In this digitally assisted, rapid prototyping-happy moment, it's easy to forget how difficult modeling and manufacturing a final product used to be. Examples that stand out include Frank Gehry's building designs that were technically impossible to build before the advent of CAD software, also how the customization abilities of 3D printing are beginning to revolutionize the medical field. Simply put, there are many groundbreaking innovations taking place in this age that would have otherwise been next to impossible several years prior. One of those challenges worth mentioning and practically neglected by designers is a truly supportive bra for women—something a new brand called Trusst is hoping to change.
Trusst Lingerie, a company started by industrial designers Sophia Berman and Laura West, wants to improve the ergonomics of lingerie—particularly for fuller-busted women who are more at risk of health issues due to unsupportive undergarments. As many passion projects go, Trusst's venture began with their own personal troubles with bras. "[West and I] started the company initially because she is fuller-busted and had a lot of pain points coming from current bras on the market. Underwires dig into the side of your bust. It hurts against your rib cage and digs into your shoulder…this hurts your back having this imbalance of the weight on your chest," says Berman. The team knew from an early point that in order to comfortably provide support, designers need to reimagine how lingerie is typically engineered.
A classic demonstration of a cantilever
Trusst's name is a play off of the word truss, a term stemming from the tangential field of architecture. The company's innovative three-dimensional support technology initially takes inspiration from cantilevers, a structural element commonly applied in bridge design. The Pittsburgh-based design team did research around many bridges in the city to design the final form of the supportive cup within their bras. Trusst sees this approach as a genuinely innovative one in the field of lingerie design: "I don't want to speak to every single bra company out there, but I know that the majority of them have fashion designers designing their bras. We're industrial designers and engineers, so we're coming from a different perspective that allowed us to see things differently," Berman mentions.
Prior to their acceptance into a local accelerator program, the team did a large amount of research to assess real women's qualms with bras for sale on the market. Surveying a couple thousand women in total, the founders gained a thorough understanding of what people thought were really missing in the products available today. They began modeling using a 3d printer after initial research, "because we realized the rate at which we wanted to create prototypes had to be very quick," adds Berman. Although 3d printing was not used in the final manufacturing process, it did allow them to find a more streamlined form within a relatively quick timeframe. When it came to the internal structure's complex, bridge-like cantilever system that makes it easier to conform to the body, digital softwares and fabrication methods turned out to be highly invaluable tools.
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The team worked hard to innovate not only in the realm of structural engineering but also materials because, as Berman reminds us, "any woman knows that boob sweat happens." To further alleviate this common conundrum, Trusst worked with the material engineering company Garmatex to line their bras with their patented anti-microbial, wicking Kottinu fabric. Typically a fabric applied to high-intensive athletic equipment, Trusst found a way to cleverly use a promising fabric within a new, functional context to keep women more comfortable day-to-day.
Co-founder Laura West in development mode
Throughout their design and manufacturing process, Berman and West experimented with a variety of different ideas for manufacturing to assure that their product was effectively catering to their customers. They even thought about playing with a customizable manufacturing model so bras could fit each person's unique shape, but Berman says the team ultimately found this to be a superfluous application of the digital technology and "from a scalability perspective, just not very practical." Instead, they decided to focus on innovating how they manufactured the internal structure of the bra. The team says their manufacturing goal presented the factories with a daunting challenge: "What we designed in general had never been done before... the factory wasn't used to it. It required a whole new set of molds to shape the shapes." With Trusst being the duo's first big to-market product, their biggest obstacle lie in how to bring their vision to a practical, economically feasible reality while maintaining the innovative integrity:
"Really figuring out the form of the product and actually what materials to use was a real challenge. We were taught in design school how to create really cool forms and systems that might work well, but actually taking that next step to bring it to a manufactured product, something that can be mass-manufactured vs. just made at small-scale—that was the challenge that we faced. What materials were cost-effective, what processes weren't going to cost a lot of time and labor on the factory's part so it could then be cost-effective to sell."
Over a year after their initial idea, Trusst just launched their online store in October and have plans to present more designs, color ways and even types of bras in the near future.
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It's a line of products that frankly would be difficult to imagine without two key elements: digital technologies and engrossed female designers. A product that has somehow ceased to inspire real innovation for decades, Trusst's efforts are a thoughtful answer to the growing call for more female designers to improve on women-centric products where innovations have fallen by the wayside. By mixing old development techniques (surveying) with the new (rendering software and 3d printers), the team makes room for something special—a product that manages to feel both technically considered and compassionate toward its consumer.
banner image: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette