Nike's New Sports Bras Borrow From Footwear Technology, and Vice Versa

At a panel discussion and preview of the brand's spring 2016 women's collections, lightweight but strong materials were key.
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Chantal Fernandez
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At a panel discussion and preview of the brand's spring 2016 women's collections, lightweight but strong materials were key.
Nike's spring 2016 collection. Photo: Nike

Nike's spring 2016 collection. Photo: Nike

When Nike set out to make a stronger yet more lighweight sports bra for spring, it took inspiration from a category with similar goals: footwear. After a panel discussion about the upcoming season's collection at the brand's showroom in Soho last week, Julie Igarashi, vice president of global design for Nike Women’s training division, explained how Nike's Flywire technology has added support to sports bras without adding bulk.

"Think about a suspension bridge and about how minimalist cabling in the right place can provide a lot of support and structure but [still be] ultra-lightweight," said Igarashi. "We typically use it in footwear around the mid-foot to give you support and a lock-down feel." The new Pro Hyper Classic Bra, an updated version of the Nike Pro Bra debuting in January, features an exterior flocking silicon graphic print that looks like crisscross cables, and provides muscle and tissue containment. Nike has been using strategically placed filaments, also known as Flywire, in footwear since it debuted the technology ahead of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The term you probably know — Flyknit — is Nike's name for the application of that filament technology to the soft, seamless material used in its sock-like shoes. Now Nike is applying the technology to sports bras where softness is just as critical as support.

VP of Women's Training Apparel Helen Boucher with a sports bra from Nike's spring collection. Photo: Nike

VP of Women's Training Apparel Helen Boucher with a sports bra from Nike's spring collection. Photo: Nike

"We were thinking about how essential the sports bra is to her workout wardrobe," said Igarashi. "If that isn't right, nothing is, so how do we take what we offer and then reimagine an additional level of support and cooling?" 

The information flow goes both ways, however. The footwear team considered how bras are molded to design a new shoe style for women called the Lunar Sculpt that is made of a soft yet firm material, much like traditional bra cups. Igarashi explained that women's heels are not only generally narrower than men's, but also vary more in width so the flexible cup-like material helps prevent heel slippage while remaining flexible.

Nike's new Lunar Sculpt shoe for women. Photo: Nike

Nike's new Lunar Sculpt shoe for women. Photo: Nike

"[Nike Women's Training Footwear Design Director Nicole Muellershe] actually went to a bra manufacturing facility to work with them on molding techniques for the material that she used create the perfect seal fit," said Igarashi. "We obsess [about] fit in footwear for women on a really high level, knowing that our heel is actually quite different in shape and anatomy from a man's heel." The inside of the Lunar Sculpt shoes also takes cues from bras: the tongue is integrated into a sock-like bootie inside that minimizes seaming.

In anticipation of the upcoming summer Olympics in Brazil, much of Nike's spring collection comes in bright tropical colors and prints — something consumers who perhaps don't care as much about the technology side of things are likely to appreciate.

Nike is already the biggest apparel company in the country, and the ongoing development of its women's categories will be a critical part of reaching its new goal of $50 billion in annual sales by 2020. 

Vice President of Global Design for Nike Women’s Training Julie Igarashi with Nike's upcoming Lunar Sculpt shoe. Photo: Nike 

Vice President of Global Design for Nike Women’s Training Julie Igarashi with Nike's upcoming Lunar Sculpt shoe. Photo: Nike