It looks deceptively simple, like any other sporty bikini, with a thatching of straps at the back to ensure support and a modest bottom with reasonable coverage. No obvious bells or whistles. But this isn’t just any swimsuit.
Adjusting her bikini while deep in play has been an admittedly annoying distraction for Team Canada beach volleyball player Heather Bansley, who recently collaborated with Lululemon to solve her suit struggles.
“It’s our job to wear a bikini, but we want to feel professional and to be taken seriously on the court,” said Bansley at a media event in Toronto promoting the collab. “We’re strong and powerful and we’re really proud of our bodies, so we wanted to be able to show that and have the suits represent that.”
Both men and women from our beach volleyball teams worked with Lululemon’s design and technology crew to create the 2016 Olympic uniforms, taking over the fitness apparel company’s state-of-the-art Whitespace where Rio’s humid-as-hell climate was replicated to properly track how the players moved, sweat and performed under real conditions.
“The essence of this design is no distraction, so really unlocking how an athlete wants to feel,” said Clare Robertson, design director of intimates and swim at Lululemon. “We’ve implemented a new inner-support system, which we [created] with our technology in Whitespace—we used infrared cameras to really track breast movement.”
And if you’ve ever watched the way players move and dart around the sandy court, limbs akimbo, not having to worry about a nip slip would be an understandable relief.
“We’ve also bonded the straps at the back of the garment at a high temperature, so the players won’t have to keep adjusting,” added Robertson. “The factory actually created a new machine for us to be able to implement this into the design.”
While at the company’s Vancouver HQ, the players—who were first bodyscanned for to-the-millimeter measurements—gave feedback on the spot, so that the designers could make corrective tweaks right away. They zeroed in on everything from finding sweat- and sand-wicking fabric to choosing the perfect colours to ditching any frilly or fussy details.
While the emphasis was function, fashion was represented in the suits’ on-trend ombré print. “The print really came from the athletes’ feedback about how they wanted to feel,” said Robertson. “They wanted to feel powerful and proud to be representing their country. We wanted to capture that exact moment they hit the ball, seeing them in motion, so we went with the national colours and the fade print that really captures this.”
In total, it took the Lululemon team around six months to complete the suits, which are made with post-consumer waste nylon that boasts UV protection plus chlorine and salt resistance. An encouraging quote is even sewed into the top in gold thread—”Be in this moment. It’s yours”—reminding athletes to savour the Olympic experience.
All this obsessive thinking during design means that now, the athletes can forget about the uniforms entirely. “Stepping out onto the court, we don’t even have to worry about it,” said Bansley. “It won’t even be on our mind. To know 100 per cent that [the suit] is going to fit us is very reassuring. We’ve never had anything like that before.”