When it comes to bras, no two women are the same – not in their physiques, needs or desires. Add to that different sports with different impact levels and women have a range of needs that can’t be met with one type of bra. Two years ago, Nike Apparel Innovation designers used this as their guiding principle and asked hundreds of high-school girls and young women around the world to show them their favorite bras. Together they talked sports-bra support, everything from fabrics and clasps to what their bras’ superpower would be if they could have one.
Inspired by their discussions, the design team knew they could do better – better support, better fit, better ventilation. They wanted to treat a bra like a pinnacle piece of an elite athlete’s gear, to give women a choice of support to fit their body type and the different activities they do.
While no two women are the same, most of the participants were wearing the same bra: a compression fit with a racer-back scoop neck. The designers heard the young women talk about layering two sports bras to increase support while others wore a sports bra over their normal bra for modesty. From this research and insight, the Nike Victory Bra series was born with five different styles running the gamut of support: Adjust X, Definition, Shape, Contour and Pro Compression. The range fits a breadth of preferences and needs across different sizes and activities.
Nike’s Apparel Innovation design team began the process by looking at how fabrics pull moisture off the body, coming up with a patented fabric laminate that layers material for support and moisture management. Every detail was obsessed, tested and finessed down to the chest band – a 3.5-cm-wide strip just below the cup that hits where women chafe the most. To get it right the team went through 120 versions trying different ways to build the chest band down to the thread and thread count. Even placement of the care label was up for debate. Endless discussions ensued on thread and stitching as they applied to comfort and shaving down overall weight. The hardware was remade to be lighter and less bulky. And, as the project’s Senior Innovation Manager Susan Sokolowski puts it, making the bra “elegant and attractive” was the group’s task.
Then came the “aha” moment when the design team saw an early sample prototype mold and an idea sparked. When eying the mold of a cup shape over a plastic form, it ignited the possibility of remaking the under-bust support completely. As Susan recalls, “We noticed the end of the mold made a pretty line in the fabric. This piece would normally be cut away, and we thought why don’t we do what they’ve done with molded footwear and make a molded, flexible under-bust support?”
The mesh was compressed so it was stable and had no stretch, making it lower profile than the type of under-bust support used before. What should have been trash, just excess fabric surrounding the actual mold was the answer the team was looking for. The moment was akin to Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman seeing his wife’s waffle iron and creating the first Nike Waffle sole. The new flexible under-bust support has reduced the weight of the fully adjustable versions of the Nike Victory Adjust X and U Bra and is protected by a patent (one of three for the Nike Victory Bra series). Each version of the bra is now 10 to 27 percent lighter than the models they’re replacing. And the shoulder straps are also 35 to 90 percent stronger, to provide a solid anchor.
Through this process, the team also developed a new testing protocol for the bra. In biomechanical lab tests, every woman tests differently. The same woman can wear the same bra and do the same activity, but will get different results on different days simply based on normal hormonal fluctuation in her body. Mechanical testing collects samples from specific components of the bra to ensure it provides enough support and stretch. It also means the results aren’t subjective.
Not leaving anything to chance, the team conducted extensive wear-testing, with each prototype worn numerous times by professional athletes like Paula Radcliffe and members of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. The results were excellent – no one wanted to give back their bras.
Each element of the Nike Victory Bra series has been obsessed over, crafted and considered. No detail was too small, no part too minor, making it Nike’s most advanced bra yet, setting a new standard for the industry. This focus on everything from the seams and stitches to the thread and hardware adds up to stronger, lighter, more comfortable support for women – no matter what their sport or size.