Fitness market being saturated by products that wick off sweat

ViewSPORT shirts display hidden messages when you soak them through.
GREG WOOD/ViewSPORT
Story by Vicky Hallett
(The Washington Post)
Mon, Aug 20, 2012
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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 completely changed 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 every product people were wearing, from shoes to earbuds. “Everyone dresses as if they’re sweating,” says Browning, whose wife, Donna, invented Sweaty Bands. The customizable, no-slip hair accesory is on track to sell more than 6 million units this year.

Part of what’s pushing this trend is consumers’ embrace of physical activity. But the real driver seems to be the textile technology, which is 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. “It might seem anathema to what we do,” says Brad Petit, a Sheex spokesman. “But this cotton can absorb excess body heat.”

The latest technology from Under Armour is “coldblack,” which reflects infrared and heat rays. “In the old days, if you were walking outside on a hot Washington day, you wouldn’t think about wearing a black shirt,” says Haley, who won’t reveal what’s coming next down the pipeline but hints at a fascinating future.

Shoppers will get a sense of what lies ahead in 2013, when Under Armour’s E39 hits retail. The much-hyped shirt — which is wicking, of course — features an electronic 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 development is the result of a process that started five years ago, says Woody Blackford, vice president of global innovation at Columbia, when the company decided to focus on making customers cool.

Omni-Freeze Zero fabric is covered in tiny blue circles that do two things when they get wet. One, their temperature drops. And two, they suck up moisture. “It swells, like pumping up a tire,” Blackford says. That action alone keeps you drier, but it also allows air to come into the garment, which speeds up evaporation.

“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,” he says.

 

WHAT THE COOL PEOPLE ARE WEARING

• ViewSPORT ($25 and up, viewsport.us): Rather than be embarrassed by sweat, embrace it with these shirts that display hidden messages when you soak through them (either with perspiration or water). Phrases such as “I Am a Beast,” “Earn It” and “Be Elite” are admittedly cheesy, but the big reveal is incentive to work harder. Also available in cute kid styles.

• Sheex (starting at $159 for a set, sheex.com): Athletes wear wicking fabrics when they work out, so why not sleep on them, too? A better night’s rest can translate to a better game the next day. That’s the concept behind the “world’s first performance bed sheets,” created by a pair of women’s basketball coaches in 2007 and available at Bed, Bath and Beyond.

• SweatHawg ($20, sweathawg.com): Oregon cyclist John Rahm couldn’t keep sweat from dripping into his glasses — until last September, when he sewed an absorbent piece of felt to a do-rag and placed his creation inside his helmet. The dry ride convinced him he needed to manufacture and market this cap. Look out for a headband version soon.

 

SWEAT GOOD

“Sweat is a great thing,” says dermatologist Lynn McKinley-Grant, of Chevy Chase, Md. It’s not just the body’s system for regulating temperature, but also a way to hydrate the skin. It’s a sign of physical fitness: “You have a higher blood volume circulating when you’re more athletic, so you sweat more.”

And despite perspiration’s reputation for being stinky, the liquid is actually odorless. The real source of the stench? Bacteria. “That’s why you can use hand sanitizer if you forgot deodorant,” McKinley-Grant adds.

You’re better off having too much sweat than not enough, she says. 

Still, when patients walk in with dripping palms, McKinley-Grant understands why they’re looking for ways to cut excess moisture. Botox is a popular choice — and for this purpose it’s covered by most insurance companies — as well as acupuncture and surgery to remove sweat glands.

 

 

 

Features, Sweat
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