Last month, I wrote about the controversy surrounding Under Armour's "Mach 39," the racing suit worn by the U.S. speedskating team at the Sochi Games. These suits never stood a chance as critics attacked everything from faulty aerodynamics to poor aesthetics (the Americans' subpar performance didn't help matters either).
So what is the key to great Olympic uniforms—or any item for that matter? It's not necessarily about the size of the company or how much money you can pour into a project. It comes down to listening—that is, listening to the athletes or whoever your client may be. Just ask Craft Sportswear, a tiny Swedish brand responsible for outfitting this year's powerful Dutch speed-skaters, along with cross-country skiers from Sweden, Finland and Poland.
"We are not a huge monster like the other brands where they just pass a bag to an athlete and say: 'Wear this,'" said Craft Sportswear CEO Jonas Peterson in a recent Bloomberg Businessweek article. "We are really in a very close relationship with them."
Here are three areas where I think Craft excelled:
1. Craft thought about the end-use.
Craft designers took a different approach compared to the competition. Under Armour's suits boasted cooling vents that filled up with air, which was said to slow down the athletes. Craft, however, considered timing. Due to the events' relatively short nature, the design team didn't make ventilation a priority. The result? More podium appearances.
2. Craft gave the client options.
The article went on to explain how Craft didn't limit clients. For cross-country skiing, the company produced two different outfits of varying thicknesses. Athletes could decide which suit to wear based on race-day temperatures.
3. Craft didn't put down the competition.
Nobody is perfect. In fact, Craft experienced its own wardrobe scare before the 2006 Games in Torino when some of the athletes questioned its designs. Peterson chose not to comment on the Under Armour "Mach 39," except to say: "I know perfectly well how the people at Under Armour are feeling right now. It's always a risk. You try to eliminate as much risk as possible by having a close relationship with the athletes."