The 16-year-old behind F5, the sustainable athleisure brand in Dubai that's going places

Sarisha Ved first had the idea as part of a school project — now she's taking her booming business to London

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While many teenagers are probably spending their summers perfecting TikTok dances and sleeping in, Sarisha Ved is preparing to launch her athleisure brand F5 in the UK.

Established in the UAE in March 2021, F5 offers sustainable hoodies, tracksuit bottoms, T-shirts and reusable face masks, for men, women and, most recently, children.

And, remarkably, its founder is but 16 years old.

Hailing from a line of self-starters (“entrepreneurship has always been in my family", she says), Sarisha knew from the age of 14 she wanted to do something mixing her eye for fashion with her desire to positively contribute to the world around her.

Sustainable fashion is not easily accessible to the general public. So I wanted to fuse my passion for sustainability and business into one," she says.

F5 pieces are produced using Global Organic Textile Standard-certified cotton, which adheres to strict criteria in terms of transparency, eco-friendliness and social responsibility. In addition, each piece is made in factories committed to the Sedex standards of improved working conditions.

Such parameters are fundamental to her business model, Sarisha insists. “We use 100 per cent organic cotton for everything. From fabrics to zips to design prints, it is all sustainably and consciously produced.

"It took me more than six months to find the right factory; we wanted someone who was certified to the organisation's strict standards. Also, all our manufacturers are Sedex-certified, too, so they don’t have children making the clothes and they pay a minimum wage.”

A so-called "third-culture kid", Sarisha was raised in Dubai by Indian parents and was brought up to be aware of how fortunate she is. “A few years ago, I went to India with my parents and my dad told me we were going to see a school, and give the children shoes, books and pens," she says.

Tees for Fees Tshirts at F5. Photo: F5

“When we arrived, the organiser told us the children had walked two hours from their village and waited three hours, just to get things in my daily life that I never expected other people to have to wait for. Such a small change made such a big difference in these children’s life.

"It also made me realise the things we take for granted are things other people dream of. It was a life-changing experience.”

Inspired and determined to help back in Dubai, Sarisha established Tees for Fees, selling T-shirts made from organic materials to raise money to help underprivileged children gain an education. Two years on, she has raised Dh60,000 ($16,300) for the Emirates Red Crescent.

The success of Tees for Fees showed Sarisha it is possible for everyone to make a positive impact. "Even a small change in the world, is still a change in the world,” she says.

When it came to choosing her International Baccalaureate personal project in Year 11 at school, she knew it would be a sustainable, ethical clothing brand. She called it F5.

However, the search for suppliers who adhered to her strict ethical standards took an agonising six months, much to her teacher's consternation. “My tutor was going wild at this point, saying: 'How are you going to finish this? We have one month left and you have only just found a manufacturer.' I said: 'I've got this, don’t worry.' Two weeks before I had to submit my project, the clothes arrived."

Sarisha quickly understood it was the start of something bigger for her. “It was a game changer for me — I realised I enjoy doing this. I love being able to help other people," she says.

Today, F5 offers classic pieces, which are soft and comfortable, come in neutral tones of white, black, beige, grey and light blue, and are decorated with phrases such as "Vote Earth" in speech marks, in an echo of the style created by Virgil Abloh at Off-White. Elsewhere, leggings and tracksuit bottoms have the word "Refresh" emblazoned down one leg.

Bridging the gap between functional, desirable clothing and protecting the people who make them is a driving force for Sarisha.

“Having an ethical stance is extremely important to me," she says. "I am trying to make an impact with the clothes I sell, but I can’t make that impact if I don’t help other people in the process.”

Recently, she added childrenswear to F5. "We are the next generation," she says. "And, parents can explain to their children why it's important to buy sustainable things and support ethical brands, instead of brands that just want to make money.”

Targeting anyone between the age of 12 and 30 “who loves hoodies and tracksuit bottoms and wants to change the world”, Sarisha is now taking her company to London for its first international pop-up shop, running from August 22 to 28 on Oxford Street.

“I have been going to London since I was born and can say Oxford Street is the busiest high street in Europe," she adds. "It’s the perfect spot to start.”

As part of the company's unfolding story, Sarisha has made Tees for Fees a core component of F5 and will add one fundraising project per year.

“F5 has made me think, what else I can do, what other lines can I come out with that will help others?" she says. "The whole campaign about F5 and Tees for Fees has been about how to help other people."

Still at the start of her entrepreneurial journey, Sarisha is passionate about the future. “It may be hard to start a company at the age of 15, but when it starts to work by itself, it is the best feeling," she says.

Updated: August 17, 2022, 1:02 PM