Armed with support data, adaptive fabrics, lightweight solutions and advanced technical details, a battle to design the perfect sports bra is underway
Designing the perfect sports bra has historically been an arduous task made difficult by high R&D costs and limited scientific research into how breasts move during exercise and how best to offer support. As a result the technical spec and overall design of the sports bra has remained largely unchanged for decades.
The complexity lies in the fact that no two breasts are the same, even on the same woman there are often differences in position, size and density.
Now, designers and researchers are going back to the drawing board to reinvent the sports bra for the next generation of athletes. The sports bra revolution is upon us thanks in part to the advancements in 3D motion capture and prototyping. Alex Ingildsen, CCO at LTP Group has seen a notable increase in development in the category, stating
“A new wave of innovators are entering the sports bra space with disruptive designs and new features”
Here, Ingildsen and designer/trend forecaster Chantell Fenton discuss the latest sports bra innovations hitting the market.
A Brief History of the Sports Bra
The first bra designed specifically for exercise was invented in 1977 by runner Lisa Lindahl. Frustrated by the options available to women, which were either to run in a regular bra which offered little support and often chafed or run braless, Lindahl set about designing the first ever sports bra. The initial prototype was made from two jock straps sewn together. Several iterations later 'the Jogbra' was born. The style was a hit. It offered in-exercise support without metal fixtures or padding.
In the 1980s, gym culture and aerobics exploded, leading to the introduction of spandex and a multitude of bright, stretchy sports bras. These styles worked by compressing the breast close to the chest.
Later in the 1990s, the first encapsulation sports bra was invented thanks to research into breast motion. The style was designed to stabilise the breasts due to the cupped construction.
Since then, sports bra design has focused mainly on compression or encapsulation to enhanced support.
Until now, brands and newcomers are increasingly employing the latest innovations and cutting edge technology to disrupt the industry.
Design On Feeling
Every woman knows how uncomfortable wearing a bra can be. Sports bra innovation moves to incorporate how a product feels as well as how it functions. Lululemon have used their Whitespace research lab to develop a new metric to evaluate the feeling of wearing a sports bra during a workout. Alexandra Plante, director of innovation management at Lululemon‘s Whitespace states
“Our research shows that how a bra feels on your body (specifically how it feels in motion when running, doing yoga, even commuting to work) is what really matters when it comes to comfort and performance, and the experience is different for every woman based on their unique pattern of breast movement, personal feel preference, and of course, physical make-up and shape”
This Plante states has lead Lululemon to develop a range of sport’s bras with discrete variations in construction, cup and band specifications. The aim being to create consistent fit and movement management across the ranges’ full spectrum of sizes.
Lululemon’s latest AirSupport Bra is specifically designed for running combining high support and comfort that feels as light as air. The superior support is delivered via a honeycomb pattern of injected foam that rebalances support across the cups, band, and straps. The style features part structured, part stretchy adjustable straps and a ribbed underband to deliver a custom-fit feeling whilst reducing bounce. Super-smooth Ultralu™ fabric adds close-to-skin comfort.
ThirdLove recently launched into activewear with a new sports bra as the cornerstone of the collection. The brand told CNBC "sports bra" has become the most-searched term on its website in recent months. The new design is specific to a woman's cup and band sizing, rather than the catch-all small, medium, large, X-large. A focus on fit via traditional bra sizing the brand state will lead to enhanced fit and support.
Adaptive Fabric Delivers Shape-Shifting Support
Adjustable support is another area of development. Reebok's gel-infused PureMove+ Bra was the first to hit the market in this space. The Motion Sense technology firms up during heavy-impact workouts and relaxes during low-impact exercise for a distraction-free style. The first season it launched, this sports bra was named one of the year's best inventions by TIME Magazine. Since then the Reebok team have upgraded the style with a no-dig back closure and thicker convertible straps for easy on and off.
Under Armour’s most innovative sports bra to date also delivers shape-shifting support. The Infinity Bra features flexible cups that are designed to offset impact across all impact levels and naturally mold to the female body. The liquid foam follows an infinity shape, the shape breasts actually move in during jumping and running according to breast health experts at the University of Portsmouth.
Adjustable Support Works For Multiple End-Use Styles
As consumers increasingly incorporate home workouts into the day, brands are creating hybrid sports bras that transition from everyday wear to exercise.
Launched in 2019, the patented Molly T takes this approach by offering adjustable support to all levels of activity and support needed, in one design. The velcro wrap front style delivers customisable compression enabling the wearer to transition between running, yoga, and everyday use. The style also accommodates breast fluctuation.
Brooks also innovate in this space launching the Rebound Racer which features velcro shoulder straps for adjustable support.
Consumers Invest In Featherlight Solutions
Gone are the days when high support sports bra means heavy padding. Consumers are looking for comfort over cleavage. Shock Absorber’s Ultimate Fly Bra ditches padding whilst maintaining support. The bra fuses together three layers of fabric that is moulded to the anatomical shape of the breast with a laser cut crisscross design. The Cross Control technology offers supports to breasts in motion.
Lycra® FitSense™ technology can also be used to add lightweight lift. The technology offers gentle shaping and targeted support exactly where it is needed. Lycra FitSense is screen printed onto fabric containing Lycra fibre for functional and visual effects like patterns or colour blocks. The ability to add targeted power, support or lift to zones without bulky padding opens up new opportunities.
Breathable Solutions Gain Traction
Breathability is key for next generation sports bras. Nike’s Ultrabreathe Sports Bra offers the latest in breathable technology using sweat mapping as a guide to show where women typically sweat and where breathability is most needed. The areas that need maximum breathability are exposed/cutaway whilst the areas that aren’t offer supported via a new engineered mesh with enhanced air permeability.
LTP is a Danish owned garment manufacturer for +60 premium brands within active sportswear, outdoor, athleisure and sustainable fashion. LTP was established in 1991, and is probably the biggest Sport & Outdoor garment manufacturer in Europe with bluesign setups in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine and Vietnam
LTP consists of two divisions; LTP Garment and LTP Contract Furniture producing in ten fully-owned factories.
About Chantell Fenton
New design manager at LTP, Chantell is an experienced performance sportswear designer and trend forecaster, with a passion for wellness, technology and function-first design. Chantell has an in-depth knowledge of how to spot and translate the must-have trends and macro shifts for the sports and outdoor industry. For more details visit www.chantellfenton.com