The sports bra is at the heart of every female athlete’s workout. It’s often the first thing she puts on and is arguably the most important.
More so than any other part of the workout wardrobe, sports bras make it clear no two women are the same. Different physiques and different needs across a wide range of activities require a heightened focus on narrowly tailored personalization. In this regard, fit and support are paramount. A sports bra that doesn’t fit right is motivation not to work out.
“We have a saying here, ‘No bra, no workout, no run’,” says Julie Igarashi, Vice President of Global Design for Nike Women’s Training. “The majority of women are wearing the wrong-sized bra. This is something we needed to fix.”
This insight inspired Nike to devote more than two years of research, testing, design and development to creating a new sports bra solution. The result of that work is the Nike Pro Bra Collection, an innovative line of sports bras designed for the body in motion to provide the right fit and right support for every female athlete.
The Nike Pro Bra Collection features five bras designed for each athlete’s desired level of support. The centrepiece of the collection is the Nike Pro Rival Bra, which delivers the highest level of support and is offered in 25 sizes to help the female athlete find the right fit. The collection also features the new Nike Pro Fierce Bra, as well as the updated Nike Pro Classic.
The bras are complemented by the new Nike Pro 360 Fit System, which employs a Nike-created calculator to help female athletes find their precise size.
Together, the bras and fit system represent the culmination of a global design journey in which every detail was obsessed, all the way down to the fibres found in the fabrics.
ATHLETE INSIGHTS AND EARLY RESEARCH
Athlete insights are the lifeblood of Nike design. In the early stages of its sports bra research, Nike interviewed a number of athletes. An important theme emerged: the higher the support, the lower the comfort.
To build a bra up, Nike needed to break it down, work that would require an entire team. This team, spanning research, design and development, embarked on a global journey of innovation. It met with some of the world’s leading bra specialists and studied bra manufacturing best practices. Particular focus was placed on lingerie construction.
The journey also brought the Nike team to the United Kingdom, where it partnered with Loughborough University, one of only a handful of universities in the world that conducts sports bra research.
At Loughborough, both Nike and university researchers worked together to conduct biomechanical testing of female athletes in motion. By using a motion analysis system that captures video at an ultra-slow rate of 200 frames per second, researchers were able to track the breast motion of athletes wearing the bras while running on treadmills. Among other outputs, this testing recorded displacement, a measure of how much the breast moves. It was clear that managing displacement with an appropriate level of sports bra support would be vital.
In total, more than 600 hours of biomechanical testing were conducted, both at Loughborough and in the Nike Explore Team Sport Research Lab.
The sports bra is the true sum of its parts. Every component has the potential to either hurt or help its performance. The materials that comprise a sports bra are prime examples of this. For instance, two of the same fabrics can have significantly different stretch properties if they originate from different batches. If the fabrics stretch differently, they will fit differently.
To maintain consistent fit, as well as soft-hand feel and support, Nike obsessed materials. Researchers analyzed and tested a number of fabrics for stretch, recovery, moisture management and modulus. Modulus, which reveals how difficult or easy it is to stretch a fabric, was an integral consideration. Modulus not only delivers support, but also is the best measure for the consistency of stretch fabrics from batch to batch.
The Nike Pro Rival Bra is the pinnacle example of this high standard. It features a fabric constructed from fine nylon yarns for a soft-hand feel, which is a staple of lingerie construction. State of the art knitting machines were employed to knit the fabric nearly twice as tightly as fabric found in typical apparel. The result is an ultra-soft performance fabric that provides the appropriate amount of stretch and modulus to help deliver support and a consistent fit.
Researchers also devoted significant thought to the chest band, the architectural foundation of the bra. The chest band, which helps provide comfort and support with a better fit, has historically been a lightning rod for criticism.
The design journey not only starts with the athlete, but ends with the athlete as well. More than 300 wear tests to assess support and fit were performed worldwide. In addition, the bras were put through more than 1,800 hours of wash testing to assess shrinkage, durability, hand feel and visual appearance.
To ensure the power of finding the perfect fit can be in the athlete’s hands, Nike developed the Nike Pro 360 Fit System. Born out of two years of development, the system requires the female athlete to enter her ribcage circumference and cup size into a Nike-created calculator. The calculator will then produce a recommended bra size. Initial testing on 100 athletes showed the system to be approximately 80 percent accurate.
The Nike Pro Bra Collection is available now from selected Nike stockists.
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