Until June 2018 neither of us had ever designed, prototyped or produced a physical product before. Today, we’re a few days away from testing our first Set of products with a group of 16 female athletes. As you can imagine, we’ve learnt a lot in 20 months.
This piece reflects on our product development journey which in many ways has mirrored our training journeys. One full of brilliant, unexpected highs but also layered with challenges. We’ve had to learn new skills, use data to inform what we’re building, find and lean on the right experts to guide us, cry a bit, laugh a lot and learn to trust in our own and each other’s judgement. It felt important to share these moments. We never thought starting CrossFit would have led us on this journey.
001 The Idea
June 2018; London and Manchester
Training became a daily topic of conversation once we started CrossFit in January 2017. We came to CrossFit from gym training and HIIT classes so there was a lot of newness that we were both experiencing. CrossFit was taking us on a steep learning journey and it could be uncomfortable. Often the discomfort was invisible to others but as our skill level increased and movements became more complex physical discomfort soon manifested itself onto our bodies in the form of bruises, grazes and redness. Pain became a barrier to us being able to train to our fullest, having to adapt movements to avoid further irritation to sore collarbones, grazed shins or ripped hands. We looked at our training gear and felt dissatisfied at how it was serving us. Our clothing after all was the only protection between metal and flesh. We spoke to over 100 other women who trained in this way and they had the same experiences.
We decided to solve this problem ourselves and create sets of products with one thing in mind - protection when we train. So we can feel confident and comfortable when we step into the gym and into our power.
002 Building Partnerships
September 2018; London
We now had a concept but no idea where to go next and, coming from Consultancy and Technology, had no experience in building physical products. Research has been, and will always be, a critical part of our processes at Blue Elvin and so as initial research we spoke to 10 businesses who had made physical products before. We then interviewed a handful of Sportswear Designers.
Finding the right design partner was hard. We asked a number of designers to answer three questions. One of these questions was ‘Share an example of a sportswear garment you designed where you believe you pushed the boundaries with being forward-thinking?’. We wanted to be transformative with our products so we needed our designer to be transformative too.
Having a designer onboard unlocked a lot of learning for us. Next, we headed to Paris for our first-ever fabric trade show - looking at performance fabrics and understanding what would be important to consider for our products. We ordered a range of samples to look at and test. It took us 12 months to find fabrics that we could be proud of.
To physically protect athletes we knew we needed to partner with someone who had experience with designing and developing body armour. We pitched to two leading Energy Control companies and were fortunate to bring RHEON Labs on board - to collaborate with us on creating a protection platform for functional training.
By March 2019 we had a designer, a manufacturer, and a protection partner. This felt like a massive milestone. The forming of a team who were going to help us realise our product vision.
003 Design and Development
March 2019; London, Portugal and Lithuania
We knew functional training could cause discomfort to the body but understanding the specificity of the problem was key. Two days of athlete testing was carried out to gather data on how women’s bodies are impacted during functional training. We were answering three key questions during athlete testing:
- Where do women experience discomfort
- What level of force is applied to their bodies
- What level of protection helps reduce this
We did this through videos, using pressure film, and physically showing the areas of impact with our athletes wearing white suits and applying red dye to the training equipment.
From here we started to produce 3D printed prototypes which we stitched onto garment samples and went back to the gym to test. We observed, we measured and we iterated.
Alongside exploring the protection we were designing our first three products. Deciding on style lines, colour palettes and how we were going to create functional products that made women feel confident when they stepped out to train. We tested multiple fabrics thinking about whether they were soft to touch if they provided the right performance elements and seriously considering the environmental impact of each option.
We also had to find a factory. Finding a factory is not easy. Especially when you’re a new brand, with small production numbers and high-quality specifications. We took trips to Portugal and Lithuania and learnt about the manufacturing process. It was important that we worked with a factory directly, that they were excited by the technical challenge of our products, and that we liked the team. We found a factory in Lithuania, run by a female CEO, who we knew would be a great partner for us for our first Set. We’ll share more on this process later as there is so much to say.
004 Product Testing
March 2020; London
100 hours of research conversations, 18 months of product development and 20 samples. We are now ready to put our first Set of products to the ultimate test.
We have invited 16 female athletes training in CrossFit boxes, or doing their own functional training, to be part of our first Athlete Beta Community we’re calling AB-001. Throughout the course of three weeks, they will train together, share stories about their training experiences, and provide us with an honest account of how our first Set supported and protected them in their training.
We can’t wait to share the results with you.