The purpose of this guide is to help technicians and lab managers in independent laboratories and in-house factories to better understand Performance Testing for Technical Textiles (Sportswear, Activewear and Outerwear), why you need to know about it, and how it will benefit your organisation. What you will learn:
The $270 billion sports apparel and footwear segments are up +42% over the last seven years and are predicted to grow another 30% by 2020.Morgan Stanley, 2015
Performance Testing is nothing new. Brands across the globe who specialise in functional and performance fabrics – such as sportswear and outerwear – have been conducting performance testing in their R&D and quality control laboratories for decades. But what we are starting to see is more demand for performance testing to be conducted by independent labs, as well as in-house labs within garment manufacturers’ factories.
Athleisure: The perfect pairing of fashion and function
This is happening because the sportswear industry has influenced mainstream fashion in a tremendous way, through the growing trend of ‘Athleisure wear’, the commercialisation of sport, and influencer marketing. In a recent presentation delivered by LycraⓇ at the ASBCI conference, ‘Athleisure’ was described as “Fibre Technology To Fashion Trend” and a “lifestyle being adopted around the world”:
Athleisure is More Than a Trend. It is a lifestyle shift represented through a blend of sports, urban, and fashion trends. Due to innovations in textiles and technology, improvements have been made in functionality. Its broad appeal means that almost everyone is a potential athleisure consumer.Source: LycraⓇ, 2019
This has an effect all the way down the supply chain, as fast-fashion brands, supermarket clothing retailers and high street retailers have started – and want to introduce more of – these types of clothing into their product ranges to meet growing consumer demand.
Fashion gives sports apparel credibility and sports gives fashion functionality
For consumers, the wide appeal of this type of clothing is that the garments are designed to deliver technological benefits, as well as outstanding comfort and fit. Another important factor in athleisure is ‘Style’ – so Comfort, Performance and Style are what appeals to the people who wear them.
Authentic sportswear brands, created by sports practitioners, function effectively but have often lacked aesthetic awareness and style. Performance sportswear design requires an approach where both form and function meets the needs of the end-user.University of Wales
Before we can define ‘Performance Testing’ we need to take a look at the broader term – ‘Technical Textiles’. Below is an excerpt from the Handbook of Technical Textiles:
“The search for an all-embracing term to describe these textiles is not confined to the words ‘technical’ and ‘industrial’. Terms such as ‘performance textiles’, ‘functional textiles’, ‘engineered textiles’ and ‘high-tech textiles’ are also used in various contexts, sometimes with a relatively specific meaning – for example, ‘performance textiles’ is a term frequently used to describe the fabrics used in activity clothing.”
Technical Textiles is an all-encompassing term, covering a wide array of industries – from Medical, Agriculture, Construction to Automotive. The term ‘Performance Textiles’ is more often used to describe Sportswear and Activewear. Indeed, the largest technical textiles event, Techtextil, breaks down the term ‘Technical Textiles’ into 12-13 core areas:
For the purpose of this guide, we will be focusing on the ‘Sportech’ category:
Compared with mainstream fashion garments, which are about aesthetic appearance or decorative characteristics, performance fabrics have a primarily technical / functional benefit such as ‘comfort’ (e.g. keeping the wearer warm/cool/dry by regulating the body temperature), and/or ‘safety’ (e.g. protecting the wearer from the environment, and hazards such as fire-proofing the outer layer of the garment).
Some examples of Sportswear, Activewear and Outdoor Wear applications include snowsuit, ski clothing, cycling shorts and suits, athletic suits and sports vests, and so on. The list is quite literally endless!
Protective clothing comes in various types, such as heat and radiation protection for firefighter clothing, molten metal protection for welders, stab protection and bulletproof vests for police, and even spacesuits for astronauts.
“Sports apparel, driven by innovation in fibres, fabrics and garment manufacturing techniques, enables the athlete to 'feel good' which, in turn, promotes better performance.”University of Wales
In sports performance clothing, the term ‘protection’ has expanded to embrace abrasion resistance, insulation, tear strength, waterproofing, windproofing and, most recently, antibacterial and anti-UV properties. Furthermore, comfort and functionality, appearance and trends, influenced by fashion and the culture of the end-user, are important elements too.
Based on the functional benefits of ‘comfort’ and ‘safety’ the most common properties of performance clothing are listed below (but this list is always growing due to new innovations in textile and fibre technologies):
|Property Performance||Fabric Requirements||Example end uses||Related Test Methods|
|Fit comfort||Support, stretch, stretch recovery||Sports / Activewear: particularly close fitting garments worn next to the skin e.g. base layers||Stretch and recovery Burst resistance|
|Sports / Activewear: particularly garments worn next to the skin e.g. base layers and undergarments||Horizontal wicking
|Water Repellency||Surface repellency
|Sports / Activewear: especially garments intended for wear in wet/rainy conditions e.g. outdoor coats||Spray rating
|Water Resistance||Resistance to water penetration (fabric and seams)||Sports / Activewear: especially garments intended for wear in wet/rainy conditions e.g. outdoor coats and overtrousers||Hydrostatic head
|Breathability||Water vapour transmission (fabric and seams)||Sports / Activewear:
e.g. base layers, outdoor coats
Sweating guarded hot plate (Ret)
|Thermal Resistance||Retention of heat produced by the body||Sports / Activewear: especially garments intended for wear in cold conditions e.g. fleeces and down jackets||Tog
Sweating guarded hot plate (Rct)
|Wind Proofing||Resistance to penetration by wind/air||Sports / Activewear: especially garments intended for wear in windy conditions e.g. outdoor coats and cycling wear||Air permeability|
|Ultraviolet Protection||Blocking of sun’s UV rays||Sports / Activewear: garments intended for wear in sunny conditions e.g. base layers and swimwear||UV transmission/blocking|
|Anti-bacterial & Odour Control||Prevention of/resistance to odour causing bacteria||Sports / Activewear: particularly garments worn next to the skin e.g. base layers and undergarments||Agar plate
The ‘functionality’ of a performance textile can be added in different ways. For example, ‘Wicking’ properties can be added:
The science behind performance clothing
Fundamentally, performance clothing is about the needs of the human body – primarily thermal regulation and comfort. Clothing acts as a barrier between the skin and the external environment – so it’s important that the fabric does not restrict the skin/body’s natural mechanisms for maintaining physiological comfort.
In sportswear, and especially outdoor wear, a three layer clothing system is often advocated, with each layer in the system performing a different function which complements the whole for maximum comfort.
“The ‘layering system’ is becoming more tailored and refined with advances in textile technology and garment construction. For example, stretch yarns in knitted and woven construction, seamfree technology, moulded components and light-weight body armour and abrasion-resistant materials take advantage of modern fibre properties to provide ease of movement, appropriate cut and fit, and personal protection as required for specific end-use.“
A layering system typically includes:
Testing each layer
Skin layer – Moisture management
The skin layer is that which is in contact with the skin e.g. base layers and under garments. The main function of this layer is to effectively manage moisture. This layer should promote rapid and wide distribution of liquid perspiration to allow it to evaporate – this is the body’s natural mechanism for cooling and if the fabric restricts this it can cause overheating with potentially very dangerous consequences. Equally, if the fabric is not able to adequately dry, moisture retained can contribute to a post-exercise chill sensation once activity has stopped and the body’s heat production is reduced.
Testing for moisture management properties include two main types: tests for absorption/distribution of liquid moisture within a fabric; and tests for rate of drying i.e. evaporation of liquid moisture from a fabric.
Tests for absorption/distribution of liquid moisture:
Tests for drying/evaporation:
As well as liquid moisture management, water vapour transmission performance also influences the comfort of this layer and can also be tested by a range of different methods.
Tests for water vapour transmission:
This layer also often includes some kind of odour control function. This might be in the form of an antimicrobial finish or by selection of naturally antimicrobial fibres (such as merino wool) – this limits the production or release of odour causing microbes in the fabric.
Tests for antimicrobial effectiveness:
Mid layer – Insulation
The mid layer provides the majority of the thermal insulation in the system and is therefore particularly relevant for cold environments. This is often a fleece or down garment. The level of insulation required depends on the heat exchange between the human body and the environment, and therefore varies depending on activity and environmental conditions.
For maximum thermal insulation, this layer should ideally have high loft – either in the pile of the fleece or the plume of the down feathers – in order to maximise the amount of air trapped within the system for retention of heat.
Testing for thermal insulation is typically performed by heated hot plate or thermal manikin methods.
Heated hot plate methods:
Air permeability also affects the thermal insulation performance of fabrics and so this might be tested on mid layer garments. Air permeability testing can also be used to give an indication of the density and therefore down-resistant performance of down-proof fabrics if they are present in this layer.
Tests for air permeability:
The outer layer garment provides protection against the external environment. In the context of sports and outdoor wear this typically means protection against foul weather conditions namely rain, snow and wind. For the outer layer to be most effective, it should demonstrate high levels of water resistance without impeding the comfort of the wearer.
A completely waterproof outer layer would not be effective as it could cause excessive sweating resulting in moisture collecting within the clothing system causing reduced insulation and comfort. An effective outer layer should have a high level of water resistance as well as a high level of water vapour permeability (or “breathability”).
“Creating a fabric which provides good water resistance is relatively easy but doing this without compromising breathability is difficult as these two properties have an inverse relationship in typical textiles”.
The outer layer itself is often a layered construction consisting of a waterproof breathable membrane laminated to a water repellent outer fabric and often with the addition of an inner layer which provides protection for the membrane and can also be designed to promote moisture wicking therefore further enhancing wearer comfort.
The waterproof breathable membrane is able to resist liquid water penetration whilst still permitting the transmission of water vapour. This can be achieved by a number of different mechanisms including hydrophobic microporous membrane – thin film containing lots of fine holes to allow passage of water vapour; hydrophilic membrane – mechanism of absorption, diffusion and desorption of water vapour; bicomponent – combination microporous film with additional hydrophilic/oleophobic coating.
Testing for the outer layer can be divided into water resistance/repellency tests, water vapour permeability tests, and air permeability tests.
Tests for water resistance/repellency:
Static repellency tests:
Dynamic repellency tests:
Water resistance tests:
Tests for water vapour permeability:
Manikin methods for water vapour permeability:
Tests for air permeability:
Understanding the context of the testing can be a challenge to understanding and interpreting the results. For example, if you’re working in a commercial lab and you have to do a stability to washing test or a colour fastness test, you can understand the context because you wash your clothes at home, and so the purpose of the test and its results make sense.
This might not be the case when testing performance properties such as wicking; without the context of the end use and how this property influences the wearer, it might be more difficult to understand the importance of the test. Educating your laboratory technicians in this area would be valuable to increase comprehension.
The good news is that testing for performance fabrics can take place in the same lab environment as standard fabric testing, so no special adjustments to the lab are needed.
Substantiating claims as a true measure of Performance
If a retailer is making a specific claim about functionality, then this is usually to give the garment a more premium price point. However, this functionality has been qualified by evidence to prove the claim – which is where Performance Testing comes in.
As a laboratory, if a retailer approaches you because they are introducing a new performance clothing or athleisure range, then they will be expecting you to validate and substantiate the claims they want to make on those garments – for example, moisture control and breathability.
There is legislation in the UK, EU and the USA to protect consumers from false advertising, so it’s crucial that retailers and brands can back up the claims being made on the swing tickets. This legislation includes:
Factors to consider when choosing instruments to carry out the testing above include:
James Heal have launched the first four instruments of our Performance Testing range at the ITMA 2019 Exhibition in Barcelona. These instruments are AquAbrasion Wet Abrasion Tester, ProDry Dry Rate Tester, TruRain Water Repellency Tester and WickView Moisture Management Tester. Click on each of the instruments to find out more.
Garment manufacturers and factory labs, as well as independent laboratories across the world, have a significant opportunity to win new business contracts with new and establish sports and performance wear brands/retailers. So how can you use your new knowledge of performance testing to win more business in 2019 & beyond?
By demonstrating your knowledge of this rapidly growing area of materials testing, and by making an investment in the right type of testing instruments for your lab, you’re demonstrating your commitment to supporting your target customers’ growth as a brand and retailer in the performance textiles space.
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