Apparel: A Cooling Trend Approaches
New textiles and products are promoting “active cooling,” to make it easier for players to stay comfortable during warm-weather workouts.
By Emily Walzer
While watching the 2014 Australian Open, I couldn’t help but think how the latest innovations in textile science are tailor-made for athletes dealing with extreme heat. As the tournament progressed and players struggled, yet continued to compete, with temperatures rising to record highs, I stifled an urge to yell at the TV, “If you guys would simply change your clothes, you’ll feel a whole lot cooler!”
Soon enough tennis players will get the message — without me hollering from the sidelines — that there are new and improved ways to stay comfortable when exercising in hot weather. This Spring, a range of products are entering the market engineered to promote what is being called “active cooling.”
Without getting into the nitty-gritty of thermodynamics, these new fabric technologies work by changing density with the absorption of water. Or as we were taught in high school science class, when something changes size without changing mass, it must change temperature.
Wicking properties (the ability to pull water away from the skin, promote evaporation and quickly dry a fabric) are still important, but these new offerings go beyond conventional moisture-management to actually work with sweat to lower body heat. The cooling comes from conduction — in other words the technology touching and directly cooling the skin.
There have been forays into cooling textiles in recent years, but this next generation of technology brings a fresh blast of innovation. Veteran activewear brands as well as material tech newcomers are advancing the trend. For example, Columbia Sportswear will offer a wide assortment of garments featuring its proprietary Omni-Freeze Zero technology and Adidas is launching Climachill, its new cooling fabric science. Performance textile company Coolcore has introduced cooling-specific products, and Swiss fabric supplier Schoeller Textil has just announced a new temperature-regulating development available for garments in the future.
Air-Conditioning For the Skin
Columbia’s fabric tech is based on tiny yet distinctive blue rings laminated on polyester that contain a cooling polymer to suck up sweat and then react to the moisture as an individual exercises. When exposed to sweat or moisture, these rings swell (similar to goose bumps) creating an instant and prolonged cooling sensation.
“The little blue rings are like ice packs in your freezer,” says Scott Trepanier, promotions manager. “When describing the product, it is important to make the point that this is not wicking, this is active cooling.”
Executives at Columbia Sportswear believe cooling technologies will only grow in importance as the temperatures across the globe continue to rise. The extreme 105 degrees in Melbourne this January would bear this out.
Adidas’ material innovation also relies on thermodynamic textile science with its Climachill product. The fabric uses titanium cooling fibers and aluminum silver dots that cool the body. “With Climachill, athletes can train harder, run longer, retain their focus and compete better,” explains Greg Thomsen, managing director, Adidas Outdoor North America. “This technology helps users utilize sweat’s core cooling function to their advantage.”
Thomsen continues, “The aluminum is super-lightweight and a really good conductor even when used in such small amounts. Because the dots are raised, they push the heat away from the skin and create cooling. You can think of it as enhanced thermo regulation.”
Coolcore does not have a branded apparel line — though that may be coming soon. However, Coolcore is now marketing Dr. Cool recovery wraps. According to the company, this is the first product to combine cold and compression in one flexible fabric for “recovery on the go.” Dr. Cool wraps can be used dry as a compression wrap, or frozen. To use as a cold compress, you need to wet the wrap, roll it and freeze it; Coolcore says its material will keep the fabric colder, longer.
The company’s fiber technology is incorporated in other products useful for tennis players. For example, Coolcore has an exclusive partnership with Mission Athletecare that offers EnduraCool products powered by Coolcore. The items, including a cooling towel, arm sleeve, headbands and hoodie, rely on a three-step activation process that consists of soaking the fabric, wringing it out and then snapping it in place. This procedure activates the technology and serves to cool body temps. (Serena Williams is one of Mission Athletecare’s sponsored athletes.)
While today’s new cooling materials are often promoted as ideal for long bike rides and high-mileage treks, some see even greater potential in shorter duration exercise — a few sets of tennis, for instance.
Trends in Warm-Weather Comfort
While “active cooling” is certainly a buzzword in textile tech these days, there are other trends worth mentioning. Cotton, for example, continues to advance as a performance product. Increasingly cotton is being treated to offer wicking capabilities as well as odor-control properties. The fabric market is also seeing more action in cotton blends that provide durability as well as softness. Once sidelined to synthetics in the activewear category, cotton is now making a big comeback.
Lightweight is another important trend. Most fabric specialists will tell you that textiles these days are close to half the weight compared to just a few years ago. The innovation comes from fabric developers now being able to trim the bulk of a textile without losing any of the functionality.
Lastly, many in the textile community believe “smart fabrics” for everyday wear are on the horizon. Right now most of these textiles are being developed for military purposes (for example, garments engineered with fabrics that have the ability to administer wound-healing medicine so soldiers in the field can receive immediate medical attention) or elite sports training. A new study involves clothing items with computer networks woven into the fabric that can sense motions of
the wearer, classify the person’s activity and monitor physiological measurements related to the activity.
If textile science can help you adjust to the heat, why not a shirt that can monitor your fitness levels?
The Climachill fabric used in this Terrex Climacool shirt enables twice the flow of air though the fabric as normal ventilated apparel and the loose fabric construction allows moisture to evaporate away from the skin for enhanced comfort.
This season, Columbia is expanding the Omni-Freeze ZERO line to be available in all men’s and women’s categories including shirts. Shown here are the men’s Zero Rules short sleeve shirt and the women’s Freeze Degree Tank top.
Dr. Cool Wraps serve dual-purpose for compression and cooling.