Posted by: brandextenders | November 10, 2010

Hey, What Happened to My Cotton Polo Shirt?

When I first got in this business 326 years ago apparel was not a real popular promotional product. There were T-shirts, inexpensive polo shirts (men’s styles only), coaches jackets (the kind with the elastic hems at the wrists) and hats. If someone wanted a polo shirt it was 100% cotton and there were maybe five or six basic colors to choose from. But just as the Internet changed the world, the invention of what are known as technical fabrics have changed the world of apparel forever.

What the heck is a technical fabric?

Capillary action in apparel

Gore-Tex was one of the first of what have become many commercial technical fabrics and was created and patented by Bob Gore in 1969. First used in rainwear and jackets, Gore-Tex is a Teflon-like coating that is bonded to fabric to keep water out, but allows water vapor (i.e. sweat) escape. The name technical fabrics now refers to high-performance fabrics that are designed and marketed mainly for the sports industry and are also used in other areas such as the medical and furniture industries. In 2003 DuPont created a new division dedicated specifically to fabrics and created CoolMax, a series of technical fabrics made specifically to wick moisture away from the body. Since then most major manufacturers of clothing have jumped on the bandwagon and have trademarked names like Dri-Fit (Nike), Under Armor, Sport-Tek and Polartec among many others. All of these materials are made from polyester and/or microfibers and use capillary action to pull the moisture away from the body and disperse it into outer layers of material where it evaporates. Materials like cotton and wool tend to hold onto moisture and can become uncomfortable and heavy whereas these technical fabrics disperse the moisture and so remain lightweight and cooling.

So what should you know when buying performance apparel either for yourself or for your employees?

  • To be truly effective, these materials were meant to be worn skin-tight to pull the moisture off your body and wick it away, but who likes their clothes skin-tight (other than body builders or middle-aged men who should know better)? So just know that a loose-fitting polo shirt or T-shirt made from technical fabrics won’t be as effective, but will tend to keep you cooler than all natural fabrics like cotton and wool.
  • Although all of the brands claim theirs is the best, in reality most performance apparel is designed to keep you cooler and drier so a Nike brand vs. CoolMax or Under Armor will all do about the same. If you prefer a certain brand, buy it or if you prefer no brand at all there are many options that will be less expensive. Sport-Tek by Port Authority is a brand I sell a lot of and have never had a complaint about the performance, sizing or durability and it’s quite a bit less than the name brands.
  • In caring for your apparel made from technical fabric always follow the specific instructions on the garment. Know that these materials are easily stained by oily substances so treat the stain quickly or they could be hard to remove later. And general advice says you should never use fabric softener or even dryer sheets with these materials as the oils, waxes and fragrances in these products tend to cling to the fiber and diminish their effectiveness. Proper care will result in extending the life of this special apparel.
  • The Catch-22 of technical fabrics is the tiny channels and nooks on the inside of the apparel that help wick moisture to the outside also tend to harbor odor causing bacteria. If left unwashed for a period of time you’ll think the entire high school football team moved into your garment as the bacteria multiplies. Most regular detergents don’t penetrate deep enough to dissolve the imbedded bacteria so you may want to invest in special detergents made especially for cleaning these types of apparel.

As with most technology, these materials and fabrics are constantly being tweaked and improved so just like your computer, what’s amazing and new today will time be outdated and old-school tomorrow.

With 24 years in promotional marketing, Steve Woodburn works with clients to develop creative and measurable solutions that solve their marketing needs using promotional products, uniform programs, online company stores, point-of-sale initiatives and rewards and recognition. He builds long-term relationships and becomes a trusted advisor and consultant his clients can turn to for all their brand extension needs. You can reach him at:

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