During the summer of 1977, National Inventors Hall of Fame® (NIHF) Inductee Lisa Lindahl faced a problem.
She was running 30 miles each week in Burlington, Vermont, and couldn’t help but notice the intense discomfort that came with exercising in a regular bra. At the time, there was no alternative garment for women to wear while participating in athletics. Unsurprisingly, wearing a standard bra for exercise led to falling straps, chaffing and restrained movement. Lindahl was committed to her running routine, however, and was determined not to let this stop her.
Diagnosed with epilepsy at age 4, Lindahl was no stranger to overcoming obstacles. She says that her diagnosis taught her the adaptability and problem solving needed to find solutions — skills that served her well in her eventual career as an entrepreneur.
A phone call with her sister was the catalyst that sparked Lindahl’s inventive mindset. Her sister had called her to say that she had started running and had no idea what to wear for breast support. Lindahl said that she heard her make a joke along the lines of, “Why isn’t there a jockstrap for women?” That joke quickly became an idea that stuck. Lindahl said she sat down after the phone call and began to write down what this garment would have to do to be effective. She realized that she lacked the design expertise to carry out the physical garment sewing, so she enlisted the help of her friend, NIHF Inductee Polly Smith.
Collaborating on a Vision
Lindahl and Smith had known each other since childhood, and Smith was renting a room from Lindahl and her then-husband for the summer while she worked as a lead costume designer for a nearby Shakespeare festival. Lindahl said she convinced Smith to help her create a few garment prototypes, though after several attempts, they found nothing was working. One day, Lindahl’s husband saw them frustratedly talking about their latest efforts and decided to liven up the mood. Lindahl recalls him walking into the room with a jockstrap over his chest and saying, “Here’s your new jockbra!” Lindahl decided she would get in on the act by trying on the garment herself, and what she found was surprising inspiration.
“All of a sudden I looked at Polly, and said ‘Hey, Polly, this kind of feels like it could work,’” she remembers. Soon after, Smith asked NIHF Inductee Hinda Miller, who had been working alongside her as an assistant costume designer, to purchase two jockstraps. Smith then cut them in half and sewed them together so there were two pouches next to each other. By this point, Miller was completely devoted to the project and ready to join the two other women in their efforts. 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. They found that with the garment’s elasticity, unique crossback and overall support, it was unlike any other bra they’d seen.
Fashioning a New Industry
After Smith refined the prototype using LYCRA® fabric, the women felt they were ready to take the Jogbra® to the next step. Though Smith did not join their business efforts, Lindahl and Miller pushed forward into manufacturing and commercialization. They co-founded Jogbra Inc. in 1977 and with the launch of their company they helped create an entirely new industry.
Jogbra Inc. had annual sales increases of 25%, though its impact went far beyond numeric value. Before Title IX passed in 1972, prohibiting discrimination based on sex under any federally funded educational program or activity, only one in 27 girls played sports. The sports bra was created just five years later, and today that number is two in five. As Lindahl explains, it truly was the right product at the right time.
“What Title IX did was it made it necessary for any federally funded institution to spend their money equally between boys and girls, and men and women. But what it couldn’t do was take away the self-consciousness and the lack of confidence that a young girl or a woman has walking onto a field and feeling like her breasts are in the way or moving uncomfortably.
“What the sports bra did — what the Jogbra did — was address that. Between Title IX and the sports bra, it was sort of the one-two punch that made sports and athletics truly more available and accessible for women and girls all over.”
Along with her colleagues Hinda Miller and Polly Smith, Lisa Lindahl 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.