- LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD 2015 - HINDA MILLER -
"Every woman, no matter their size or age has the right to participate in sport"
As Hinda Miller and her business partner Lisa Lindahl’s love of running took off in the late 1970s, they began asking “why is there no jock strap for women?” They hunted far and wide for a sports bra that would support and protect the ligaments in their breasts when they were out running.
The result was their invention of the “jogbra”.
Hinda was a qualified theatrical costume designer whose first degree was in design (architecture and interiors). She was able to think outside of the box about what was needed. The first prototype was two jock straps sewn together to create something soft and strong. From this initial idea, a great business emerged in the US State of Vermont where she lived and worked. The business was later sold to Playtex Apparel and ultimately acquired by Sara Lee.
Hinda attributes her great business acumen from her theatrical business background:
“The theatre is the perfect place to learn how to run a business. You are part of a team. You have tight budgets to keep to. There are deadlines to meet. The show MUST go on!”
Hinda and Lisa tried on many bras in their search for something that would work. Their enthusiasm for running developed and they couldn’t find anything suitable, so they went on to create the first sports bra. There were clear criteria – it couldn’t rub, there would be no seams around the nipples, it had to be soft against the body and provide extra support when bouncing along jogging or playing football.
“We had witnessed bleeding nipples in the first 5k runs that were just starting to be popular in the 1970s. We were lucky back then, we had this opportunity, she says, “ as well as being in a small American state (Vermont), where there were very few large businesses based, better support for smaller businesses, and an appetite from the Government to support small business development at the time. I don’t think we would have had the same success if we had been based in New York city. Interest rates were 22% in those days,” she continues, “so getting funding to develop an idea was crucial.”
Hear Hinda's acceptance speech from the 2015 Awards.
The first $5,000 came from her dad to produce the first products, but ultimately she attracted a grant of $50,000 from a Government fund which got the jockbra (as it was originally called) into mass production.
Hers is an interesting story of an enthusiastic entrepreneur who learned a lot in her business journey. Once she and Lisa had developed their product, the first 72 bras they produced were sold out fast. They placed them in the specialist boutique sports stores that were just starting to spring up, selling running shoes. They quickly sold out, the product was so popular. Hinda said, “That was in the days before the big multiple branded sports stores. Those little stores were started by passionate runners who had turned their hobbies and interests into a business. We saw an opportunity for them to sell the bra along with a pair of running shoes.”
“The first editions were packaged in black boxes, she says, to make it easier for men to sell a bra.” And she had been quick to realise that it was a destination product –that women would seek them out, and that would help sell running shoes too for the small stores. Demand grew quickly. After the first short run, sales in year 1 topped $500,000. They made it to a Chicago trade show and pinned up a press cutting from the New York Post where a journalist had displayed the “jockbra” on a Playboy bunnygirl. That publicity got attention and the product quickly took off.
Hinda and Lisa went on to sell the firm to Playtex Apparel in 1990. “The business needed an infrastructure to take it to the next level and we couldn’t do that on our own. It started as a high ticket item and was on its way to becoming a commodity.”
Hinda stayed with the firm becoming CEO of the Champion Jogbra division of Sara Lee in 1994. Jogbra today is a generic term, and the original Jogbra prototype, made from two jockstaps sewn together, is on display in the Smithsonian Institute and the MOMA costume collection in New York.
She left the company in 1997 to pursue other interests including politics and teaching business in the University of Vermont. For a decade she served as a Vermont State Senator, on the economic development and appropriations committees.
Today she is a board member of Keurig Green Mountain (a NASDAQ listed coffee roasting company), where she has been involved since 1999 and is chair of the Sustainability Committee.