It’s a private quest every woman has been on since her pre-teens. We’ve all been on various excursions to the mall, high street or local lingerie boutique in the hope that somewhere, out there, exists the mythical perfect bra.
The problem is that traditional lingerie and sports clothing stores have long offered standard sizes, fabrics, designs, and capabilities, with little chance for customization. Industry giants like Victoria’s Secret are now seeing major criticism and declining sales numbers due to the demand for lingerie that isn’t just sexy but also designed for different shapes, activities, functions, and, most importantly, comfort.
The relative lack of innovation in the bra industry and high demand (it’s set to reach $30.4 billion by the end of 2025), have made it ripe for disruption.
Bras are ready for disruption
The tech industry is now answering the call for better support and options with a boom in smart bra technology. As Marija Butkovic, Founder and CEO of Women of Wearables explained,
“Lingerie is something deeply intimate for every person, especially women. Besides making women feel beautiful and good about themselves, it needs to serve its original purpose: To support our breasts and help our posture. If we add the technology element to this equation, we get highly personalized pieces of clothing that can potentially solve more serious problems connected with women’s health like heart disease, breast cancer, and stress.”
And it could be the perfect moment to shake up the bra industry. The smart fabrics industry is expected to see exponential growth with a forecasted valuation of $4.08 billion by 2023. At the same time, a growing number of women are entering the market. Butkovic sees this as a major turning point:
“Until more women started getting involved in the wearable tech industry, most wearable products were designed by men, for men. Women really focus on end-use, need, and function. Women are natural caregivers, hence a lot of technology they develop focuses on providing solutions to things people really need help with. Besides, I somehow think that only women can truly understand the problems they have and how to solve them.”
Here are some of the ways tech will be disrupting their underwear drawers:
Most women are wearing the wrong bra… we’ve all heard it and know it’s unflattering, but actually, it’s unhealthy as well.
According to studies by the University of Portsmouth’s department on breast health, wearing the wrong size bra can cause breast pain, skin damage and abrasions, and neck, shoulder, and back pain.
The university’s research also found that the impact of wearing ill-fitting bras goes beyond physical discomfort. According to secondary school girls in the UK, 45 percent might be avoiding sports because of embarrassment or breast pain caused by wearing the wrong sports bra.
#Bluetooth-based bra measurements
Lingerie company Soma wants to revolutionize the way we measure bra fit. Instead of the traditional tape measurement, the company’s ‘Sommainofit’ bra uses Bluetooth and measurement sensors that get a more accurate measure of a woman’s size, shape, and cup.
The Bluetooth device at the back then transmits these measurements to the Somafit app which gives a more accurate reading of the wearer’s size and suggests styles from the company’s catalog that would fit best.
Our boobs don’t stay the same size and neither should our bras. Menstrual cycles, weight gain, weight loss, and pregnancy can all cause our breast size to fluctuate throughout our lives. Soma’s solution allows women to remeasure themselves as needed.
#Smart fabrics and design
Tech isn’t just bringing us closer to a better fitting bra, it’s also arming us with the ability to run faster and move with greater agility.
Research into the kinematics of breast movement by the University of Portsmouth found that when we run, instead of simply moving up and down, our breasts actually move in a complex figure-eight motion. Without proper support, our breasts can move a whopping 15 cm.
As can already be imagined (and is also backed by scientific evidence), large breasted women experience much more movement and are more likely to experience breast pain after physical activity, causing many to sit on the sidelines. Those women who don’t want to give up sports simply have to suffer through the pain. A survey of female runners during the 2012 London Marathon found that 32 percent experienced breast pain.
But advances in tech design and smart fabrics could help bring more women into the game and even improve our performance. Brogan Horlar, a research associate at Portsmouth University, explained:
“We’re seeing an increasing number of smart fabrics. These fabrics can react to a stimulus from the wearer. For example, they can become stiffer in response to movement. If included in a sports bra, these fabrics could react to the movement of the breasts to increase support during exercise, but relax again when the wearer is not moving. This feature is useful for women who want to wear their sports bra for a range of activities which require varying levels of support.”
Fitness giant Under Armour has been experimenting with new designs and fabrics to give its sports bra line a tech injection.
UA’s Armour Bra was one of its first such innovations. Instead of simply creating one design in different sizes, the Armour Bra is designed to provide different levels of support as cup size increases. At the same time, it uses ‘super stretch technology’ to avoid restricting the athlete’s movement.
UA’s team also developed a seamless bonding technology to avoid the chafing often experienced by long-distance runners, while their signature sweat-wicking fabric should keep wearers dry.
Under Armour partnered with the Head of Breast Health Research at the University of Portsmouth, Dr. Joanna Scurr, to test for movement and comfort. Participants reported the bra was both supportive and a good fit.
Their newest line, UA RUSH, introduces a new mineral-infused fabric which absorbs the energy being emitted from your body during exercise and reflects it back into your tissue and muscles, thereby boosting strength and endurance.
In this way, the company has taken smart fabrics a step forward by not just facilitating movement, but also enhancing performance.
#Health and wellness
The wearables industry isn’t just innovating the way our bras are designed, it’s also using smart bras to completely transform women’s healthcare.
Startup Vitali Wear is helping us take mindfulness to the next level. Their smart bra monitors your breath, posture and heart rate viability. With this information, the Vitali app picks up on oncoming stress and coaches you through breathing exercises to get your heart rate back to normal. In addition, the app corrects bad posture and helps achieve other personal health goals.
#Detect health issues early
After his mother contracted and beat breast cancer, eighteen-year-old Julián Ríos Cantú developed the Eva Bra to help women detect signs of the disease earlier on.
By wearing the bra and following the directions on Eva’s app, the wearer can conduct their own breast cancer examination. The cups are fitted with sensors that monitor thermal changes in a woman’s breasts which could be attributed to tumor growth. The data is then sent to the wearer’s device via Bluetooth and analyzed by the platform’s AI-based algorithm. A report can then be generated in a matter of minutes.
MIT startup, Bloomer Tech, uses their bras as a wearable to detect heart disease. Unlike the Eva Bra, Bloomer Tech’s bras are made for everyday use so women can monitor their heart rate and track their heart health from their phone, tablet or desktop.
What’s next for the smart bra industry?
Now that we’re innovating the fundamentals like better fit, fabrics and even revolutionizing our performance and health, what challenges should the smart bra boom be used to tackle next? Butkovic shared her thoughts:
“I believe the next step is to cater to breastfeeding women. One of the best inventions I’ve seen so far that goes in that direction is Elvie’s wearable breast pump. I became a mum myself eight months ago and one of the biggest challenges for me ever since was breastfeeding. No one prepares you for it and you have to figure it out yourself.
This is especially important when it comes to how much milk your baby actually takes/feeds per day. If a smart bra could somehow measure the volume of our breasts and according to that calculate how much milk we produced and how much the baby fed throughout the day, then that would be a groundbreaking invention that would make the lives of many mums so much easier.”
It’s not just technology that’s advancing the smart bra industry. Better awareness of the importance of breast health is changing our mindset towards the bras we purchase. While look or comfort were once the two options, today we don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. “I truly believe that 10, maybe 15 years from now smart bras will become a staple in women’s wardrobes,” Butkovic concludes.
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This post is brought to you by Under Armour.