Here are two words you don't often see in the same sentence: Olympians and poverty.

But struggling elite Canadian athletes, including those competing at the Olympics, inspired a London startup to give these top performers a helping hand, or rather stitch them one through making and selling clothing.

"[We] saw athletes struggling to make ends meet even though they were competing and representing Canada on the world stage," Karly Campbell, co-founder of North Strong Collective, told London Morning.

When somebody purchases North Strong Collective clothing online — shirts, hats and toques are available — 25 per cent of the proceeds go to athletes.

The money helps fund travel costs, uniform expenses and pricey equipment.

Karly Campbell

Karly Campbell, co-founder of True North Collective, says her background as a hockey goalie made he aware of the financial burden of competing as an elite athlete. (Amanda Margison/CBC)

A Status of High-Performance Athlete Study completed by Sport Canada in 2014 showed Canadian athletes on average spend $13,900 per year more than they earn.

"They're just not at all ... our stereotype of poverty. But between those games they're kind of living on a day to day basis," said Campbell.

Campbell and her co-founders, Tanya Moryoussef and Matt Boswick, have long been attuned to the debt athletes often incur.

The Western University MBA students were undergrads when they created the online clothing retailer last January, but they're also athletes.

Their collective background in competitive sports made it clear to them the need to support athletes who don't nab the big name sponsorships from companies such as Nike or Red Bull.

"A lot of times those sponsorships are focused on the top athletes, those who have proven themselves at the Olympics or have very high medal potential or are marketable to be quite honest," said Campbell.

"And we're trying to ensure that we give funding to those people that wouldn't normally get it."

Two Olympians already on board

So far, North Strong Collective has signed on 11 athletes, including two Olympians competing in Pyeongchang.

Kristen Bujnowski, an athlete from Mt. Brydges who ran track for Western University and started competing in bobsleigh in 2017, is benefiting from the sponsorship at the Olympics in South Korea.

Kasandra Bradette, a short track speed skater, is also part of the initiative. 

The goal is to sign on hundreds of elite athletes without corporate funding to ensure no Canadian athlete has to suffer financially for representing Canada.

Campbell says the benefits can be felt at home.

She points to how the success of the 2008 Olympic rowing team spurred on involvement of youth in rowing clubs across the country.

"When athletes do well on the world stage, we see impacts locally of Canadians being healthier," said Campbell.