By using a new style and fresh tech to create a system of dress, Team Canada athletes can … [+]
Lululemon calls it a “system of dress” and the system they’ve revealed for their first Olympics as the official outfitter of Team Canada takes on an entirely different approach than the norm. The inclusive-minded designs from the Canadian retailer offers up a fully customizable kit for every Canadian Olympian and Paralympian participating in Beijing 2020.
“Athletes can really customize or personalize their experience based on expectations, body types, thermal preference,” says Chantelle Murnaghan, Lululemon vice president, research and science of feel. “They can really leverage modularity.”
The new agreement with Team Canada kicks off in Beijing and runs through the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, meaning Lululemon will design apparel and accessories for the Olympics for every athlete and coach for the opening ceremony, medal ceremonies, closing ceremony, media opportunities and athletes’ village wear. With a diverse range of athletes and experiences to design for, Lululemon approached the concept of an athlete’s journey, what they are feeling in the moment and what they need to exude confidence and national pride.
The layering of Team Canada’s Lululemon-made Olympic kits includes personalization for individual … [+]
“There are pinnacle moments we are, as a brand, trying to solve for and create innovative product that solves unmet needs,” Murnaghan says. “We are really digging into those moments and asking the questions about how you want to feel and ultimately we approach everything through the science of feel.”
The exploration started with athlete feedback and then went inside Lululemon labs to body scan athletes and test out materials and products within a simulated Beijing environment. Through it all, a focus on comfort meant a technical approach to individual thermal identity that required the ability for every athlete to approach their gear how they want. That human-led approach starts with the opening ceremony kit.
Audrey Reilly, Lululemon creative director, special projects, says they recognize athletes could be wearing the same outfit for eight hours while changing locations, moving and even just standing in what could potentially be a cold environment. All the while the experience offers up a chance to for “a wee bit of intimidation.”
The Lululemon gear for Team Canada isn’t just about the opening ceremony, but includes a range of … [+]
That’s where the system of dress comes in. Take the Team Canada 600-fill goose down jacket as an example. It features an insulated collar, close-fitting cuffs and cinchable hem to keep warmth in. And it comes water-repellent and windproof. Straps on the inside allow athletes to “wear it almost like a backpack,” Murnaghan says, for those times they want to cool off. The parka also includes a removable piece to shorten the length, allowing the removable section to transform into a scarf or pillow. The rest of the outfit can mix and match, from a 700-fill goose down scarf that attaches to clothing, the insulated trapper cap that folds up over the ears or covers them or the mittens that easily stow away.
During research, Lululemon studied thermal identity, measuring both actual and perceived aspects of warmth. Having a modular system helped solve for both of those issues. “It is not just about two layers giving two times the warmth,” Murnaghan says. “You have to think of the system as a whole and that particular environment and solving for warmth in the areas we want warmth.”
The lab research also gave an understanding on body mapping and key areas of heat loss and even the perception athletes had when it came to heat loss. Murnaghan says working the perceived views into the actual design and materials helped solve for both physical and physiological needs.
Lab testing and environmental chamber studies were a key part of the Lululemon process for creating … [+]
The embracing of down for the opening ceremony shows off just a piece of the Lululemon technology portfolio Team Canada will display in Beijing. The podium jacket—which includes a special pocket for an athlete to stow a medal both during the games and on the flight home—features 3D engineered knit in a way the company has never done for added warmth. The media gear has two-way diamond stretch for lightweight warmth and wind and water resistance. Expect various pieces of the gear to feature a mix of four-way stretch, brushed sweat-wicking tech fleece, seamless construction, water-resistant PrimaLoft insulation, waterproof construction, merino wool and Silverescent technology to inhibit the growth of odor-causing bacteria.
Reilly says that with 70% of a garment raw material, every single aspect needed to be well thought out, a function-led design with beauty—and a bit of attitude, style or swagger—added only to enhance the comfort. That’s why you’ll see things such as an intense focus on pockets (a lipstick pocket comes in the women’s jacket).
“Each of those layers were edited enough to lay on top of each other and be personalized in the moment,” Reilly says.
But don’t think aesthetics or the Team Canada aspect got left behind. Instead, Lululemon wanted to leverage the country’s legacy, but modernize it. That started with the national color of red, the country name and even the country’s well-known love of the maple leaf.
The ivory-based closing ceremony kit includes the microscope-inspired maple leaf print on the … [+]
“Red is such a powerful, confident color,” Reilly says. “My vision was not to dilute it, let’s drench the body in red.” There are five different reds in the Lululemon Team Canada toolbox. And expect to see the reds sparkle at different times, with the inside of the podium jacket a bright red, almost neon, and the media jacket a dark, deep red for a different print and energy. The opening ceremony kit comes awash in red.
“The red on red on red was a confident story and a story of modern Canada,” Reilly says.
Lululemon took a unique approach to the maple leaf with Reilly putting the leaf under the microscope, quite literally, and looking at the leaf’s form in a scientific way. That led to a new print used throughout the Olympic collection, first seen inside the opening ceremony jackets to keep the print “close to the athlete’s heart.” The metamorphic leaf print shows up in various forms throughout the kits, such as on the outside of the ivory-based closing ceremony jacket, which comes shorter for a more “party” feel.
Expect “CAN” to play heavily, including across a 700-fill goose down scarf.
“It is both overt and covert and that was very much part of the creative intent,” she says. “We are tuning it up and tuning it down.”
Taking classic pieces, such as a leaf, and making them modern was all part of the plan. Lululemon, which will use the work done for Beijing and feedback from athletes— Lululemon currently has nine Olympic or Paralympic athletes on its ambassador roster, including snowboarder Brooke D’Hondt, figure skater Piper Gilles and ice hockey’s John Tavares—to help drive the kit for Paris 2024, includes taking classic Canadian designs, such as the parka and trapper hat, and making them modern. The cap features a smaller bill with a streamlined design, while the parka has the prints and colors that help cocoon the wearer and make them feel as if they are wrapped in a duvet.
Reilly says Lululemon wanted to obsess all things Canadian, but show it from a progressive point of view, something that evolves like the athletes wearing the gear. Even the country name is often shortened to CAN on main pieces. “A three-letter icon of your country,” Reilly says, “we felt that was a critical part of this journey to look at the future and modernize it to bring CAN alive.”
I cover stadiums, sneakers and tennis. I have written regularly about design, gear, architecture and sport for TIME, Sports Illustrated, Popular Mechanics, Wired and
I cover stadiums, sneakers and tennis. I have written regularly about design, gear, architecture and sport for TIME, Sports Illustrated, Popular Mechanics, Wired and more, from sit-down exclusives to chat sneakers with Kobe Bryant to multiple fashion discussions with Roger Federer and from walking the concourses of yet-unopened stadiums with architects to exploring concession menus with chefs. By merging my interest in sports with architecture and design, I cover sports aesthetics. Follow me on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.