Design meets performance
First collection of optimised clothing for wheelchair basketball players is launched
BÖNNIGHEIM (on) Within just 12 years, the number of members in the German Disabled Sports Association has nearly doubled – and numbers are still rising . Sabine Hattenkerl and Katrin Eiermann from the Leipzig sports fashion design studio eiermann+hattenkerl were quick to recognise the importance of this target group. That is why, in partnership with Biehler Sportswear, based in Limbach-Oberfrohna, they have developed the first-ever optimised prototype collection for the 1st team of the Elxleben wheelchair basketball club RSB Thuringia Bulls. The product development was based on the extensive data generated by the Hohenstein Institute in Bönnigheim in Swabia as part of a research project on optimising sportswear for wheelchair users.
As a result of the project called "Smart-Fit-In" which began in 2014, and was aimed at developing specially adapted and personalised products for people with restricted mobility, the two designers became aware of the innovation forum "Adapted Fashion". "Thanks to the Smart-Fit-In /Adapted Fashion project, we learnt about lots of new requirements that people with disabilities have. We were astonished to find this was an area where so much was still lacking – technically and from the point of view of design – so we were motivated to get involved," explains Sabine Hattenkerl.
Through the innovation forum, they also came into contact with Lutz Leßmann, the manager of the wheelchair basketball team RSB Thuringia Bulls. Even though the players in his team are professionals and train every day, they are not kitted out by the leading sportswear manufacturers but have to fend for themselves when it comes to sportswear. So they go to team outfitters to have shirts and trousers printed or embroidered with their sponsors' logos. Because the print is applied later, it has the effect of a sticker and reduces the breathability of the clothing. The designs are also not always very up-to-date and often don't suit the team's taste. Technically, the fit of this clothing is not designed to meet the special needs of wheelchair users when playing basketball, because their seated position makes particular demands on the cut of such sportswear. As part of research project AiF-No. 17377 N, the scientists at the Hohenstein Institute measured wheelchair users digitally in a stationary 3D body scanner and, using a portable hand scanner, in their sports wheelchair. They made a lot of new findings: non-optimised trousers are generally too short at the back, round the waist, for wheelchair basketball players, and too long at the front. Furthermore, most wheelchair athletes have very muscular upper bodies and arms and this must be taken into account when designing shirts and jackets. To ensure a good fit, offering a great deal of freedom of movement, the garments therefore have to have specially adapted seam lines. The close contact of the back and buttocks with the wheelchair can soon lead to a build-up of sweat which must be avoided by using suitable materials and functional designs. From this mass of data, the Hohenstein experts were able to derive practical ways of optimising clothing for wheelchair athletes. These research results served as the basis for the current prototype collection.
"The main challenge was to find a partner in industry who shared our point of view and was interested in establishing a partnership," explains designer Sabine Hattenkerl. "In the end, we found our ideal project partner through the "Adapted Fashion" innovation network in the form of Biehler Sportswear. The positive feedback from the team shows that all the work was worthwhile. "The players are really excited, it's the best sports clothing they have ever worn. The comfort and fit are perfect. You hardly notice you're wearing a shirt," says centre Alex Halouski, who plays for the RSB Thuringia Bulls and the German national wheelchair basketball team.
Other manufacturers can also benefit from the Hohenstein Institute's data and information to make optimised products for disabled sportsmen and women. The research report can be ordered from the Hohenstein scientist Anke Klepser (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org), to ensure that this prototype collection of optimised clothing for wheelchair athletes from eiermann + hattenkerl and Biehler Sportswear does not remain a one-off.