and pro status as a pickleball player, he is even toying with the idea of having a corn fibre paddle that will replace the existing carbon fibre paddle used today in pickleball. It seems like the sky is the limit for this young and inspiring new vegan sporting goods company.
I recently had the chance to sit down and chat with Troy Akin about his new sustainable sports company and veganism at the Bizerkeley vegan festival…
Sason Bishope Parry: How is life?
Troy Akin: Oh boy, life is good! I get the opportunity to make a massive change in a market that is in need of a sustainability jump start. There are definitely a lot of ups and downs competing against mega giants in the space, but it means there is a lot of opportunity.
SBP: Are you vegan? How did that come about?
TA: I am vegan! It’s the single greatest decision I’ve made after picking the partner of my dreams. She is vegan, too. I actually just read a small article saying that a plant-based diet is better for you. As an athlete, I’ll try anything to get a competitive edge (legally…), and I loved how I felt. The more research I did, the more I got involved with the planet and the animals. I went plant-based for my health, and I stayed vegan for the animals.
SBP: You are the founder and creator of ECO SPORTS. Tell us what it is, what inspired you to start it, and your mission.
TA: I loved getting animal products off my plate. Not only did I feel lighter physically, but I also felt lighter spiritually. I felt like I was doing the right thing for both me and Mother Nature. However, as an athlete, I used animal products in my basketball, tennis, and softball leagues. It didn’t stop. I thought there had to be a vegan alternative to leather sporting equipment. Turns out there was. It’s just PVC, which is a toxic chemically intensive material that contains BPA’s and Phthalates. I didn’t want any part of that either.
SBP: How do you see ECO SPORTS changing the sports industry?
TA: Giving athletes another option that is better for the planet and better for the animals that feel and play the exact same… Seems like a no-brainer! As people are starting to put 2 and 2 together where their products come from, giants like Wilson and Nike will be forced to start making vegan and eco-friendly sporting goods. Plus, our planet simply depends on it at the rate we are going.
SBP: How important are veganism and sustainability to you today?
TA: Veganism is very important for me and for people to see you can still be a professional athlete and a professional businessperson and get all the “protein” you need on a plant-based diet. This mission is so important to me that I would love for Wilson and Nike to wipe me out because they created such a good vegan, sustainable product in ALL sports.
SBP: What are your products made from?
TA: We currently make our products overseas intending to grow large enough to open our manufacturing shop here in the USA. We wanted to make sure there was a demand for vegan, sustainable sporting goods before we invested in our manufacturer.
SBP: You are also an athlete. Is that pro status, and what sport?
TA: I played NCAA tennis, where I was in all leagues. After some time away, I found pickleball, which has become my true love. I am currently ranked 64 globally (USA) and have two top 5 wins on my resume. It is a fine balance of starting a company and playing professional pickleball. Eco Sports always wins, and it has taken a toll on my ranking, but I believe Eco Sports will have a bigger impact on the world!
SBP: What excites you most about life?
TA: So many things. I love that there is a changing conversation about our food system, and I love that people are deciding not to be so attached to their phones. I also love that people are playing, getting outside, and connecting with people again. Sports have this amazing ability to bring so many walks of life together. Maybe that’s one thing I love about pickleball is that is you can play with an 80-Year-Old grandma who kicks your butt or a 20-year college student playing for the first time. And you’re outside enjoying the elements and get lost in time. I also love that my partner is just as good as me at pickleball, so we have some epic battles and then go enjoy vegan meals afterwards.
SBP: What is your favourite vegan food and vegan product?
TA: I love anything Mexican, plus it is so easy to make Mexican vegan. We eat a lot of burritos and tacos in this household. Our new favourite restaurant is those Planta’s that are popping up everywhere. Besides Eco Sports balls, my favourite vegan product is my wallet. I held onto my leather wallet for a while because I didn’t want just to throw it away. But every day for three years, I thought about how this was the last animal product I had. When I finally made the switch, there were no more animal products in my life!
SBP: How do you handle arguments against veganism or sustainable, eco-friendly products and their importance to the environment?
TA: That’s a great question. I would say I try to show them the facts. More peer-reviewed articles than any other promote a plant-based diet. More scientists than ever, like 99%, agree man-made climate change is affecting us. But mainly, I try to lead by example. I try to reduce my carbon footprint, from bringing my coffee mug to a coffee shop to taking meat off my plate to buying carbon offsets anytime I must fly. I would lastly say that it is impossible to be perfect, and even eco sports still take energy to make a ball. Still, people are going to play sports, they are going to LIVE, so let’s do the best we can to reduce our footprint and make a sustainable future for our kids.
SBP: What advice would you give new vegans or those curious about veganism and how to start and learn?
TA: Read, read, read. I read so much information when I started transitioning to veganism. There are 100+ reasons to be vegan, you just need to find one that you align with. For me, it was an athletic performance, and now I love animals, and they can even tell! I would also say start at your own pace. Three days a week, five days a week, seven days a week. I would also say you need to ensure you are replacing the nutrients you are no longer getting on a meat diet. Don’t just cut out meat and be vegan… that won’t work, and you will run into health issues. What nutrients were you getting from that meat? Protein, of course, but what about b12, what about iron, what about calcium… There are some things to pay attention to as you transition.
SBP: Do you think veganism and eco-friendly products are the future?
TA: Yes, 100%. We don’t have a choice.
SBP: Who inspires you daily?
TA: I would say my parents inspire me every day with their loving relationship, and they have a successful business they have run together for 30+ years with three amazing kids, but Novak Djokovic is one of my favourites. He just won his 24th Grand Slam, and one could argue he is the greatest athlete of all time. Tom Brady never had to play defence. Novak does it all, all by himself. I also respect that not everyone likes him, but he goes out there and wins regardless. I think Eco Sports could use that mentality as not everyone sees eye to eye on replacing leather, but you can bet we are going to win one way or another.
SBP: What’s next for Troy Akin and ECO SPORTS?
JC: Troy and Eco Sports are pretty much tied at the hip, but for Troy personally, it would be to win a couple more pro pickleball matches, get married, and have kids, which is hopefully shortly. For Eco Sports, we want to dive into a couple more sports, start with more all-start athletes who care about sustainability and the future, and bring production back to the USA. We are busy over here! Bring sustainability to sports without compromising performance!
For more info on ECO-SPORTS go to: www.ecosports.com