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Monday, August 27, 2012 - Page updated at 05:00 a.m.
Sweat-reduction clothing (un)saturates the market
By Vicky Hallett
The Washington Post
Thomas Alva Edison never donned an Under Armour HeatGear fitted short-sleeve crew. But the inventor, who famously said, "Genius is 1 percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration," might as well have been talking about the Baltimore brand that started 16 years ago because founder Kevin Plank was sick of sweaty tees.
Since then, the world has recognized that shirts don't have to soak. If they're made with the right fabrics, they can carry moisture away from the skin, keeping the wearer drier and more comfortable. The discovery of these textile advances has transformed how people view what they wear to exercise — and garden, run errands and even just hang out.
"When you go to dinner, you expect air conditioning. Now when you buy athletic clothes, you expect them to have wicking technology," says Kevin Haley, senior vice president for innovation at Under Armour.
Walking around the Outdoor Retailer Show in Salt Lake City this month, Doug Browning was impressed by how much sweat protection had seeped into everything people were wearing, from shoes to earbuds. "Everyone dresses as if they're sweating," says Browning, whose wife, Donna, invented Sweaty Bands, a no-slip hair accessory.
Part of what's pushing this trend is consumers' embrace of physical activity. But the real driver seems to be the textile technology that's allowing companies to do things never before imaginable.
With each gradual advance, manufacturers are making products longer-lasting and capable of addressing what Haley calls "the laundry issue." (Wicking clothes tend to get smellier than cotton ones.) Fibers have been tweaked so they can pull moisture across a greater surface area. "If we can make evaporation happen faster, that makes you cooler. You work out longer, and you'll be in better shape," Haley says.
Science has even figured out a way to give cotton — formerly the enemy of all exercisers — an edge. Under Armour launched wicking Charged Cotton gear last year, and Sheex Performance Sheets just rolled out a Performance Cotton line. The latest technology from Under Armour is "coldblack," which reflects infrared and heat rays. Shoppers will get a sense of what lies ahead in 2013, when Under Armour's E39 wicking shirt hits retail. The shirt has a sensor that tracks heart rate, breathing and G-force of acceleration.
But the hottest thing in sweat technology coming next year is Columbia's Omni-Freeze Zero. The fabric is covered in tiny blue circles that do two things when they get wet — their temperature drops, and they suck up moisture. "It swells, like pumping up a tire," says Woody Blackford, vice president of global innovation at Columbia. "We're taking advantage of sweat. Moisture wicking is moving it from one place to another, but it's still there. In ours, we use it as an agent."
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