Designed to fit like a sock, the sneaker was the first to feature Flyknit, Nike's brand new technology that made its shoes more seamless and breathable. Constructed using fabric and yarn, as opposed to the standard leather, synthetic, and plastic materials, Flyknit features precise engineering and reimagined what a running shoe — and later, athleisure shoe — could look and feel like. In other words, this was not your grandma's knitting project.
Now, for the first time, Nike is expanding Flyknit beyond shoes, and using it in a far more conventional product category: Apparel. Today, the company is launching the Nike FE/NOM Flyknit Bra.
It might seem odd that Nike is giving so much priority to the sports bra. Why not introduce Flyknit in leggings? Or T-shirts?
"For a woman, one of the things that most often limits her workout is not finding the right bra," Nicole Rendone, Nike's senior bra innovation designer and self-proclaimed "bra geek", told Refinery29. "When you don't find the right bra, it can mean no workout, it can mean a distracting workout, it can mean an uncomfortable workout. So getting the right bra can be the key to empowering women in sport and in life."
Rendone says she used to work out in three sports bras, one layered on top of the other, to get the right amount of support and coverage. The challenges of engineering a bra that provides both is tricky in that it often requires many more pieces of material — up to 40 or 50 components from the cups to the straps, compression, and wire channel — that make it heavier. That's far from ideal, as the last thing you want to wear while working out or working, period, is something that weighs you down.
That's where Flyknit's innovation and deliberate engineering pays off: The FE/NOM has just two, single-layer panels, that, like the brand's Flyknit shoes, are seamlessly combined. Before this, Nike's high-support bras have had as many as 41 pieces and 22 seams.
Because Flyknit can be engineered stitch by stitch, designers have more control over the final product, Andy Caine, vice president of footwear design at Nike told Refinery29. The darker panels that you see on the bra are areas where the knit construction is stronger, providing more support.
While the geometric-patterned bra might look very simple and straightforward, the testing that went into making it a reality was long and athletic in nature. Inside Nike's Body Lab, a part of the Nike Sport Research Lab, researchers used a massive scanner with motion capture analysis to look at four factors: Heat, sweat, cooling, and movement. Over 600 hours were spent with people of all shapes, sizes, and ages. These testers wore different variations of the bra, as well as reflective markers that show where the body is moving in spaces not captured on video.
The resulting motion capture analysis and video footage are used to create what Nike calls its Atlas Maps — maps of the body that depict temperature, sweat, and movement during a workout. These maps inform the construction of the product. In areas where the body sweats more, for example, the product needs to be more breathable, while areas where breast tissue vibrates more need more compression to limit movement.
"I think the best comment we heard was from [a tester] who said, 'When I was running I decided I need new pants, because for the first time I wasn't thinking about up here [motions to chest], I was looking down there,'" Bridget Munro, a senior research science in the Nike Sports Research Lab told Refinery29.
Compared to other Nike products, which can take upwards of ten years to go from research to development and, finally, production, the Flyknit bra came to fruition in less than two years. The collaborative efforts between the company's teams "allowed us to get to prototype quicker, test quicker, and, when we felt we had a good product, get to market quicker," Munro said.
"There will be new styles, new designs, and some of the textures you saw in footwear will be translated into the bra," Rendone said. "There's so much we want to do, but I ran 6 miles in this and was like, 'We have to get this out. This is amazing, and women need to feel this.'"
Ed. Note: Nike paid for travel expenses and provided a bra for testing for the purposes of this story.