Lornah Kiplagat is a running legend. The 40-year-old Kenyan-born Netherlander has competed in three Olympic games, and has won the world cross-country, half-marathon, and road-running championships. On top of that, she’s reinvested her winnings in her native Kenya, establishing the country’s High Altitude Training Center and the Lornah Kiplagat Sports Academy, a high school for impoverished girls. As if those accomplishments weren’t enough, she’s now created a new line of African-inspired women’s sports apparel with an unexpected option: coverage.
The collection, called Lornah, stands out not only for the safari-rich patterns and audacious colors, but for distinct looks that go against the lycra’d up, cut-down grain of many women’s running kits today. The inagural collection debuted with three full-coverage pieces: a three-piece running dress (snug top and shorts with a butt-covering loose tunic on top), a tank with attached blouson singlet, and a double-layer, loose-over-snug pair of shorts. Each offers a less body-conscious fit, the idea for which, Kiplagat said via email, came from listening to women during her globe-hopping running career.
“We have talked a lot with women from all over the world, not only Africa, and our collection is based on their ideas,” she said. “We found out most women have the same ideas on apparel. They want functional sports apparel, but also fashionable.”
Ironically, pro runners like Kiplagat are unwittingly the driving force behind ever smaller, tighter women’s running kit. Few people see them training in baggy t-shirts and windsuits, but millions watch them tear up the Olympic track or fly through the streets of New York City in their racing bits—little more than a swimsuit. That sets the standard for what’s acceptable and performance enhancing. If it works for Shalane Flanagan in Boston, it’ll work for the weekend warrior in the local 5K, the thought process goes. Recreational runners have followed suit as elite women toe the line in ever more skimpy gear.
But clothing is more nuanced for women than men. It has to work for movement and in a cultural context. Elite trail runner Elodie Arrault chose the Lornah running dress for a 180K trek through Chad, saying it kept her cool and comfortable in more ways than one: It prevented her from offending the fully swathed locals as she trotted through their neighborhood.
Even in the U.S., some women aren’t comfortable in bunhuggers and a bra, regardless of how efficiently they wick and support. Running skorts and looser tops with more coverage have made their way into almost every women’s athleticwear line.
With three body-unconscious pieces in the inaugural collection and not a scooped neckline or midriff to be seen, modesty in the Lornah collection seems more intentional than the afterthought such designs represent in more established brands.
Kiplagat was one of the first to prove that running was a viable career for Kenyan women as well as men, and that runners who reinvested in Kenya could lift the country’s economy. A limited run of her sportswear line was produced in Turkey to start, but she is in talks with African companies with the goal of producing the entire line in Africa. She opened her first store in Nairobi, and her first collection is now available to the world online.
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