Innovation Meets Inclusivity – Find Out Why the adidas Women’s Team Decided to Start a Bra Revolution [Podcast]
In this episode of ‘Rebellious Optimists’ Aimee Arana, Global Senior Vice President of Sportswear at adidas, tells us why her team decided to start from scratch with innovation in sports bras.
Rebellious Optimists – A People Podcast
Listen to Episode 1
Rip it Up and Start Again
Millions of us across the globe understand that the right gear is essential in bringing our A-game. But it’s hard to get it right. Global SVP of Sportswear + Training Aimee Arana has made it her mission to shake up traditional sportswear, especially for women. She kicks off our Rebellious Optimists series to share how adidas are leading an all-inclusive Bra Revolution, and keeping girls in sport with the ground breaking innovation of Stay-In-Play period-proof tights. In an open and honest conversation with me, Aimee talks about the importance of listening to what consumers want and trusting in a bold vision to create a truly inclusive brand.
“We have a responsibility to put a spotlight on women in sport and dimensionalise female athletes.”Aimee Arana, Global SVP of Sportswear & Training at adidas
“I was having lunch with our CEO…I said, Kasper, do you know what backfat is?”Aimee Arana, Global SVP of Sportswear & Training at adidas
Twiggy Jalloh 02:51
Hello Aimee, it is an absolute pleasure to speak to you today. I have about 1001 questions to ask you. They’re all about your job role, the difference you’re making at adidas, and about the bra revolution as well. I just need to know, how are bras so difficult to get right?
Aimee Arana 03:09
Bras? It’s super interesting because it’s not like all of a sudden, you know, we have boobs. You know, I think bras have been around for ages. And I think what has been really, really interesting is nobody’s got it exactly right. You know, we spent a lot of time and research talking to consumers and getting the right fitting bra is just super challenging, you know, making sure that it fits your body type. Because I think, you know, our research showed us – and it’s pretty obvious because we’re all humans – there’s no one body or one bra that fits all. And so what we really explored were different body types, how do we make the most inclusive range that takes into account all the things that women really care about, like those friction areas, those comfort areas, the breathability areas. And we just felt like nobody was really getting it right. And there wasn’t a range in the industry that was super-inclusive, that really could cover the spectrum of anybody who wanted to wear a bra. And that’s what kind of set a fire under us to go out and say, okay, how do we attack this marketplace in a totally different way, keeping the consumer and their needs at the centre of every detail that we attacked?
Twiggy Jalloh 04:26
So when did your team actually realise that, you know what, we have to break this market? Maybe we aren’t hitting the targets that we need to hit? Or maybe our competitors are beating us in this avenue? When did you almost have that aha moment when you realised that you know what, we need to go at this and do it very, very well?
Aimee Arana 04:43
You know, we are definitely data-driven and you start looking at market share, and some of the biggest markets in the world, you know, showing up as like a number four player in bras – like that’s an aha moment that kind of smacks you between the eyes. And then you have to start thinking about like, do you continue to try and incrementally get better? Or at what point do you start going after like a leapfrog strategy to say, okay, we can try and catch up and chase the market, or how do we jump ahead of the market and really win this consumer’s hearts? We pivoted quite significantly, as a team, as we dug into the data, we dug into more of a consumer-centric approach. And, you know, again, changed everything, I think what we realised is longer life cycle product is super important, because, we had a very much seasonal approach. So that would mean, you go in and buy a bra at a store or a tight or some piece of our product, and the next month, or the next season, you know, you go back out because you want the new colour of that, or you want the new print, because you love it, and you would never find it again. And so that was a really big pivot for us. And it’s like, how do we create really strong life cycles and continue to fine-tune and tweak but so the consumer can depend on us to come back every single season for more?
Twiggy Jalloh 06:03
What exactly did you do to sell it to those at the top? I would love to know, there must have been very nerve-wracking moments where you didn’t know whether they were going to listen or not, or, or you may have felt quite fearful knowing that you have targets to reach. Yeah, how were you able to sell it to those at the top?
Aimee Arana 06:20
Well, I knew and, you know, really talking to the team, that we were going to have to do something bold. And that meant starting from scratch, which takes, you know, investment, it takes resources. And meant that we had to bring new capabilities into the company that didn’t exist before. And so it was, I believe it was in the spring, I was having lunch with our CEO. And I had a hundred-page deck in front of me. And the hundred-page deck was showing all the incremental things that we had done; the testing of how we were making the product marginally better. And I just knew he was asking about – what are you, what are you doing? And I just knew that I had to just put it all on the line with him. And I showed him the front page of the deck with one of our best, fittest athletes on the cover. And it was a, it was a shot of the back of the bra. And I said – this is the funny part – I said Kasper, do you know what backfat is? And he said, what?
Twiggy Jalloh 07:22
I didn’t expect that.
Aimee Arana 07:24
Twiggy Jalloh 07:25
I did not expect that.
Aimee Arana 07:27
And he said, no, like what is that? And I said it’s what we, we often say like when you have an ill-fitting bra, and it cuts you in the wrong way, and it’s super-unflattering. Like we all hate that, and it can happen to anybody. But what you need to know when you’re an expert in bras and knowing the placement, you know, the finishing, the details, you can make a bra look seamless on anybody. And what I showed him was this is, you know, last season’s bra campaign. And this was a marketing campaign that we did. And this isn’t good enough. Anybody who really knows product knows that this isn’t good enough. And I said I’m using this as an example to tell you, we got to, we have to start from scratch, and this is what it’s going to take. And he looked at me and said, go do that.
Twiggy Jalloh 08:14
What exactly is the bra revolution?
Aimee Arana 08:17
For us, it was probably, I think, the biggest endeavour that we’ve probably ever taken on apparel in the company. But I would also say in the industry. So it started with this leapfrog idea of what would we do if we were going to jump in and win this consumer? What would we do? And at first, it started with all the great consumer research. And then we had to take a look in the mirror and say, okay, what capabilities are missing internally in the company, to perfect style, fit, feel, like in a way that has never been done before? And what it caused us to do was one, take a look at our team and talent. I mean, we have such an amazing, passionate team, you know, across the brand. People who have been working on this stuff for years and we had to zero in and say, okay, what are those areas that we just haven’t gotten right? And then we started bringing new people into the mix. We brought in, you know, fit experts, pattern-making experts, people who were experts in sports science and breast movement. You know, getting that right – designers who were lingerie designers, you know, bring in, you know, the sexiness, but also, like, how do you perfect every placement, every seam every detail? So it started with our team. And the next thing that we did is, you know, we partnered across the organisation and going after our sourcing base, and like, are there people out there that are doing amazing things, you know, sourcing partners who know the bra industry, that we could partner with to bring in new innovations? We rebuilt the entire line in six to nine months.
Twiggy Jalloh 09:52
Aimee Arana 09:53
Which, we’re on 18 month calendar for product creation. And six to nine months, bringing all these partners in, bringing new team members in. And this group, I mean, this team was absolutely incredible, passionate, and they went hard. I mean, they poured their heart and souls into making this thing happen. And so it truly was a revolution.
Twiggy Jalloh 10:12
So of course, when we are talking about women, we don’t want to box everyone in, we don’t have a one size fits all approach to all women, can you please outline for me the span of people you’re talking about, or what your research included?
Aimee Arana 10:26
First of all, anybody who identifies as a woman or needs support for breasts, you know, that was the first endeavour overall. We didn’t go after and say, hey, we’re really focused on one age group, as well, because, you know, what we’ve seen from our sports science team is that every single month, every single week, and throughout the phases, the hormonal phases that you go through in life, but even on a monthly basis, your body is constantly changing. And so, and I think we all can relate to that, you know, there are certain weeks where you’re like, I need something bigger, or I need something more comfortable and supportive. And so, you know, we looked at the physiological phases that women are going through, through different phases of life, through different phases of the month. We also, you know, talked to women who had had mastectomies, and going through, you know, completely different changes, or, you know, adding breasts in a different way. And so, we looked at the full spectrum, because that’s who we serve, you know, and it was this mantra of we serve all athletes, and anybody who wants to wear a bra. And again, it’s crazy, because there’s a business side to it, to say, okay, do you want to carry that much inventory, first of all? Because if you want to have truly the most inclusive range, you know, premium all the way into entry level, that’s a lot of product. And so there were, there’s some people that didn’t believe in that at the time. But I’m like, if we truly are going to win this consumer’s kind of hearts and minds, it’s like, we have to serve all athletes. That was the premise of it all. So we looked at the full spectrum, you know, identity, hormonal phases, age, all of it.
Twiggy Jalloh 12:09
Now Aimee, I have to agree with everything that you’re saying. And I also think it’s so important for us to recognise that the range, the vast range of women who are actually exercising. And I also wonder, like, how are you and your team catering to their needs?
Aimee Arana 12:23
Just as I talked about, you know, with bras around making sure that there is no one size fits all, that every human body is different, there are a lot of different needs, that we continue to, to learn more about from consumers. And we are absolutely dedicated to making sure that we include all in sport, and that’s at the heart of our strategy. You’ve definitely seen us in the past year roll out modesty wear, ensuring that everybody has access to sport or what they need to wear for sport. You’ve, you’ve seen us roll out full-coverage swimwear, I think in the last year, and some pretty bold concepts that we’re really proud of. I think gender fluidity is the other piece that we continue to learn more about from the consumer and making sure that product is fully accessible in the right size ranges. And so inclusivity is really at the heart of our strategy and we’re going to continue to expand concepts, you’re going to see a lot more I think in this next year. Overall, you know, not only in training but across the portfolio of the brand.
Twiggy Jalloh 13:32
So in your work, of course, and building the bra revolution and producing so many new products, and having almost a bra overhaul, over the – a complete bra overhaul, what has been the most important thing for you to get right during this process?
Aimee Arana 13:47
The most intuitive thing is to say you’ve got to get fit and feel right. But what we, what we learned from going deep with consumers, and I could probably ask you this question as well, is you can have fit, right? You can have feel, right? But if it does not look good, you’re not going to buy it and you’re not going to put it on. And so we created this mantra that style is always the first filter, and you have got to perfect fit and feel.
Twiggy Jalloh 14:12
Aimee, I don’t really like bras that much, I’m not that much of a fan. But I would absolutely love to know what your favourite bra is?
Aimee Arana 14:20
My favourite bra in the range right now is – this is going to surprise you – but the one that I get super excited about is the everyday.
Twiggy Jalloh 14:30
Aimee Arana 14:32
And you could say you’re making bras for sport and absolutely we are, and you know we all are doing sport at different days in different times in our life and we change our bras for that. But the everyday I feel like is a little bit of a, an unlock because it, the fabrication the material feels like you’re naked. I mean, it’s so soft and so cosy and it feels like it’s barely there. And that’s the product that I actually think is transformative, especially since I think many people are throwing bras out during the day. And wearing something that is so ultra-comfortable and cosy every single day is, I think, a little bit unexpected from us.
Twiggy Jalloh 15:16
Amiee, I’d love to know more about Stay in Play. Can you tell me a little bit more about maybe the innovation and the story behind it?
Aimee Arana 15:22
So you just heard about the revolution that’s going on in bras. Last year, we brought a new innovation to market for sport. And what I would say, it wasn’t a new innovation to market that nobody had done, but nobody had really done with the athlete in mind. And really what it is period-proof product. And kind of leveraging insights, not only from data, but talking to young consumers, we saw that, that young girls were leaving sport exponentially higher than boys at, starting at age thirteen. And really digging into that data, a lot of it came from the physiological changes that were happening in the body, the being self-conscious about what was happening, and it being, you know, like, super obvious. And so we started digging into this data, we started talking to consumers and you know, again, this is where you can also leverage, you know, what it was like for you growing up. You know, again, I said I played basketball. You know, half of my career, I had a white uniform. And what we found talking to athletes is that’s a really distracting moment that is taking them away from being in the zone, or performing at their best, or actually even wanting to play. And this is why we came up with the name of Stay in Play. It’s really about how do you eliminate those distractions, keep girls, women in sport at any time of their cycle. and making sure that they, you know, have the protection that they need to feel their absolute best and not have to worry. And so that’s how we get started out on the journey. I’m excited because, you know, we, we teased it, we put a little product out into the marketplace, but you’re going to see us continue to build on that over the next couple of years because we know how important this area is. And it’s super cool innovation that I wish I had when I was young.
Twiggy Jalloh 17:14
Aimee, I absolutely wish that I had all of these products when I was younger, honestly, it would have made life a lot easier. I wonder as well, like, the younger people on your team, how did they receive all of this?
Aimee Arana 17:25
So I’ll first start and say that, again, talking about the passionate people around this project, the team presented the marketing idea to me – I don’t know – four months before it launched. And I sat in a room with a team and I was so uncomfortable. And I was uncomfortable because my generation and I’ll tell you, I’m in my early 40s, but my generation like being as bold to talk about the things that we were talking about in the campaign. I was uncomfortable, but what the team told me is, this is Gen Z, some of us are Gen Z on the team, we’ve done our research, we’ve tested this, and this is spot on, and I had to, it was one of those as a leader where you’re like, I do not know, I 100% put my trust in the team. Because we could really get this wrong if you listen to me. And there were definitely feedback, you know, from across the company, like, are you sure we want to do this? And I was like, we have to trust the team. And again, it’s consumer-led. And so it was quite successful, I think from you know, even a social media standpoint, and I’ll use Twitter as an example. It was, you know, up until recently, it was the second most engaged tweet that we have ever done in the history of the brand.
Twiggy Jalloh 18:43
Would you have any examples of anything that the team presented to you? And you just thought – no, this is not going to work – I just don’t really feel comfortable with this, that did end up working in the end?
Aimee Arana 18:53
Yeah, I mean, the whole campaign and the spot that we did was these younger Gen Z consumers in a locker room, and they had their, you know, remote control of their lives, their phones out and the emojis that were flying. Like there were a lot of emojis, from tampons to sanitary napkins to, I mean, all kinds of stuff. And this is where I got really uncomfortable. I was like, oh my gosh, but it was like this is the language, this is the consumer, and it was fun. And it was bold, and it really connected with the consumer. And so again, I was completely wrong. Thank goodness.
Twiggy Jalloh 19:34
Do you think that this will almost create a trickle-down effect, and many other companies will start launching products in this taboo area and start, you know, launching more period products, more products that will – of course – help many women and young women get out there and feel confident, and doing sport?
Aimee Arana 19:52
Yeah, absolutely. And I honestly think that that’s a win. I think it’s a win for the consumer if we continue to do that. And I think you heard me say, you know, at the beginning that competition actually makes us all better. And sometimes, you know, the copycat is the best form of flattery. And what it will, you know, push us to do is to continue to innovate, and continue to push forward and continue to listen to the consumer. And that’s exactly what we’ll do. But I think, you know, I would say freeing and liberating and removing distractions for young athletes so that more girls participate in sport is the win. That’s the absolute win.
Twiggy Jalloh 20:40
So Aimee, let’s turn this to you now, what gave you the drive to be a change-maker in this area?
Aimee Arana 20:44
You know, it actually starts before, you know, even my education, I think since you know, since I was really young, I was an athlete, you know, all the way in college playing basketball. And so sport has been at the core of kind of who I am and how I show up as a leader every single day. And I started studying exercise science because I didn’t know what else to do, meaning I didn’t know how to get away from sport because it was just connected, you know, to my heart. I also figured out that I loved business, and I loved retail and fashion and all of that. And so, you know, along my, my journey of you know, not only education but experience, it kind of led me to the industry, you know, you start figuring out what you like, you know, in your mid-20s. And, and for me, it was sport and retail. And you know, that kind of set me out on a path in the sports industry kind of putting the things together that I love. But I use my experience as much as an athlete and what I know about sport, with my business know-how – I think – every single day.
Twiggy Jalloh 21:51
As a professional, we know that you’re quite confident from everything that you told us, how do you maintain the courage to keep pushing for positive change? Do you have any tips for people who do have an idea, or do want to make a change in their workplace or in their environments, or in just in society as a whole, if they are feeling quite reserved about pushing for change?
Aimee Arana 22:11
Ah, you know, my tips are always you always have to be convicted, I think by you know, your values and what you think are right, and what you know is right for who you serve. You know, which is the consumer. And you know, the way I go at it is always through complete authenticity. So I am 100% myself, I know I’m not always right, I’m, you know, somewhat humble. But I think when you are authentic, and you have conviction and passion, and you know it’s the right thing for the consumer for the business-like people believe you like it, it is absolutely believable. You don’t have to march in and be like, hey, I’m a super corporate, you know, like – this is how I have to do it. And this is how I have to act. I think it’s about bringing, you know, authenticity and passion. And I have been really, really lucky that that’s been encouraged and embraced. And I think it’s a whole new change that’s happening in the corporate world. And it feels good. So I encourage people, like bring your passion, bring your authenticity, people will believe you and follow you, and I know that’s a hard thing to say but it’s super true.
Twiggy Jalloh 23:23
Aimee, in a company as big as adidas is, what is – to you – what is the importance of courage and vulnerability when it comes to making change in a company?
Aimee Arana 23:34
I honestly think it’s everything and, you know, being courageous is sometimes really identifying, you know, what fear is. And I think when you really peel back the onion sometimes like, okay, so what am I afraid of? By not doing that, or by not pushing that forward, and sometimes when you peel back the onion, you realise that it’s not that scary. And so there’s a bit of this kind of fearlessness of hey, embrace risk, take courage to do the right thing. And again, if you keep the right things at the forefront, like I said, you know, passion, values, but also understanding business and where we want to go. I think courage and vulnerability, and also the vulnerability, because there are so many times that you fail, I can tell you how many times I’ve failed. And, you know, I talk about it super openly and regularly. I’m the first person to say that but sometimes those failures turn into sparks for, you know, great innovation and so I encourage people, like, identify your fear and get past it so that you can, you know, you can be unstoppable and, you know, really be bold about where you want to take your ideas.
Twiggy Jalloh 24:45
So, Amiee, this series, as you know, is all about rebellious optimists. Have you got any advice for people working with women in sports, and well as those working in positions of leadership?
Aimee Arana 24:57
Yeah, I love this question. And it’s at the heart of kind of who we are. And you know, impossible is nothing, I think, number one is, get in the conversation. You know, be bold. I think, don’t be afraid to expose, you know, the emotion or put a spotlight on women in sport. You know, I’d also tell you that engage with athletes, engage with other women in the business. So I think as much of, you know, doing the right thing for the company and the brand, get in the conversation and give back a bit as well. Because I think the only way you get there is by also lifting people up.
Twiggy Jalloh 25:39
It makes all of the difference. It really does make all the difference. When you do uplift the people who at the end of the day are going to buy the products and it just makes their lives easier.
Aimee Arana 25:49
Yeah, absolutely. But I think an important piece is engaging in the conversation because there’s some ugliness that is happening in the world of women’s sports as well. And, but there’s also some amazing things that are happening. And so I think as a sports brand, you know, we also have a responsibility to put a spotlight on women in sport and dimensionalise female athletes because there’s so much more, you know, beyond sports so…There’s a lot more to do, but it sure is a fun ride thus far.
Twiggy Jalloh 26:20
Amiee, it has been an absolute pleasure speaking to you today, and I really, really can’t wait to try out the everyday bra myself. Thank you.
- Discover our Impossible is Nothing campaign.
- Check out our Stay in Play period-proof tights.
- Find inspiration from 11 top female athletes.
- Read our article with Rugby’s Black Ferns on keeping girls in sport.
“Sometimes failures turn into sparks for great innovation.”Aimee Arana, Global SVP of Sportswear & Training at adidas