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Sportswear, but not as we know it

A new range of high-tech clothing for extreme athletes draws on neuroscience and psychology

Olivia Weinberg | November 11th 2015

Steve and Nick Tidball are identical twins who have made their name in advertising. But their real passion is sport. They have raced across the Namibian desert, through the Amazon jungle and over the Alps. So it comes as no surprise that their latest venture is an extreme-sports brand called Vollebak, a word they’ve taken from the world of professional cycling that means “all out” in Flemish.

Over the last four years, they have been developing high-tech sportswear for extreme athletes that draws on neuroscience, psychology and wearable technology. They have worked with Mark Hannaford, the founder of a conference series called World Extreme Medicine, which brings together organisations like NASA, Médecins Sans Frontières and Everest ER to discuss the future of science and medicine in harsh environments.

Their first collection is made up of two pieces, which are available to buy online. This is not everyday sportswear. Both look otherworldly – strange shapes that engulf the body, with eerie black eyelets and menacing mesh visors. If you jogged down the street in these clothes, you would get suspicious looks.

The Baker Miller Pink Hoodie (£220, above) fuses colour theory and physiology. It has been designed to help athletes relax before and after sport by reducing their heart rate, slowing their breathing and minimising oxygen consumption. Between 1979 and 1987, Alexander Schauss, a director of Life Sciences at the American Institute for Biosocial Research, conducted a series of psychological experiments that analysed the relationship between colour and emotion. He found that colour had the ability to trigger measurable responses in how people felt and behaved. His findings demonstrated how 15 minutes of exposure to a bubblegum shade of pink called Baker Miller Pink (named after the directors of the facility where he conducted his experiments) could suppress violent behaviour in prisoners and delinquents. Until now, it had escaped the radar of elite athletes, for whom the ability to relax can be key to success. For maximum impact the hood is pink both inside and out, with a mesh visor covering the face. The instructions advise zipping it up so that it totally envelops you.

The twins have also worked with Michael Powell, a sound engineer who is a specialist in the field of “brainwave sound design”: noise that is designed to stimulate a particular reaction in the brain. Together they have created a bespoke, 30-minute soundscape made up of elements of pink noise. Containing every frequency the human ear is capable of hearing, pink noise has been shown to slow and regulate brainwaves. Athletes who buy the hoodie are encouraged to download the soundtrack on their phone, tuck it into the internal pocket, zip up, lie down and press play.

The second piece, the Condition Black Jacket (£750), looks more sinister. “The military elite have a term for your physical and mental state during life-and-death situations,” says Steve. “They call it ‘condition black’, and it’s colour code for ‘you’re about to die’.” The jacket is not only made to withstand extreme conditions but also helps keep you alive in the aftermath of an accident. Made from a highly flexible and breathable base-layer and a ceramic outer skin, it is tough enough to survive skids of up to 120kph across any surface. It is fitted with 19 panels of ceraspace, a material which is harder than just about everything except diamond. Glow-in-the-dark instructions appear on the sleeve as the body starts to shut down. At the moment you become too cold to think, four snappy bullet points instruct you to get into the fetal position to conserve heat in as many vital organs as possible.

There is a cliché of extreme sports that the twins are working against. “Historically the focus has been on this teenage, don’t-give-a-shit, adrenaline junkie archetype,” Steve says. “But that presents an incomplete picture. The other side of our world is made up of athletes using adventure sports to push themselves to their limits.” Maybe, with the right jacket, they can push themselves a bit further.

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