What makes a great sportswear design?

A great sportswear design is really a combination of many factors, all executed perfectly; resulting in an innovative, functional, and aesthetically pleasing final product. The journey of getting there is a result of countless hours of researching, design ideation, development, and analysis along the way.  

Coming up with a unique and innovative idea can be a daunting task, leaving start-ups and less established brands feeling like they must re-invent the wheel with every product. This common trap of trying to solve every problem by including as many features as humanly possible can often lead to a final design full of gimmicks, which doesn’t perform all that well. A lightbulb moment I had from a mentor at university that has stuck with me throughout my design career is that ‘trying to solve every problem with one product, will result in a product that addresses every problem, but doesn’t fully solve any’. I think a key thing to take away from this is user insight and human-centred design should be the foundation of each sportswear project; ensuring the future building blocks of design and development are supported through the whole process. 

Here at Blue Associates, we start each project from the ground up, creating a bespoke solution based on the problems that have been initially recognised. Empathy and combined expertise in a wide variety of sports allow the team to bring in their own experience and wealth of personal insight alongside the client’s brief. 

Form follows function is another term I like to remind myself of in the initial design stage. My rule of thumb is to address the purpose of each garment before trying to add stylistic features. The style for me is something that naturally follows the function and performance aspect of a garment. Although sportswear has become increasingly fashionable, it is important to recognise that each of these garments have been engineered with meticulous detail to produce a refined product that helps athletes achieve their goals. This attention to detail and craftsmanship is often what creates the product’s style and draws consumers in. Beauty is often found in these details and explains why sometimes less is more. Style should of course not be ignored; however, in the case of sportswear, it should come second over performance and functionality. 

The chosen fabric really can make or break a design. Fabric properties must be carefully matched with the chosen activity, weighing up benefits such as; breathability, sweat-wicking ability, weather and UV resistance (the list goes on…) and deciding what needs to be the priority for the products performance success. Although we have a vast in-house fabric collection that accommodates almost all applications, the team and myself are not afraid of reaching out to our network of fabric mills, in search of the fabric that will perfectly suit our specifications. 

The garments fit is also crucial, which again needs to be customised for each application. A garment that’s too tight with inappropriately selected fabric can restrict the range of motion; too loose and issues such as chafing and unnecessary wind resistance come into play.  That’s why creating a series of samples, or prototypes, are needed to constantly make minor adjustments to the garment’s fit. Each fabric has different properties and therefore each garment’s fit must be tailored with this in mind. Through a series of samples and the use of industry models, the fit of a garment is honed in. We have now rolled out the use of CLO3D, a new digital 3D design software that will improve our ability to analyse the garments fit. Software features such as being able to visually see which parts of a garment are under excessive stress when the model is in a specific position allow us to adjust the size specification and see the results in real-time. 

Weighing up the components and trim is another step to curating a great sportswear design. Much like fabrics, components can offer different advantages and disadvantages and as designers, we must make a judgement based on the brief and research insights we have recognised. Commercial viability can often play a role in the selection of components and fabrics. Throwing a bottomless pit of money at a collection may seem like the best option, however with some expertise, judgements can be made on which benefits or disadvantages will make or break a design. For example, an industrial-grade marine zip is not appropriate for a lightweight waterproof running jacket. The industrial zip may overall perform better at keeping water out, however, we need to consider other factors such as weight, packability, cost and ease of use while in motion. 

User testing is something that allows designers to take a step back and allow clients or an athlete to test the kit.  I encourage all clients to put each sample through testing and engage in their own user feedback to pass on for the next design iteration. Something that may seem insignificant on the surface such as changing the location of a component or moving the position of a seam by 1cm could be the determining factor of how well the garment performs. Putting the garment through multiple stages of testing allows for all these minute details to be challenged and rectified if needed. This attention to detail is what makes a great sportswear design.   

The conception of a sportswear design may start with a unique idea or the discovery of an innovative technology etc, however, development, analysis and testing through multiple design iterations are obligatory for this design to flourish into what is recognised as a great sportswear design. 

Matt Smith 


Designer and Developer

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