Turning the Dial: How Stoko is Bringing Innovation to Athletic Apparel
As I sit down with Joey Ardell, Director of Product at Stoko Designs, two things are quickly obvious. Firstly, there’s a lot more to K-Line products than meets the eye, and secondly, Joey knows his stuff.
We begin with a short history lesson. Zack Eberwein, the soon-to-be Founder of Stoko had a problem: carrying a pre-existing knee injury, Zack had been training for the Multi Grouse Grind Challenge, but on lap 7 of the event his knee gave out under him. A massive, long term effort brought to a halt by what Zack felt shouldn’t be happening to 20 year old people.
Stoko's own Zack Eberwein is now crushing the grouse grind thanks to the K1 Tempos.
Knowing there had to be a solution, Zack talked things through with his physio. Initially thinking about constructing ‘The world’s best knee brace’ they quickly realized people didn’t really want a knee brace. They wanted their lives back.
As anyone who has had to wear a brace knows, they’re a drag. In fact, they’re such a drag that even when our doctors and physios tell us to wear them we find excuses not to, and pretty soon that $1000 brace is gathering dust in the bottom of our gear cupboard, under a pile of straight skis and discarded v-brakes.
Zack and buddies came to the goal of designing something that would fulfill the function of a knee brace, yet would be something people would want to wear. It had to be not only supportive, but comfortable and aesthetically pleasing. This desirable product would make it easy to comply with medical advice, allowing people to move a step further along their recovery, doing what they couldn’t do before, or improving their experience of something they were already able to do. Not only would the product provide support, but that support would be adjustable instantly, while the product was in use, and alongside support there would be compression, targeted to the areas that needed it. At the end of a long day, the owner should be able to take their now muddy, sweaty support and throw it in the washing machine, soon to be ready for another go round. And another. And another.
The concept of “Supportive Apparel” formed. A medical grade device that could be pulled on, and called on when needed. Since a great deal of activity involves wearing athletic clothing, it seemed logical to design something with functional support directly integrated into it. The next challenge was to find ways to build athletic clothing that could provide support.
Behind the scenes at Stoko's headquarters.
Over time, the existing Embrace System™ evolved: 90 feet of Dyneema cabling that runs inside channels woven, by a process known as ‘technical knitting’, into the fabric of the tights, tensioned by easy operated dials on the back of the waistband and anchored at the calf and waist. The cables are guided down the length of the legs by laminated, polyurethane strips that cross the cable channels and overcome their natural tendency to straighten out when tensioned, guiding the cables into specific regions of the body to enable support, and enhance comfort. Tiny details that don’t get noticed were considered: why doesn’t the fabric bunch up behind my knees? Because it was carefully shaped during the knitting process to match the contours of the body. The entire device interfaces with the wearer, so every square inch had to be carefully designed to fit and function optimally.
Testing came next. The K1s were put through rigorous use to ensure they stand up to the demands of outdoor sport, and to function well on users from elite level athletes looking to perform their best, through injured athletes looking to unlock the pastimes they’d had snatched from them, to recreational athletes looking to protect their bodies. Alongside the real-world tests, the K1s went through extensive laboratory based testing in order to achieve Class 1 Medical Device status, a process which demands not only testing but adherence to regulatory processes and ongoing reassessment of product effectiveness through tracking of user experience.
The science showed that the K1s provide 80% of the mechanical support of a regular rigid knee brace. The real world testing showed that people were actually wearing them. And after all, isn’t it better to have 80% support, and be using it, than have maximal support that’s lying in the back of your gear closet?
It’s pretty clear that Stoko’s K-Line tights have changed the rules around recovery, shifting the dial to a more positive note. Recovering from injury need not necessarily mean careful avoidance of everything you love to do; now we can start to return to play sooner, with more confidence, adjusting support as we need it, from day to day, moment to moment. With care, guidance, and good support, we can get our lives back.