Polly Smith, Lisa Lindahl and Hinda Miller invented the sports bra. Commercialized as the Jogbra®, their invention enabled greater participation in athletics, advancing women’s health and well-being while launching a global industry.
At a young age, Smith began building the sewing and design skills that would shape her future. She credits both her mother and a home economics class with teaching her to sew, and when she was in the eighth grade, she began making her own clothes. “My mother didn't want to spend money on more clothes after buying my school uniforms, but she would always buy me fabric, so I became very focused on making things for myself,” she said.
Smith earned her bachelor’s degree in fashion design from Moore College of Art & Design in 1971 and her master’s degree in costume design from New York University in 1975.
In 1977, she was working as a costume designer for the Champlain Shakespeare Festival in Burlington, Vermont, when her childhood friend Lindahl approached her with the idea of creating an undergarment that would offer chest support during athletic activities.
Five years earlier, the passage of Title IX had empowered more women and girls to participate in sports and fitness, but many had to modify their conventional bras or wrap tight garments around their chests to try to minimize the discomfort they often experienced. Lindahl, a runner, encouraged Smith to apply her sewing skills to help develop an athletic bra. Smith then asked Hinda Miller, an assistant costume designer, to join the project, and the trio soon began making history.
“I don’t believe the Jogbra would have happened without all three of us,” Smith said in an interview with the National Inventors Hall of Fame®. “Lisa was the idea, I was the fabrication and Hinda was the driving force behind making it happen.”
Smith understood the garment would require stable straps, no seams or clasps that would chafe, breathable fabric and enough compression to prevent excessive movement. By sewing two jockstraps together, she achieved the first workable sports bra prototype.
After both Lindahl and Miller took the prototype for a test run and approved of the design, Smith advanced it by choosing a cotton-LYCRA® blend. With its compressing front panel, smooth exterior seams, supportive elastic rib band and crossing elastic straps, the Jogbra became a revolutionary piece of sporting equipment.
Smith said, “When I see women in the gym wearing a sports bra, or women athletes, I’m very proud that I was a part of it. It’s thrilling to see.”
Lindahl and Miller co-founded Jogbra Inc. and patented the sports bra in 1979, while in 1978, Smith began what she called her “dream job” with the Jim Henson Co. Initially brought on as a costume designer for “The Muppet Show,” she enjoyed a long and fulfilling career with the company. She designed for television shows including “Sesame Street” and “Fraggle Rock,” and for several films including “The Dark Crystal,” “The Muppets Take Manhattan” and “Labyrinth.” Her work has been recognized with multiple awards, including seven Emmy® Awards.
Smith, who holds three U.S. patents, has made personal visits to the National Inventors Hall of Fame education program Camp Invention® to inspire young innovators, including campers in grades K-6 and Leadership Interns in high school and college.