KPU design students turn cool idea into athletic advantage

Wed, Aug 17, 2016

Metro Vancouver, B.C. – Two Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) design alumni have turned a cool class project into functional apparel they hope will give Canada’s Wheelchair Rugby Team a competitive advantage at the Paralympic Games in Rio next month.

Product Design graduate Jaymes Williams and Fashion & Technology graduate Laura Hutchison have been commissioned by the Canadian Sport Institute to make eight cooling vests for Canada’s elite wheelchair rugby players competing in the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Sept. 7 to 18.

“All I really want to do is give back, and make the world a better place,” said Williams. “As corny as that sounds, it definitely is true and it resonates with me.”

Williams adds that an opportunity to showcase the cooling vests to an international audience was one he couldn’t refuse, despite the hundreds of hours and many sleepless nights that he and Hutchison invested getting things just right.

“This was a chance for me to really grow as a designer and actually leave my mark on something that is going to potentially be seen by millions of people.”

Added Hutchison: “Our hearts and souls are in this, for sure.”

The duo’s journey to the Paralympics started more than two years ago. As part of his Design Engagement course at KPU’s Wilson School of Design, Williams met with wheelchair rugby athletes in 2014 at the Richmond Oval to understand their needs for improved performance, function and comfort. The criteria for the course, set by instructor Stephanie Phillips, was to design a product to support athletes who play wheelchair rugby.

Williams’ research then led him to Canadian Sport Institute exercise physiologist Melissa Lacroix, who helped him understand that athletes with spinal cord injuries struggle to control their body temperature (thermoregulation) and can overheat while playing their sport.

Armed with this information, Williams then went on to design a prototype of a cooling vest specifically for wheelchair athletes. While “ice vests” or cooling vests exist in other sports, Williams’ goal was to develop a design that had greater longevity and would enhance performance and function for athletes working within the constraints of a wheelchair.

As interdisciplinary approaches are strongly encouraged, he then partnered with Wilson School of Design Fashion & Technology classmate Hutchison to further develop the concept. The two were among a group of post-baccalaureate students in technical apparel design who traveled last June to Maxport JSC’s research and development lab in Hanoi, Vietnam, where they worked with the Maxport team on the next iterations of the vest.

Then, in August 2015, Williams and Hutchison traveled to the Parapan Am Games in Toronto to extend their research, observing the athletes in action and experiencing the adaptive sport community by meeting with them and attending almost every match played by the Team Canada National Wheelchair Rugby Team; they caught the team’s gold medal finish on the plane on their way home. The students received funding from the Wilson International Field Experience Fund for their trip to Vietnam, and from the Chip and Shannon Wilson Vision Execution Fund for their trip to Toronto.

Then in the spring, the Canadian Sport Institute commissioned them to make eight of the vests for Team Canada.

“No team achieves excellence alone,” said Andy van Neutegem, high performance director for the team. “The work of these talented young designers is a great example of how Canadian innovation and creativity is giving us the cutting edge going into Rio."

Canada is currently ranked fourth in the world, but has been ranked as high as No. 1 this year. The team’s journey to gold at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games will begin on Sept. 14 when Canada takes on host nation Brazil.

Photos of Jaymes Williams and Laura Hutchison are available for download from Flickr.

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About Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Kwantlen Polytechnic University has served the Metro Vancouver region since 1981, and has opened doors to success for more than 200,000 learners. Four campuses—Richmond, Surrey, Cloverdale and Langley—offer a comprehensive range of sought-after programs in business, liberal arts, design, health, science and horticulture, trades and technology, and academic and career advancement. Over 19,000 students annually have a choice from over 120 programs, including bachelor’s degrees, associate degrees, diplomas, certificates, citations and apprenticeships. Learn more at

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Corry Anderson-Fennell
Manager, Media and Communications
t: 604.599.2840
c: 604.828.5232

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