This year, as of September, Australians had spent a staggering $1.5 billion on sportswear: if these figures are anything to go by, it’s safe to say we’re living our lives in activewear. But the comfort that comes with taking our tights outside the yoga studio is no fluke, as Clare Robertson, the design director of leading athleticwear retailer Lululemon will tell you: it’s the result of painstaking attention to detail that continues to set the Canadian retailer apart.
“Because it’s a design-led company, it’s really inspiring to work for a company that’s really focused on inventing the future,” the Aussie native explains. “I think what’s different is that we’re always searching for the new and innovative. I do really approach every collection that I design with this kind of curiosity: how can you make it new? How can you make it better? If you approach designing with that mindset, there really is endless possibility.”
In the basement of the company’s Vancouver headquarters is another hub of possibility: the innovation lab dubbed White Space, where Clare, along with scientists and engineers test their carefully created clothing in real time and real sports situations: in a temperature-controlled climate chamber set to the same warmth as Rio during Olympic clothing development, in a body scanner that ensures a personalised, perfect fit or in a lap pool for the upcoming swimwear season. It’s where Clare’s designs are really put to the test.
“We just implemented a new inner support system into one of the beach volleyball game day tops and we were able to utilise the infrared cameras down in White Space to track breast movement,” she says of the sportswear she created for the Canadian beach volleyball team who made it to Rio. “[We wanted] to really prove that it reduced breast movement and it was an improvement in the design.”
Creating clothing with a “function first” mentality, Clare begins every design process by speaking to athletes, who need a very specific outcome from the clothing, then works around said needs.
“I think a big question is how they want to feel… so we ask them to bring in products that they feel comfortable in or what they’re used to wearing and we really ask them to explain why,” she says of the feedback process with athletes and company ambassadors. “The important part of having these meetings with athletes is to really understand how they want to feel.”
Making certain she captured the feeling of living through an Australian summer (does taking the same outfit from yoga to the pool to the bar ring any bells?) was also the inspiration for the latest swimwear collection.
“We wanted it to be beautiful and something to stay in all day to really support [our female customer] through an active lifestyle.”
And although fashion is living through one of its fastest times (the industry is worth an estimated $1.2 trillion globally), Clare and her team aren’t into creating for creating’s sake.
“We won’t create something new unless there’s a real need for it and that comes from [customer] feedback,” she insists. “There’s no set amount of product [per year] that we will design. When you see a new collection, you really see that there’s a real energy for each style and that really is what drives what we create.”