Meet Haley, a “thermoregulation mannequin” used for Nike sports bra technology research and development...which means Haley actually sweats in order to test the merchandise.
Haley’s not alone, though. Nike also built a physical “boob robot” with a chest that mimics the soft tissue of breasts, which they call “Brabot.” Along with Haley and Brabot, Nike has also expanded its use of body scan artificial intelligence, taking dynamic three-dimensional measurements of thousands of women. This tech that more comprehensively captures the female form, and moves and reacts the way our boobs and bodies do when we exercise, is all in service of creating more inclusive apparel.
“We know more about the female body than ever before,” Dr. Bridget Munro, Nike’s women’s research director, said at a recent event celebrating Nike’s 50th anniversary in Los Angeles. “Our investment in women’s research, sport science technology, and data visualization give us the ability to better understand her needs and create the best products possible for her."
At the event, Nike announced that it had expanded its range of sizes for leggings, which now come in sizes from extra small to 4X, as well as for sports bras. It now offers more than 70 cup sizes, and customers can choose from three different levels of support—light, medium, and high—for all three of its major bra franchises.
To achieve this expansive product set, Nike’s vice president of global apparel Melissa Schirripa said the brand had to “completely re-engineer fit, balance, and proportion.” It did that with the help of technology.
“The real breakthrough in better-fitting apparel for more body types has been the proliferation of digital tools,” Schirripa said. “We’re using data visualization and avatars to more accurately match the wide range of curves, heights, and weights we all have. We’re not just grading up, we’re creating specific designs for a much larger percentage of our population to reinforce that sport will never be defined by size.”
Unlike a metal robot, Brabot is made with material that mimics soft tissue, which means it can act as a more useful stand-in for a model who, uh, has boobs. This intelligent torso robot can stretch and move over and over in a way that might tire out a human model, and provides testing consistency. Nike says, “Brabot can reliably and repeatedly assess the support offered by a bra.”
Haley the sweating mannequin also gets employed in quality control and testing, and helps designers decide, for example, where ventilation or extra sweat wicking is needed.
“We have worked to understand how her bra affects her breast tissue, where she sweats and gets hot, how she moves, her movement efficiency, where she experiences discomfort, how she feels,” a Nike spokesperson said over email.
The dynamic body scans have also helped designers better understand how bodies of different shapes and sizes move, which is crucial for athletic gear. When you’re strapping on a sports bra, it doesn’t just have to just fit in the moment. It has to support you and remain comfortable whether you go on a walk or end up twisting yourself into a pretzel on your yoga mat.
“It’s easy to design for a body standing still, but Nike has mastered the body in motion,” Munro said. “Our latest capabilities comprise the most intelligent and holistic support system we have ever built for women.”
Nike has clearly invested a lot of time, money, and futuristic tech into making bras that serve everybody. That inclusivity may enable more women to participate in fitness and feel seen. (It’s also a convenient way to attract more loyal, paying customers to a corporation worth over $150 billion.) But hey, if it’s all in service of making a good sports bra that actually fits, doesn’t chafe, and lets women run and jump to their heart’s content, we’re here for it.
“I want women to know how much blood, sweat, and tears went into sports bras,” Munro said.
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