Growing up, National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Hinda Miller learned a valuable lesson from her father: she didn’t have to be perfect.
“If you didn’t have to be perfect, then you didn’t have to be afraid of failing,” she said.
For Miller, this was huge. It provided the foundation for the kind of self-confidence needed to embrace many of the opportunities she would have over the course of her career. One of the most significant opportunities — and perhaps the one that set things in motion for her — was being a part of the trio that invented the sports bra. Along with NIHF Inductees Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith, Miller helped create an entirely new industry that changed the lives of women everywhere.
In the summer of 1977, Miller was working as an assistant costume designer for a Shakespeare festival in Burlington, Vermont. Smith was one of the festival’s lead designers and it was through her that Miller met Lindahl. Miller learned that the two women were conceptualizing and designing a supportive garment for women to wear while running, and she was immediately drawn to the project. After Smith designed a prototype based on the concept of a jockstrap for women’s breasts, Miller, who was also a runner, joined Lindahl on a practice jog to evaluate the prototype. As Lindahl ran forward with the garment on, Miller ran backward to keep an eye on Lindahl and check for movement. It proved successful, and following a few design adjustments, the Jogbra® was born.
The three women patented their invention, though only Miller and Lindahl went on to commercialize and manufacture the sports bra by co-founding Jogbra Inc. in 1977. From the beginning, Miller played a crucial role in securing investment funding and manufacturing. In addition to a $5,000 loan from Miller’s father, the two women had around 600 Jogbras made and began pitching them in person to independent sporting goods stores. Miller worked her way from South Carolina up to New York while Lindahl went out to California. Throughout this period, they maintained a strong commitment to selling their garment.
“We always spoke about the sports bra and the Jogbra as a piece of athletic equipment,” Miller said.
Though it took time to convince many male store owners that the Jogbra was a product that female customers would want to buy, it eventually took off.
“We had huge respect for our customers because we were the customers,” said Miller. “It’s a common story. We knew how we wanted to be spoken to. I think it was just our huge desire to get this valuable product out to women because we knew it would enhance a very important part of their lives.”
A Lifetime of Pushing Forward
The implementation of Title IX just five years prior to the sports bra’s invention enabled more girls and women than ever before to participate in athletics. The Jogbra complemented this social progress by providing women the physical and emotional security to take the first step.
In 1990, Miller and Lindahl made the decision to sell Jogbra Inc. to Playtex Apparel, which was acquired by Sara Lee the following year. Miller stayed on with Sara Lee until 1997, holding various positions as CEO, president and vice president of communications for the Champion Jogbra Division. She eventually became a Vermont state senator in 2003 and remained in that position for 10 years. Miller has also held several board positions and currently runs Deforest Concepts, a business consulting firm. Throughout all her varied and interesting experiences, she says that entrepreneurship has been a driving force.
“To me, entrepreneurship is the drive of curiosity. [It’s] the thrill of being creative, the thrill of pulling together things in your life that no one else would know about to create something that’s unique to you, and the ability to really ground yourself in your own life and see how you can make improvements.”
Along with her colleagues Lisa Lindahl and Polly Smith, Hinda Miller will become one of our newest Inductees at the 48th Annual NIHF Induction Ceremony. Look for more blogs introducing our inspiring 2021 Inductees at invent.org.