Lisa Lindahl, Hinda Miller and Polly Smith invented the first sports bra: the Jogbra®. This groundbreaking invention removed a barrier to participation in athletics, advanced women’s health and launched a global industry.
Lindahl grew up in Montclair, New Jersey, where she met her lifelong friend and co-inventor Smith. Diagnosed with epilepsy at age 4, Lindahl attributes her adaptability, creative problem solving, and commitment to women’s health and well-being in part to her experiences in coping with this incurable brain disorder.
Lindahl earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Vermont in 1977. At the time, she was running 30 miles each week. She and her sister, also a runner, discussed the lack of any garments that adequately provided chest support during athletic activities. Lindahl made a list of qualities such a garment should have, including stable straps, no seams or clasps that could chafe, breathable fabric and enough compression to prevent excessive movement. She then asked Smith to help develop her idea.
When Smith sewed two jockstraps together and both Lindahl and Miller tested it on a run, they had the first workable sports bra prototype.
Patented in 1979, the sports bra was commercialized as the Jogbra, featuring a seamless, compressing front panel, non-chafing exterior seams, crossing elastic straps and a wide elastic rib band. “The sports bra has had an immeasurable, cumulative impact in the lives of ordinary women,” Runner’s World magazine reported. “Without a garment designed to support our bodies properly, millions of [women] wouldn’t have taken up running.”
Lindahl co-founded Jogbra Inc., later renamed JBI, in 1977 and partnered with Miller in growing the company. In an interview with the National Inventors Hall of Fame®, Lindahl described the Jogbra as “the right product at the right time.”
“What Title IX [passed in 1972] did was it made it necessary for any federally funded institution to spend their money equally between boys and girls, and men and women,” said Lindahl. “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.”
Because the Jogbra met a real need, sales were brisk and the company became profitable in its first year. Lindahl served as CEO of JBI until 1990, when the company was sold to Playtex Apparel.
A champion for women’s health, as well as an artist and author, Lindahl served as senior vice president on the board of the Epilepsy Foundation of America from 1992 to 2001 and has promoted epilepsy awareness throughout her career. She was awarded a Congressional Commendation for her work in 1999. In 2001, she co-created the Bellisse Compressure Comfort® Bra, a patented compression garment for breast cancer patients and survivors.
Lindahl earned a master’s degree in culture and spirituality from Holy Names University in 2007. She holds 10 U.S. patents.
With personal visits to National Inventors Hall of Fame education program Camp Invention®, Lindahl has inspired campers in grades K-6, as well as Leadership Interns in high school and college.