Sports bras are a staple of an active woman’s wardrobe—just as important as your trusty pair of running shoes. But, have you ever really stopped to think about what goes into the making of a sports bra? At Brooks, a team of highly trained individuals are sweating the details every day so you can forget about your sports bra completely and just enjoy your workout. We sat down with Brooks Senior Manager of Bra Development, Laura Madden, to learn more about what goes into the creation of a sports bra, how her team makes the tough decisions and we even got the inside scoop on the Moving Comfort to Brooks transition. Read on to learn more!
It’s the question everyone’s been dying to ask … Brooks or Moving Comfort? What’s the difference?
Fun fact: Moving Comfort and Brooks have been part of the same company since 2004 and together, were responsible for many of the fan-favorite styles in our line today. When we let go of the Moving Comfort name, we simply moved the styles into the Brooks brand. Even with the logo change, our goal has always remained the same. We are focused on creating bras that enable all women to run and be active.
Because Brooks and Moving Comfort have a long history together, most of our bra development team (including myself) have been the same faces behind our bras since they were labeled with a Moving Comfort logo.
How do you create a bra?
Creating a new bra takes a little bit of science and a little bit of art. For an entirely new bra style, my team (Development) works collaboratively with our Product Line Management, Design and Fabric teams and we kick-off the creation process almost 2 years before the bra will ever be worn. While the creation of each bra is unique—just like the bra itself—we generally follow the below steps:
1. The first step is to understand the consumer needs. To do this we talk to active women, research the latest in comfort and support studies and explore various trends.
2. Once we’ve identified the needs we want to solve for, we work with our Product Line Management team to determine the specifications of the bra such as level of support, size range, etc.
3. With all these details, we build a brief and start the design process. This is a collaborative effort between Design, Development and our Factories where we try out several options to test aesthetics and functionality.
4. Once the design is approved we move full steam ahead with development – approving the base (first) size and grading (creating all the sizes in the range). At each point we are wear testing and for some styles, lab testing, to ensure the support level as well as meeting the needs for comfort.
What inspiration do you draw from when creating new styles?
Our inspiration always comes from our consumers—active women. We listen to feedback and evolve our line and each style to meet changing needs. For example, over the past couple of years we heard from a lot of woman who love bras that have a front zip but they worry about the zipper coming undone mid workout. Those women are in luck! In Spring 2019, we’ll introduce the new FastForward Zip which has a zip-front design and an inner j-hook closure meaning you get support as well as easy on and off.
The bra industry—specifically sizing, fit and technology—is constantly evolving and these advancements enable us to move forward and continue creating products that inspire women.
How do you determine which bras get updated and what those updates will be?
We have a long-term strategy to create an inclusive range of sports bras that cover off on all women’s size, style and experience needs. When we look at our line every season all decisions are made based on this overarching goal. To help achieve this goal, we try to offer at least one new style every season as well as an assortment of new colors and prints. For each style, we’ve also identified an update cadence based on the experience that style delivers to active women.
Which bra took the longest to develop?
The new Juno and the Embody were both long-term investments for our team.
Juno has been a best-seller for years so we really wanted to make sure we were providing women with the same great experience they’ve come to expect from this style while also improving her experience. We knew getting in and out of the Juno could be a workout and that the bra had some features (such as the bonding) that could contribute to chafing. As bonding techniques have improved and the fabrics available have become more sophisticated we were able to soften the feel of Juno to reduce chafing and allow the cup to more effectively mold to the breasts to provide greater support in a more natural and sympathetic fit. We actually waited an extra year to launch Juno to allow for additional wear testing and biomechanics research in our lab.
Embody also took a long time to develop specifically because of the size range. It was the first time we created a bra that went up to a DD-G cup. The development for Embody started with focus groups in 2013 which directly informed the style we introduced in 2016. What we have learnt through the connection with the consumer and from feedback on this style continues to inform how we develop a more inclusive size range, including how we approach increasing the size ranges in existing styles – Juno, Fiona, Rebound Racer and adding the UpHold to the line for F18.
The Juno was such a fan favorite! How did your team make the decision to update this beloved style? How did you choose which features to update?
Even fan favorites deserve a little attention now and then! Right when Juno launched in 2010 we started actively seeking feedback to inform how we could move this style forward and build on the experience it delivered. Every update we made to the Juno was either to address specific feedback or to make sure we were leveraging the latest innovations to improve the existing experience.
Lighter Cups: We heard from women that the cups in the original Juno felt heavy, stiff and hot. Through years of testing, we identified a new material that lightened the cups and ensured they molded better to the individual, all while improving support. The new fabric is also softer to the touch which is an added bonus!
New Neckline: To create the original V-neckline, we had to add a stitch to the center front which we heard chafed some women (me included!). Based on this feedback, we updated to a scoop neckline for a more comfortable experience.
Narrower Straps: When we updated the Juno in 2017 we made the straps narrower to allow for easier on and off but after receiving feedback, we’ve realized women loved the wider straps. This is such valuable feedback and informs how we look at our line going forward.
Overall, we’re really excited about the Juno update but also realize the feel of the bra is very different—it is much softer and lighter than before (which is intentional!). With any new bra I recommend being fitted. So much can affect sizing and it is important to be professionally fit regularly to ensure you are wearing the right size so you can enjoy your active life.
A lot of bras in the line feature front-adjustable straps. Why do you use these? What benefit do they provide?
Great question! The front-adjusting hook and loop closure is actually very unique to our brand and something women are sometimes wary of. We get a lot of questions about whether this adjustment feature provides adequate support and/or if it will chafe. All our gear goes through extensive testing so you can rest assured this feature has gone through multiple rounds of activity! The front-adjustable straps also offer a variety of benefits including easy in-motion adjustments, ability to size up or down based on ongoing breast fluctuation and it’s a great tool when women are breastfeeding. While we love this feature, we also believe it’s important to provide options and to feature styles with self-adjusting straps (HotShot), metal sliders (FastForward, Maia) and no hardware (UpRise, UpLift, UpHold).
Why do you use different closures on different styles (i.e. hook and eye, j-hook or pull over)? What is the differences between them?
The different back closures are all about personal preference. The hook and eye is great because it provides a custom fit, however, we know some women would prefer easy on/off over adjustability, in which case the j-hook back closure is ideal. On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve heard some women tell us they don’t want any hardware at all—especially those who intend to do floor work in their bra. For these women, we provide a variety of pullover styles. Overall, we want to give as many options as possible so women can choose what works best for them.
How do you add support when developing a sports bra?
Creating support in a sports bra starts with the pattern which is essentially a sketch used for sewing. You can create fit and support in a variety of ways through creative pattern cutting and how you balance the different fabrics and components. We start with the support preference so that we don’t overbuild a style or add something that the consumer wouldn’t want.
We saved the tough question for last. What is your favorite part of your job?
I love working with my team and connecting with consumers. I work with an amazing team of women who are all passionate about what we do and share my love for working directly with consumers. At the end of the day, we want to build amazing bras that really resonate. Having that moment where you’ve changed someone’s life because they get out there and can be active is an unbelievable feeling. Equally as important is gathering feedback when our bras just didn’t perform the way someone expected. We love taking this feedback and working through the details to understand what we can do differently in the next style. Working on bras is an incredibly personal journey for all of us on the team!
About Laura Madden:
Laura is the Senior Manager of Bra Development at Brooks. When she’s not working with her team to build industry-leading bras, you can find her baking, knitting or spending time with her family. Running is a highlight of Laura’s day—specifically any run that includes her daughter and a trip to the park.