Performance apparel represents one of the fastest growing sectors of the international textile and clothing industry – and market growth is being fuelled by the emergence of new fibers, new fabrics and innovative process technologies. The market is also being boosted by changes in consumer lifestyles. People are living longer and spending more time on leisure activities. New high-tech fabrics are being developed for a wide range of active sports such as aerobics, athletics, ballooning, cycling, hiking, mountaineering, parachuting, sailing, skiing, snowboarding, swimming, and windsurfing.
Companies like Dupont's CoolMax and Nike's Dri-Fit are two of the most popular types of performance apparel and their representatives say their clothing line keeps athletes comfortable by keeping them drier. Dupont stated that, "The whole goal of moisture management is to keep the surface of the skin as dry as possible . . . to help the whole thermal regulation process of the body. If you wick moisture away (from the skin) you help the heart work less hard."
So how does this wicking work and what, exactly, makes the material so special. Dri-Fit isn't any one kind of material or fabric treatment, so this isn’t it. A Dri-Fit shirt could be made out of nylon, polyester, spandex or a mix of all three. And there's no single process that "moves" the moisture away from your skin, according to the company. The synthetic materials used in Dri-Fit are made up of very thin strands called microfibers. These microfibers are manipulated in a way that gives them their special power.
What is a microfiber? In the industry, anything less than one denier (a measure of the diameter of material) is considered a microfiber. That's far thinner than the average human hair, strand of silk or filament of cotton. Sweat is wicked away by these tiny fibers and quickly transported from the inside to the outside of the shirt. Liquid is drawn through the material. Plants drawing water from the ground to their leaves uses the same scientific principle. Forces between the molecules in the fabric and the water molecules in your sweat pull the sweat along.
The fibers that make up Dri-Fit and CoolMax clothing take advantage of capillary action - they want to move that sweat as fast as possible along those fibers. The small diameter of the fibers plays a role here in creating the ideal levels of surface tension and adhesion between the molecules, as does the distance between the fibers. The fabric’s ability to move the moisture to the outer layer of the garment so that it can evaporate is what Dri-Fit and CoolMax shirts do best. With the use fibers of varying deniers, the juices are kept flowing, spreading sweat over a larger area of a garment for faster evaporation.
Dri-Fit’s technology doesn’t stop here. A special chemical treatment is also used to enhance the performance and some fabrics are constructed of two layers of material, one hydrophobic (or water-hating) and the other hydrophilic (or water-loving). Like the other techniques for moisture management, using two kinds of fibers helps draw from skin and to the garment's outer layer.
This of course is today’s technology as fabrics are always in a constant state of evolution. Whether it is sweat or bacteria, fabrics are being analyzed and treated in ways that are getting smarter and smarter of bacteria.
No, these elaborate fabrics are not your old-fashioned sweatpants and t-shirts, but really, how comfortable were those materials?