Based in New Delhi, India’s capital, Harleen Kaur has won the Woolmark Performance Challenge 2021 whilst she is completing her design degree with Billy Blue College of Design at Torrens University Australia online.
For Harleen, winning the Woolmark Performance Challenge 2021 was an experience unlike any other, and an incredible end to a remarkable year long journey.
“Being the first and the only Indian fashion design student to be selected as a finalist and then ultimately a winner in this competition is a victory that I am truly proud of and will cherish for a lifetime,” said Harleen.
“It’s an absolute honour and I am truly thankful to the Woolmark Company and On Running for recognising my calibre.”
Woolmark Performance Challenge an incredible opportunity for the next generation of designers
The Woolmark Performance Challenge is an international competition that partnered with two brands, Swiss brand On for a running category brief, and Italian brand SALEWA for a ski and mountain category brief.
Entrants’ designs needed to harness the unique properties of Merino wool. The challenge was to create innovative, environmentally considerate product solutions that would change the future of sportswear and maximise fashion-forward wearability.
The Woolmark Company were blown away by the innovative ideas presented in this year's Woolmark Performance Challenge.
The competition field was packed with over 400 students from 137 universities across 24 countries providing an abundance of global talent vying for the honours. Each student submitted innovation concepts with the 12 most promising ideas landing as finalists.
Outperforming on a global fashion stage
Harleen was excited to travel to Paris last month to attend the award ceremony held at La Caserne, Europe’s largest sustainable fashion accelerator hub, and network with all 12 finalists with their concepts on display.
“Being there was very overwhelming as everything that I worked for was finally coming to its total fruition,” said Harleen.
Out of the 12 finalists, only four became winners with internships up for grabs at On and SALEWA, as well as a Research Opportunity with On, and a Research Bursary.
Harleen won the Research Opportunity internship with Swiss performance sportswear company On for her concept creating maternity activewear embracing the changing body for pregnant and post partem athletes, by working with the wearer’s changing body movements.
“Receiving the award for such a great and widely known fashion competition was highly thrilling and I just couldn’t wait to break the news to my parents who were in a completely different time zone.”
Harleen felt extremely lucky to visit Paris and bring home memories of a lifetime, as well as newfound inspiration and a closer connection to her fellow finalists from across the globe whom she had grown close to over zoom.
“Connecting with the winners in a face-to-face mode after a year of being in touch through Zoom calls was very enthralling. Everyone was super nice, and we all had such a fun time relaxing, being present in the moment, and exchanging ideas.”
Paris is one of her favourite cities, so visiting was a dream come true.
“Coming from a fashion and design background, everything was an inspiration, from the beloved Iron Lady – the Eiffel Tower, to the beautiful sculptures and ceilings at Palais Garnier to The Nike house of innovation.”
Blending sports science with maternity-wear
The award-winning design provided a snug and supportive fit to support the mother and foetus with the science behind it to transfer heat to the fabric more quickly, creating a cool sensation when the body temperature fluctuated higher.
Harleen achieved this through ChillSense recycled polyamide wool yarn and a 28-gauge seamless circular knit with compression zones for support and remarkably a pocket for a foetal heart-rate sensor to monitor the baby’s health within the design.
A holistic passion for activewear
The self-described activewear enthusiast is interested in combining sports science and wearable tech with her activewear designs.
“The scope of innovation and creative freedom in designing activewear is quite exciting as this segment of fashion is not only design oriented, but also keeps functionality at the forefront.”
Harleen’s outstanding hybrid of innovation, sustainability and aesthetic quality is what earned her the exciting research opportunity with On, as well as her consumer-centric approach.
“There’s something about the comfort and the aesthetic of active wear which attracts me and gets my creative juices flowing,” said Harleen. “The prospects for growth in this industry are extraordinary as well since it’s constantly evolving.”
She is further inspired to cater to the ever-changing needs of the activewear market and create performance-based apparels by her mother who is a professional fitness trainer and Zumba instructor.
“I am highly fascinated by not just the designs, but also the social media marketing strategies of some of the popular activewear and athleisurewear brands.”
Design student's promising future
“This is just the beginning,” Harleen said of the accolade. “Super excited for the next chapter in life.”
“I was proud to represent my country and university at such a huge International platform and over the moon to be amongst such an elite company,” she added.
Pearl Academy is a partner institute of Torrens University Australia where students can opt for our Degree Completion collaboration where they complete a Diploma or Advanced Diploma with Pearl Academy before articulating into our third year Bachelor of Design.
Traditionally Pearl Academy students would relocate to Australia for their final year, but COVID border closures meant that Harleen is studying online, while based in India. Now with the borders open students have the option to travel to Australia to complete their studies in Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane.
Studying at Torrens University Australia has been truly exciting for Harleen, who said her international mentor’s knowledge and perspective has helped enhance her design potential. Additionally, she enjoyed interacting with students from different countries and backgrounds because it created cross-cultural experiences and the added expertise of working in international teams.
“A degree in design from an acclaimed international university like Torrens University, with strong industry connections, will definitely help me find attractive employment opportunities overseas.”
“The career opportunities in Australia in the field of activewear are quite promising which is also why I chose to continue my studies at Torrens University.”
Harleen will finish her degree with Torrens University Australia this year, then commence her awarded internship for three months.
“I definitely look forward to working with On full time in the long run all the while contributing highly to their company and taking up new challenges.”