Archery clothing – looking back at London 2012

Specialist archery clothing? Bow looks at an almost brilliant idea from London 2012

It’s a curious fact that while archery bows and bow accessories have continually improved in myriad ways for decades – even if a lot of improvements in the 20th century could very much be classed as incremental – clothing has remained almost defiantly unspecialised, despite archery’s essential need for forearm and chest protection. (Indeed, arm bracers may date back to the Bronze Age.)

In 2012 for the London Olympics, the much-praised Team GB kit was designed by Stella McCartney in partnership with Adidas. One thing that got designed along with the vast range of gear was a specialised shirt for archery. Like much of the other Team GB kit, it utilised Adidas’s TechFit PowerWeb, which is a compression material designed to mirror the movement of the muscles involved.

It incorporated wrist and chest protection and allowed a wide range of movement and flexibility, as well as adding a panel at the back of the neck to prevent sunburn. At the time, Nick Craggs, Adidas’s UK marketing director, said: “The archery apparel is one of our most technologically advanced pieces of kit ever, with the inclusion of protective fabrics and waterproofing elements.” 

One size does not fit all

While it was designed for the GB team, in the end a different set of kit was selected. Naomi Folkard, then at her third Olympic Games, takes up the story. “The team were involved in the design. We had quite a few meetings about it with some German textile specialists beforehand.

“I remember when I finally tried it on that the placement of the arm guard wasn’t exactly where I would have it and that the chestguard wasn’t tight enough because they used a rubbery fabric which didn’t stretch, so it ended up being a little bit on the baggy side.

The Adidas 2012 archery shirt: “A great idea that just fell a little bit short”

“It has some really good ideas, but everyone’s a different shape and they rotate their arm a different amount, so everyone wants their armguard in a different place – it’s difficult to make it work for everybody. The armguard was made out of the same kind of material used in motorbike padding, so it felt soft but would go hard on impact.”

Another, more immediate problem was the lack of examples. “I had a couple of training sessions in it. There was only one [garment] and if you’re going to wear it to compete in you’d want to wear it literally every day, which means you’d have to wash it every night. So it just wasn’t feasible in that way. It was a great idea that just fell a little bit short.” 

In the end, Naomi chose a different shirt from the Team GB range, as she also did when competing in Rio, and the story of Adidas’s specialist archery shirt stopped there. 

This year’s kit, once again supplied by Adidas and very much in the lineage of the Stella McCartney designs, is grouped by sports category. However, in Tokyo, the archery team is wearing the same kit as the athletics team. “We did try a badminton shirt, but it was dark blue and we decided that wasn’t going to work in the heat,” Naomi said. 

Stella McCartney’s partnership with Adidas has continued, and this year she launched a collection called ‘Futureplayground’ in association with other women designers: “an ode to the world and the environment through the lens of the next generation, featuring activists and sustainable materials”.

The Japanese release, led by artist Monika Mogi, featured futuristic performance kit modelled by archer Ren Hayakawa, returning to the Olympics this year, who “harnesses the energy of her surroundings to drive her self-belief and push her performance”.

Ren Hayakawa modelling for Adidas

Archery’s status as one of the smaller sports in the pantheon means that manufacturing at the kind of scale required to make a profit is very difficult. However, a smaller niche manufacturer called Play Action Sports Wear (PAS), based in Atlanta, Georgia, has revived the idea of a specialist archery shirt with its TemperGuard jersey, with chest protection built in, and a specific focus on clothing for women. Archery has also long ‘borrowed’ kit designed for other sports, with archers using everything from AdiZero shotput shoes to cycling base layers to shoot well and stay comfortable.

Nike Akribis

It’s not the only time custom design has flowered briefly in our sport. Back in the late noughties, Nike Akribis shoes were part of a range of specialist team footwear designed for the Beijing 2008 Olympics. Versions were worn at various times by the USA, Chinese and Chinese Taipei Olympic archery teams. Nike’s blurb went: “With a nubby Astrograbber outsole that can penetrate and grip grass or synthetic turf, and a contoured footbed that elevates the heel to an athletic shooting position, the Nike Akribis provides comfort and sure footing on any surface.”

However, as with the other archery products with great potential, the demand wasn’t big enough to justify manufacturing at scale, and they never became commercially available. Until that changes, the sport will just have to keep borrowing.

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