BY LEIGH BURNS, FOUNDER, LACUNA SPORTS.
As the founder of Lacuna Sports, I was delighted to read several recent pieces about the need for suitable clothing for female athletes. There was a heated debate on Twitter earlier this year about women wearing cricket whites, and now there have been several pieces about women having to wear whites at Wimbledon. In most cases, the challenge is about the universal, all-encompassing fear of bleeding through your white clothes during your period. However, although I am thrilled to see this topic out in the open and being discussed in the media, I can’t quite shake the feeling that we may risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
When I was 16, I signed up for a 22-day Outward Bound sailing expedition. It was to be a gruelling trip in an open 30-foot sailboat. No cabin, no toilet, no galley, just ten people (male and female) enduring weather, waves, and discomfort. However, the only thing seriously worrying me was the realisation that I would be on my period during the trip. Once I determined that I would, indeed, have to face the embarrassment and inconvenience of managing my period in front of 9 other people, my mum took me to the GP and I took medicine to suppress my period on the trip. Any woman reading this will surely have similar stories, and female athletes will be used to this kind of forward planning and cycle management.
During our research phase at Lacuna Sports, we sat down with players, coaches, mums and those close to cricket and other sports to understand what women needed. Whites versus coloured clothing came up in every discussion we had, as many clubs and counties have switched to coloured kit from the whites that boys traditionally use. There were two main negatives on whites: 1) the risk of period leaks and 2) looking terrible in cheap, transparent whites made for boys or men. However, it surprised me that not a single girl or woman we spoke to said they didn’t like whites (many said they loved the idea of them), they just didn’t like wearing something ill-suited to their bodies.
Women’s performance sportswear design requires an understanding of both the functional requirements of the sport and the body types playing the game. Cricket (and tennis, for that matter) requires freedom of movement in the arms, stretchy and sweat wicking breathable materials and fabric durability for diving catches and errant balls on the shins. Matches are long, hot, physical events. Women in cricket span a very wide range of body shapes, all have breasts, and the vast majority have monthly periods. These are simple design requirements. Perhaps instead of dictating that women shouldn’t wear white, we should just be designing kit according to these requirements?
Period pants have been around for several years now, giving girls and women an extra layer of protection and security during their periods. Although they do range in absorbency, the gist is that you wear a pair of underwear that gives you leakproof back up (or replacement) to standard period products such as tampons or sanitary towels. Although we have opted to make our own for cricket to meet our unique design requirements, period pants are available from many brands and sources. These will enable women to play cricket, tennis, ride a horse, play 18 holes of golf, climb a mountain, or even swim in a pool without a fear of a tell-tale red splotch.
Recent international test cricket debutante Issy Wong said of her first match versus South Africa in June, “I have to pinch myself sometimes. I look down and think, ‘I’m in whites, playing for England, how cool is that?’ It’s been amazing”. Or Kate Cross saying, “It’s no different for women growing up, the pinnacle is Test cricket. That’s what I was playing in the garden. When I was a kid I was playing my own little Ashes series with my brother and sister”. Heather Knight, Tammy Beaumont and Sophia Dunkley all posted about the joy of playing in whites and the sadness at packing them away for another year. I can only imagine what it must feel like to put on the famous whites for your first match at Wimbledon.
Ultimately, the women playing the sports in question need to tell us what they want to wear, but let’s not fall down the rabbit hole. Instead, let’s change the focus to demanding that sportswear brands actually consider women’s design requirements when making kit instead of telling women they should just avoid white because of completely natural bodily functions.