Thursday, February 27, 2020

Inventor of the Sports Bra Interviewed About Her New Book

      The Unlikely Story Of How One Woman Pioneered A Revolutionary Industry --And Helped Level The Playing Field In Business & Sports For Millions Of Girls & Women


As an aspiring artist, part-time secretary, and part-time undergrad student at the age of 28, Lisa Z. Lindahl, a person with Epilepsy, was an unlikely candidate to create a sports garment that would reshape the athletic landscape and become a 19 billion-dollar annual industry. Her new book reveals the amazing story behind the creation of the sports bra, an entrepreneurial victory that has landed her in The National Inventors Hall of Fame (the induction ceremony is May, 2020).

Unleash the Girls:  The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How it Changed The World (and Me) takes us back to 1977 when women, whether they wanted to go to the gym, compete in sports, or jog (as Lisa did), had no protection against bouncing, chafing, sweaty breasts. After casually talking to her sister about the need for such a bra, she went to her good friend, Polly, who later became an award-winning Muppets costume designer, about the need for an athletic bra. Lisa was determined to set out to find a better way to protect her body.

Lisa’s story takes us through the many challenges, ups and downs, and successes of launching a business by women for women in an era and an industry dominated by men. She not only shares “learn from my mistakes” advice, she also provides encouragement to anyone looking to turn an idea into a business.  Lisa’s story is brutally honest and reveals how she navigated – and sometimes fell into – the many pitfalls faced by female entrepreneurs in an industry that had ignored the needs of women.

Below is an interview with Lisa, who is represented by the book public relations firm that I work for:

1.      Lisa, what inspired you to write Unleash the Girls: The Untold Story of the Invention of the Sports Bra and How it Changed the World (And Me)? I wrote “Unleash The Girls” for two reasons, really. The first was that the sports bra had become more than just an undergarment, morphing into a symbol of women’s freedom and empowerment — an iconic symbol of women's liberation. What I had considered simply my first business born of solving my own problem was living on beyond my involvement, creating dynamics and consequences far beyond my initial vision.  This realization, arrived at over 40 years after its invention when the Smithsonian archived the original Jogbra, prompted the next inspiration for writing the book: today’s young women and this era’s chapter in the feminist movement, and the importance of women telling their own stories, in their own voices. The story of how the sports bra came into being is not a sweet story, but a complex tale of women growing and struggling to become.   The story has the possibility to be as empowering as the garment itself proved to be.

2.      This spring you’ll be honored by the Smithsonian Institute and the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Did you ever think your idea would turn you into being a pioneer? No. I invented the sports bra just to solve my own problem. I never had any idea that it would unleash so many other women and girls, that it would release so much potential and power in so many others. I'm really proud and humbled by what the creation of the sports bra has facilitated for so many others.

3.      We take the sports bra for granted today, but take us back to the 1970s, when you invented something that revolutionized women’s sports and health. What was the environment like back then? The 1970’s were a time of fluidity and change. The old rules were disintegrating and often we were making up our own new ones. For instance, mine was the first generation to have access to reliable birth control. Title IX allowed girls to have equal athletic opportunities in schools. Hair was getting longer and skirts were getting shorter. Girls were rejecting their mothers’ girdles and stockings and opting for tights and miniskirts. Bras were being burned or left in the drawer. Pantyhose was invented. “Women’s Lib” was going strong. We lobbied to have equal pay as well. Imagine! And the idea of fitness—jogging, aerobics, yoga—was just beginning. The influence of these dynamics on me and the culture appear quite a bit in “Unleash.” It was a time when everyone was experimenting, inventing and re-inventing. It was exciting, invigorating and, for me, sometimes frightening.

4.      Your entrepreneurial venture initially had two other co-founders. But one of your partners got squeezed out and you temporarily lost control of the company. How can people avoid launching a business with people they can’t trust? Ask good questions; listen to your heart and gut. But there are no guarantees. If a person isn’t being entirely honest with herself, she automatically is not being honest and transparent with those around and those she is dealing with—she is fooling them as well as herself. This is just further cause for us all to keep on top of our own inner work in order to move forth in the world responsibly and with integrity. Plus, if you learn to trust yourself it is easier to spot others deserving of your trust.

5.      You wrote in your book how women need to help women in business but you were surprised at how difficult your business partner, a woman, could be. Are women any different than men when it comes to business?   Is any person different from any other when it comes to business?  Of course. And different strengths and different weaknesses need to be identified and addressed appropriately. Differences often can translate into strengths. I dislike generalizations; they are dangerous.  If we are going to make an impact in curtailing our current cultural paradigm of polarization, we need to avoid too many easy generalizations. Women have considerations in life that men do not: they bear children – an all-important cycle— that has been too greatly undervalued in how the Western world does business, and thus women have had to create a different way of “doing” and “being” in business. SO much more can be said here, but not in 125 words or less without being grossly misunderstood!

6.      Ok, Lisa so take us back to 1977. How did the sports bra, or what you called the Jogbra, come about? It was started with a joke! A funny comment! I had been running for a while and my sister decided she would start too.  But after a few tries, she called me to ask what in Heaven’s name did I do about the discomfort of bouncing breasts? I told her not much, the best I’d found was wearing a bra that was one cup-size too small, but even then the straps still stretched out and slipped off my shoulders…annoying! And then there could be chafing too! She asked, “Why isn’t there a jockstrap for us women?” I laughed at the silly image and replied, “Yes! Same idea, different part of the anatomy!” We both laughed a lot, but I took it seriously. I wrote down what functions such a garment would have to do. But I can’t sew. So I went to my friend Polly, who was a costume designer, and together we figured it out.  The first working prototype was actually two jockstraps cut in half!

7.      Was the original sports bra actually based on the men’s jock strap?  Yes! When I asked Polly to help me create this bra for jogging she told me that it would not be simple: that there was only one thing that might be more complicated than a bra to design, and that was a shoe! This is for several reasons: both are 3-dimensional items, it must support as well as cover and the wide size range must accommodate several different areas of a body converging at the point the garment covers. ( Years later I discovered that most traditional bras were in fact designed by engineers!) But we went ahead, and after several disappointing prototypes, it was two jock straps cut in half and sewn back together that guided us to our  solution: the pouches became cups and the waistband became a rib band; the straps crossed in the back and it went over the head — a new concept!  Polly then sourced far better materials for our use, including what was then a new unused fabric — Cotton/Lycra!
8.       What advice do you have for entrepreneurial women? Be clear about your purpose and then be true to it: In your entrepreneurial endeavor how important is your time? Your independence? The money? Recognition? The message?  Then go for it. Ask any questions of anyone (even competitors)—most everyone wants to be helpful. Then sit quietly and listen to your own gut and heart. There will always be naysayers; don’t let them discourage you.

9.      How did you handle the areas of the business that you knew little about or had no real feeling for?  I was fortunate in that my partner had an interest and a knack for a part of the business that I was not interested in, the production end.  So while I took care of sales and marketing, she did production and inventory.  Together we oversaw hiring and finances.  But the basic truth for every entrepreneur – for both happiness and healthiness in business – is to recognize what you are good at, and what you are terrible at. Dedicate yourself to what you are good at and find someone you can trust to be steward of the latter. Then, as it becomes possible, hire out all the rest. The balance of the truth is that you may be good at something for a bit, then as the biz grows it needs more expertise than you are able to give that area.  The smartest thing I ever did was to hire those who had a greater depth of knowledge about some aspect of my business than I did. A bonus: if it was an area I was interested or talented in, they became a great teacher.

10.   You advocate in your book for people to be kinder to one another, to be more thoughtful, and to see the true beauty in each other. So how do we go about creating a “humanhood”?
Who can review our current culture and not see a paradigm of polarization? How many feel helpless in the face of what appears to be a hopeless set of dynamics?  Appears is the operative word here. We all know appearances are deceptive. Each one of us in fact has the power to make a difference. It is in action and behaviors that change is born. The poet John O’Donohue says “All contemporary crises can be reduced to a crisis about the nature of beauty.”  What is authentic beauty? By its very nature, beauty is harmony. And how might we practice it to help turn the tide and create a kind, compassionate globe on which the human species is a contributor as much as a consumer? The book “Beauty As Action, The Way of True Beauty & How Its Practice Can Change Our World” begins this journey with its 16 practices of True Beauty.

For more information, please consult:


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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog ©2020. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource.” He recently hosted a panel on book publicity for Book Expo America.

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