CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When people come through Speizman International Seamless Development Labs' doors in Charlotte, they rarely want something simple, but an order to outfit the entire U.S. Olympic Rowing Team with just days to do it, it was a race to the finish.
“It was a lot of pressure, a lot of stress,” said Keith Sherill, director of product development.
“There’s a lot of things that could’ve gone wrong,” he explained.
One slip up and Sherill was warned, the U.S. Olympic Team would show up to the Rio games with nothing to wear.
“'We have no backup plan,'” he said he was told. “There are no suits in the container, the only suits going into the container are the suits you haven’t made yet."
Sherill’s work usually focuses on cutting edge medical and sports designs, and he has years to develop them. Like one of his most recent projects: the only FDA-approved wearable EKG shirt that uses Bluetooth technology to send results.
Sherill took two-and-a-half years to complete it and it could be months before it is available commercially; however, he was given just 45 days to design and deliver 240 unisuits for the U.S. Olympic Rowing team.
“It has USA on the back,” he says, showing off his design.
The seamless unisuit fits like a second skin.
“Anytime you eliminate a seam, you eliminate an aggravation,” he said.
However, Sherill wasn’t just going for comfort. Rowers will face less than pristine waters when competing in Rio, where untreated sewage is allowed to flow into bays.
“I don’t know for a fact, but I’m pretty sure the U.S. team will have the only anti-microbial suit,” he declared.
Sherill applied a wash to suit, allowing the anit microbe finish to absorb into the fibers. It gives rowers an added layer of protection from the bacteria lurking in the waters of Brazil.
He also came up with another technique to keep the water off the rowers as much as possible.
“We put a waterproofing agent on it so the suit is waterproof, so even though it is getting wet it doesn't absorb water, so it is virtually always dry,” he said.
This is not just the Olympics, Boathouse Sports, the client that requested Sherill make the unisuits, plans to outfit just about every collegiate rower with them in the next two years.
As for Sherill, he made his deadline and the finished product is now in Rio waiting for the athletes to suit up.
“I like it all, I like the fact that I made it,” he beamed.
And surely he’ll love it if it leads to Olympic gold.