Performance apparel brand lululemon has long had a dedicated following. But who dreams up their garments? Meet Alexandra Plante, innovation product manager for Whitespace, lululemon’s R&D team, who spent more than two years perfecting the label’s Enlite bra. Plante took us on a day in her fitspiring life in Vancouver, Canada.
I get up and head to spin at Method Indoor Cycling in Kitsilano – my group of friends goes to the Wednesday class. The instructor, Steph, is an Ironman athlete and so inspirational. I wear lululemon and am often testing new garments. Sometimes, with pants I’m trying out, one leg will be one type of fabric and the other will be a different type: we call them Frankenstein pants. [It helps] to compare and contrast in the moment! I’m not precious about dressing strangely because it’s the best way to test the quality or performance of the yarn, technology or anti-stink properties. For anti-stink tech such as Silverescent, we sweat test a garment for a week without washing, then put it in sealed jars. We then do odour testing, including having people smell the jars.
I grab a raspberry hemp smoothie from Glory Juice Co in Kitsilano. They have such good juices, smoothies and acai bowls.
I head into work. Our head office is also in Kitsilano, where lululemon was founded. I have a team huddle about the latest testing on the Enlite bra. At Whitespace, we have experts in everything from neuromechanics to human anthropology. For this project, managing how breasts move is the most important thing – so the biomechanics expert is front and centre. Every expert on this project is female, end-to-end.
I head to ‘the retreat’. The retreat is like the brain of the Whitespace workshop. You can draw and project images on the walls; all the furniture is reconfigurable. I start pulling together insights from our experts. The Enlite project sits under the umbrella of engineering sensation, so we’re responsible for how we engineer ‘feel’ into our products. For example, the neuromechanics researcher is our expert on touch and temperature, helping us understand how the bra actually feels on your skin.
We have a kitchen with a big long bar, so people get lunch locally then come back and eat there.
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I head to our biomechanics space, where our set-up includes motion capture. We put markers all over the body, including the chest and torso. Today we have an athlete running on the treadmill and we’re analysing the movement of the breasts. Breasts don’t just move up and down, they also move in and out and side to side. The motion capture lets us see the impact of different designs. We’re trying every possible combination of fabric and neckline shape to understand the impact on breast movement.
Once a day there’s a quick meditation. We have local ambassadors who lead it, but today Danielle Nagel, our director of mindfulness, takes it in our meditation room.
I visit the climate chamber. Here, we can create any environment that our guests could be in. This allows us to test a sunny run in Calgary when it’s minus 10°C outside. Then we could test humid Florida. It has lights that reproduce the sensation of sunlight. You could be in a cold environment but have sun, so this shows us what it actually feels like on the skin. It helps us gauge the overall moisture management performance of the bra.
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I ride my Vespa to the beach for a game of volleyball – one of the best parts of life in Vancouver. In summer, you can do this as the sun is setting over the ocean, with the mountains and city in the background. I wear the latest prototype of the Enlite while I play.
Dinner with friends at Ask For Luigi. It has really good pasta and as an Italian I certify it as being delicious! The food scene in Vancouver is great.