Despite training as a sports engineer before finding a job as a specialist bra tester, Mari Thomas still couldn’t find a sports bra that functioned properly. It’s why she created the brand Maaree, to tailor sports bras for active women.
She’s now collaborated with cycling clothing maker ashmei to create a bra matching the needs of cyclists. Meaning they won’t have to go to such extreme lengths to locate the correct fit or design, its introduction makes ashmei one of the few cycling brands to offer complete support for female cyclists.
‘A sports bra isn’t a fashion piece,’ explains Thomas. ‘They really do need to perform properly. It’s not impossible a poorly designed product might end up damaging someone’s body. So, if brands have stayed away from making sports bras, it might be because they want to be careful about only releasing one that’s up to the job’.
With a background in research and design, Thomas previously worked in one of the two UK labs conducting specialist testing on sports bras. It was an experience that helped her develop her design and be sure that it could be proven effective.
‘It wasn’t some kind of lightbulb idea. Or even from looking into the details of the testing I was conducting,’ she explains. ‘It was my own experience of running along and catching my reflection in a window and thinking, oh my gosh, there’s a lot more motion going on there than I’d realised. Then I’d put my hands over my chest, and I saw how that improved things. That realisation, which led to the Overband design, simply came from running on the streets by myself’.
After some rapid prototyping using belts acquired from a charity shop, Thomas created a rough version of her Overband design. Providing tailored, form-fitting support above your boobs to complement the normal elastic strap below them, the result was to drastically reduce up and down movement while maintaining a pleasing silhouette.
Just as applicable to cycling as it is running, the ashmei x Maaree Sports Bra has been created explicitly for cyclists. A medium impact design, it balances the need for support with the requirement for unrestricted breathing when working hard on the bike. Aiming for a similarly supportive relationship with the planet, it’s made from Econyl regenerated nylon. Created from post-consumer material, including plastics fished from the ocean, this is reformed into a soft and hardwearing material that can, in turn, be recycled.
If some of us can’t help noticing people on ill-fitting bikes, Thomas’ training leaves her feeling the same about bras.
‘A study by Portsmouth University found 80% of women were wearing the wrong size bra’, she explains. ‘This is down to several reasons, but I think a lot of us don’t fully understand how sizing works. It doesn’t help that different shops measured differently either’.
Initially offering free in-person fittings on all Maaree bras, this popular feature was nixed by the pandemic. Instead, Thomas took to providing personal virtual fitting via Zoom. Allowing women to fit themselves at home, it proved so popular she’s maintaining the service, which is also available for anyone interested in her latest collaboration with ashmei.
‘I’d been holding pop-up shops for people who wanted to get fitted,’ says Thomas. ‘Then lockdown came along. So I thought, let’s try and do it over Zoom instead. It turns out many people prefer it because it’s convenient and they can do it at home’.
Now one of only a few cycling clothing makers to create a sports bra specifically for cyclists, ashmei’s involvement with Maaree came about partly through their shared interest in sustainable design. It’s a partnership that’s also allowed ashmei to fill an omission from its otherwise comprehensive wardrobe of performance-focused cycling kit.
‘It’s a product we’ve realised was missing for a long time,’ they explained. ‘Working with Thomas on the Empower bra means our range finally feels much more complete.
The Maaree x ashmei sports bra is available to buy here