By: Stéphane Marceau, Co-founder of OMsignal
Nike and Victoria’s Secret are engaged in an all out fight for the sports bra market. The smart bra may change that battlefield.
The battle is on. Over the last months, the largest and most iconic activewear brands in the world have been throwing everything they’ve got at winning over the active woman. Nike and Adidas built their brands competing on running shoes above all. Now, in addition to those giants, UnderArmour and Victoria’s Secret are also engaged to win the Battle of the Sports bra and the hearts of active women worldwide..
Just this summer, Victoria’s Secret put their bathing suit line on the backburner to focus on their new line of sports bras, and Nike is doubling down on their Nike Pro Bra collection. In other news, Adidas is making a “play for women” to counter sluggish sales. Finally, and through their amazing roster of sports celebrities and models, UnderArmour is relentlessly promoting its new line of racer back bras .
The dramatic sales growth of the sports bra market and the drastic decrease in push-up bras has made this category extremely strategic, and reflects women’s refocused priorities on comfort and being good to their bodies. Recognizing that the most important gear for women runners is a great sports bra, arguably even more so than shoes, the need to step up their sports bra game is necessary to stay ahead of the pack. Running has always been the sport anchor for the Nike brand and a highly strategic sport for every large active brand. There are over 60M runners in the US alone, most of which are women; and more people are running. There are now a third more runners than there were in 2008. Ultimately, you can’t compete in the same league as the major active brands without being seen as relevant and innovative by runners.
Women themselves are also realizing that the sports bra is the most important running gear purchase they will make, and that this particular piece of apparel impacts so many critical aspects of the running experience. It speaks to the enjoyment of the sport, to performance and progress, to safety from injuries and of course, to style and fashion.
Once upon a time, running enthusiasts settled for whatever cross-trainers they easily got their hands on, but these days are long gone. Consumers know better now and understand the value of wearing the right pair of running shoes. They are very deliberately looking for the best shoe for their unique running level and habits. The importance consumers ascribed to running shoes turned the shoe brands they wore into a defining symbol of individual affirmation and affiliation. This in turn made the running shoe the most powerful product platform upon which the likes of the Nike brand was built.
Here is the scoop: For the active women market, the sports bra is becoming the core product platform for major active brands.
Science tells us that running can be very hard on women’s bodies, on their shoulders, backs and breasts in particular. A good sports bra is a highly technical apparel product (in the same way that a good running shoe is a technical product). Developing a bra that truly protects women’s bodies and saves their breasts, backs, shoulders from the strains of running is a highly complex endeavour.
The OMbra, OM’s new flagship product, is the result of over 2000 prototypes and years of research, protocol tests with countless women, deep scientific analyses and experiments, and of continual design reviews and production optimization. Every turn and tweak to the product had one single purpose: to deliver a superior sports bra experience, focusing on support, comfort, aesthetics, and in our case, on the quality of the bio-signal. A good sports bra does not stand only on an inspired fashion design. While we work with highly accomplished sports bra designers, the vast majority of the development work is not about imagining the perfect-looking bra but on scientifically iterating on (prototyping, analyzing, testing, etc) the overall bra experience until it is awesome. A sports bra should not be developed like traditional fashion apparel but like software is developed, with an agile development approach.
With their smartwatches and activity-trackers, these same iconic active brands are simultaneously engaged in another battle: the wearable tech battle. Whether it’s UnderArmour’s health box, Nike’s recently announced Apple/Nike+ watch or Adidas’ MiCoach, the quest to deliver data-driven insights and coaching to runners through branded products is another equally strategic battlefield.
At OM, we see these two battlefields (battle of the sport bras and battle for wearable tech leadership) coming together through the smart sport bras. Smart apparel like smart bras will deliver deeper body readings and permeate our sports and lives without asking that we wear additional things on our body.
There is a physiological reason and simple insight that will make it so: the bra will always beat the smartwatch at reading the female body , and it can do it without asking women to wear something new on their wrist. Women are already comfortable with fabric touching their skin at the torso level from wearing a bra on a daily basis, and this is the most premium body real estate to capture biometric signals during sports or lifestyle activites. The vital signs (heart, breathing) which contain the most meaningful insights for runners and general lifestyle, happen in this body area. No matter what smartwatch makers would like you to believe, your heart and your lungs are NOT in your wrist. Finally, the torso area is also a reliable and central place to understand the body’s movement. If you compare it to the wrist, for example, you can accidentally generate steps by simply flicking it. Even from an aesthetics standpoint, bras easily win the day. Look at existing smartwatches by Fitbit, Garmin and even surprisingly Apple and Nike, (see the Apple/Nike watch). They showcase decidedly masculine and bulky aesthetic. For all these reasons, the bra is the most natural and powerful gear to help women listen to their bodies.
Today we launched OMbra, the most advanced smart sports bra (link to press release) with its companion mobile app OMrun. The OMbra/OMrun duo deliver women runners of all levels both the benefits of the very highest quality of sports bra, deeper, more accurate data and hyper-personalized coaching to seamlessly and elegantly enhance the experience of running. OMrun takes the deep and accurate biometric readings of OMbra (which could not be acquired via any smartwatch) to enable women runners to achieve what we call a mindful running experience. For more on mindful running, click here or see this video.