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This former Nike designer is taking performance apparel to the next level

Natalie Candrian created sprinter Allyson Felix’s hit Saysh One sneakers and Omorpho’s groundbreaking line of weighted training gear.

This former Nike designer is taking performance apparel to the next level
[Illustration: Agata Nowicka]

This story is part of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2022. Explore the full list of innovators who broke through this year—and had an impact on the world around us.

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When U.S. sprinter Allyson Felix took to the track at the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021, her light blue running spikes weren’t created by a major sportswear brand with an innovation lab staffed by industrial designers. They were from Felix’s then less-than-two-month-old women-focused footwear brand, Saysh, designed by a four-person team led by Nike- and Adidas-veteran Natalie Candrian, who created the shoes on a truncated nine-month timeline (most brands take four years), with Felix training in samples.

Felix took home the Gold for the 4x400m relay and the Bronze for the 400m—breaking the record for the USA’s most decorated track and field athlete in Olympic history (besting Carl Lewis!). Meanwhile, the Saysh One sneaker, inspired by Felix’s professional spikes, has won accolades for its female-centered design. Candrian imbued the shoes with stylish jacquard textiles and microsuede, and used a heel structure and lacing system that’s made to support the narrower female foot. “When you work with an athlete directly,” says Candrian, “it gives you insight and a chance to innovate and improve a product in general.” The brand’s only release so far, Saysh Ones are carried by both Athleta and Kith.

Candrian is further optimizing performance apparel as creative director at the five-year-old sportswear brand Omorpho. Last year, the Portland-based company introduced its Gravity line, which adds weight to vests, leggings, and long-sleeve shirts by attaching a barrage of candy-button-like steel bearings or high-density polyurethane to them.

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The outcome is both sculpturally stunning and effective, offering weight-based resistance (between one and five pounds per item) that can amp up training. The trick is how the weight is dispersed, with the tiny weights scattered in a way that first feels imperceptible. “[We’re] distributing the weight in a way that you don’t feel the difference as much,” she says. “The beauty of it is that when you actually hold [a piece of clothing], you realize how heavy it is.” The secondary magic, she notes, comes when you take the garment off and work out without the added weight. In what seems to be a pattern across Candrian’s work, Omorpho was designed to make wearers feel as though they can fly.

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