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Language of Performance

You arrive early to visualize your selling points, stretch out your materials. Just before your spectators arrive, your mind warms up with fabric functionality repetitions, preparing to impress with your attuned selling abilities. The competition has nothing on you. Your performance athleticwear sales presentation is a guaranteed win. This month, with coaching from some of the pros, Printwear trains you to deliver peak performance when presenting this category.

Wick works

First up in the game plan is understanding and communicating performance apparel’s technical terminology. The most common, according to Imprints Wholesale’s Scott Lynes, is moisture management, including moisture wicking and quick drying. “Also known as Cool Fit, the dry-wicking capability draws moisture/perspiration away from skin while transporting moisture to the outside of the fabric where it evaporates, keeping you cool and comfortable.”

This transportation and evaporation equation is accomplished two ways, reports Mark Mertens, A4, explaining that the first is built into the fiber and the second applied onto it. “Many of the yarns actually transport moisture, they’re channeled or they’re micro-denier yarns,” remarks Mertens, mentioning DuPont’s COOLMAX as one of the first to this functionality finish line. Looking at a filament yarn under a microscope will show the ruts in the yarn, he explains. These ruts actually act as little channels through which the moisture moves away from the garment.

Chemicals, on the other hand, act as wickers by causing moisture to diffuse: “If you put a droplet of water on the fabric, the water will break down and diffuse through the garment,” he says.

Fight the funk

Another treatment applied to enhance fabric’s performance involves antimicrobial abilities. “Antimicrobial fabrics are usually treated with a chemical that kills bacteria, eliminating odor,” states Margaret Crow of S&S Activewear. Cocona—an activated carbon made from coconut shells—and bamboo are naturally antimicrobial, Crow reports. A popular technical feature, Lynes adds that antimicrobial treatment provides odor protection that won’t wash out.

This is good news for hockey players and wrestlers around whom the technology was developed to help win the battle against staph infection, seemingly transmitted through equipment and uniforms, Mertens reports.

He argues, however, that overall antimicrobial claims should be challenged, being a hard property to achieve, whereas odor repellency is fairly easy to execute and makes a difference, in his view, to the athletic customer. “I don’t think there are too many things that are truly antimicrobial, but if you can do things that prevent the garment from getting that terrible locker-room stench, next to the wicking capabilities, that’s really important.”

Unappealing-aroma eradicator to the rescue, charcoal has enormous surface area to absorb odor, according to Mertens, who mentions the substance in the context of nanotechnology. With nanotechnology, the molecules that make up fibers and yarns are made smaller, he reports. Taking a polymer and subdividing it, like nano-seconds, smaller molecules mean more surface area. “We’re seeing amazing fabric developments, charcoal-based gear, nanotechnology so that there’s much more surface area to the molecules in the yarn so they absorb faster, they wick better.”

Stretch, compress, recover 

Zooming the microscope outward, a property Mertens sees accepted and asked for by the mainstream is stretch capabilities, and Crow encourages those peddling performance to look for such characteristics in athletic garments. “Four-way stretch means that the apparel moves with the wearer during intense physical activity,” Crow comments. “As an added positive characteristic, garments with four-way stretch will not lose their shape during a workout or game.”

Said stretch has to do with the stitch and amount of spandex therein, Mertens explains, pointing to a new generation of yarns achieving mechanical stretch by taking a filament yarn, putting a crinkle yarn around it and “getting a fair amount of action just from the stitch and yarn.”

Compression technology, he goes on, consists of a warp knit with great recovery in all directions. “It isn’t just pulling you north and south or east and west, it fits you like a sausage casing, and it compresses you, it holds your muscles firm. Allegedly, it prevents injury, keeps you warmer, warms you up faster,” he remarks.

A four-way stretch with warp-knit construction, compression gear has at least 13 percent Lycra, but usually incorporates 20, according to Mertens. “There’s stretch, and then there’s recovery, and these fabrics that they claim compress have enormous recovery capabilities,” he states. “The heavier you make them, the more they recover, the more the compression is.”

On the roster

Imprints Wholesale’s Lynes names non-snagging polyester performance fabric as another attribute coming across consumers’ radar. “A common complaint from potential buyers is the care needed to maintain the fabric and keep it from snagging. When a customer pays a premium price, they expect it to last a while.”

Though many are willing to pay that premium, those who’d rather not spend top dollar for all the bells and whistles will appreciate what he calls price-point performance wear. “Anti microbial and moisture-wicking fabrics at a good price point are important considering the current economy and customer budgets,” Lynes adds.

He also reports seeing more performance apparel with fashion appeal “What started out as basic styles for team sports is now emerging into fashion apparel for active/everyday lifestyles. Manufacturers are responding by expanding into fashion apparel with bright colors in contrast panels and stitching.” Additionally, he says silhouettes such as polos, lightweight pullovers, pants and shorts are now being offered in a collection of activewear styles.

A-game maneUVer

Like moisture wicking, UV protection can be a function of topical treatment and/or properties built right in, which, Mertens notes, comes largely from the density of the fabric at hand. “The inherent UV protection comes from how tightly knit or woven the fabric is. A piece of plywood is going to be better than a piece of cheesecloth to protect from the sun; the same thing happens with fabrics,” he comments. “Those that are really tightly wound have the best UV protection in them.”

While UV properties have practical applications for just about any out-of-doors competitor soaking up game-day rays, it’s also useful for those outside performing their everyday job duties. Ditto for just about all readily-demanded athletic attributes these days. “Think beyond athletics when selling performance wear,” advises Crow. “Outdoor workers such as landscapers not only need performance wear to stay cool and look professional, they could use the added benefits of anti-stain treatments. The same goes for counter workers and servers at restaurants, kiosks and parks.”

Performers

Similarly, Holloway’s Cathy Billing sees moisture-management polos requested within promotional markets: “The end-user is working in a casual business environment and doesn’t need the performance capabilities, but prefers the material over the traditional cotton polos.”

An important and growing product category, performance wear appeals to a wide range of customers, Lynes agrees, adding that once purely functional, the category is transforming. “Customers want fit and fashion in clothing that performs. With this change, the market is expanding from athletic apparel to more lifestyle non-athletic purposes,” he offers. “Of course, the more traditional markets are: health clubs, schools, coaches, team sports, triathlons/competitive events and corporate functions.”

Another client base with huge necessity for this technology is the hospital/medical- supply industry. “The people that make hospital gowns and hospital bedding are really all over this thing,” Mertens says of potential antimicrobial solutions, predicting the next big wave of development to occur here. Because of new infections prevalent in hospitals, he estimates that anything really effective in this technology will be seen in the medical industry first.

While moisture management and antimicrobial characteristics are catering to all kinds of teams and age groups, Crow points out that a demand for comfortable performance is coming from post-college athletics like running groups, fitness centers, resorts and golf facilities. “It’s key to remember that comfort and softness, in addition to performance, are very important to the end-user.”

In presentation mode 

For the best of both worlds, Crow and Mertens both bring up an interesting new fabric that’s 100 percent polyester but boasts a cotton hand. “These cotton-feel garments have the same performance characteristics that are now expected in the athleticwear marketplace—moisture management and antimicrobial treatments—and they are super soft and breathable,” comments Crow. This cotton-handed poly performance is achieved through ring spun poly yarn, Mertens adds.

“Make sure your sales reps know and understand the technology and how they can help the end user,” offers Holloway’s Billing, who notes that resellers can find a dedicated catalog  page explaining the company’s moisture-management fabrics so its distributors can share this information with their customers.

Finally, our savvy sources point performance purveyors to some helpful online resources for more on these and other tech terms: visit www.thetechnicalcenter.com (under dictionaries from left-hand navigation), and see www.infosource411.com (under industry corner from top navigation).

Arm yourself with all the knowledge you can, and perhaps even sport some performance technologies of your own come (sales) game time. That way, you won’t sweat a thing.