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A Delhi student's activewear solution for pregnant women

Harleen Kaur, 22, has become the only Indian to win the 2022 award at the Woolmark Performance Challenge for her designs 

Harleen Kaur, a student of Delhi's Pearl Academy.
Harleen Kaur, a student of Delhi's Pearl Academy. (Woolmark)

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Delhi’s Harleen Kaur has become the only Indian student to win the 2022 award at the Woolmark Performance Challenge, an internationally renowned platform that brings together performance apparel brands with a global pool of students to facilitate innovative products for the sports and performance market. Kaur is one of the four winners selected from 410 students from 137 universities around the world.

The design story

Kaur, a 22-year-old student of Delhi's Pearl Academy, designed Running for Two, an activewear concept for pregnant women. “My mom is a Zumba trainer, and many pregnant women attend her classes till the eight month of pregnancy. So when I signed up for the competition and was discussing ideas with her, it clicked that not many designers have worked on the concept of supportive activewear for pregnant women. It’s a huge market that is ready to be tapped but no one has really worked on it. So I decided to design something to make pregnancy better,” says Kaur.

Her final design has been made with 80% Merino wool.
Her final design has been made with 80% Merino wool. (Courtesy Woolmark)

To create the line, Kaur interviewed women from India and abroad to understand their major concerns. The safety of the baby was No.1. Getting overheated while working out was another issue, so she needed a thin garment that provides support, and coolness. It had to be stretchable enough to be worn during all stages of pre- and post-pregnancy.

Her final design has been made with 80% Merino wool (the rule of the challenge is to use at least 50). “The knitting technique I used created superfine Merino wool which is almost the same as any other activewear material. There are panels under the breast and bump to provide support while doing Zumba, dancing or running. I had to figure out where to lift, stretch and support. I also used ChillSense recycled polyamide yarn that provides coolness to the skin as it reacts with sweat and transfers heat from the body to the fabric quickly. It feels like the coolness you feel in your mouth when you drink water after chewing minty gum,” explains Kaur.

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Go green or go home

This year-long project started in 2021 with help from her mentors. When she was announced as the finalist, Woolmark also had a mentoring programme with designers and brand owners from companies such as Hugo Boss, Adidas and On Running. These sessions helped her modify her project where necessary.

An important fact her mentors kept repeating was to always design with the thought of sustainability. “Our mentor from On Running said if one is not adding sustainable materials to a project, what are you designing for? Designing sustainability is the need of the hour, and you must think of what’s going to happen to your garment after end-use. It’s my responsibility to design sustainably. Many artificial fabrics today are also being made in a way that they can be decomposed. According to trend analysis, consumers are becoming conscious of choices too,” says Kaur.

What next?

Kaur says the award is a “big deal” for her, as there are hardly any activewear brands in India for pregnant people and the recognition makes her believe that she can offer something different. 

“I am looking forward to my three-month internship with On Running and would love to work for them permanently. After I finish my course, I want to explore more of the activewear category with existing brands. And if all goes well, I might start my label,” says Kaur.

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