By Joey Lee
Not to give away my age, but when I started running, there weren’t many options for fitness apparel; actually, there were ZERO options. You ran in gym shorts and a cotton t-shirt. If it was cold, you ran in bulky sweats and a windbreaker.
The cotton wasn’t too bad if you didn’t know any better. But it could cause some pretty bad chaffing (it was enough to start a fire) and, it would become so heavy with sweat that it would stretch to several times its original size. It’s no fun having the bottom of your shirt hitting your knees.
In the early 80s, things improved for winter workouts with the advent of lycra tights, windsuits and, if you could afford them, Gore-Tex running suits. These worked fairly well to keep you warm and reasonably comfortable. But for the warmer months, which down in our part of the country is most of the year, we were still out of luck.
The turning point in athletic apparel came in 1986 when DuPont Textiles developed the Coolmax material. These fabrics employ specially engineered and chemically enhanced polyester fibers to improve breathability when compared to natural fibers (like cotton). This material would actually “wick away” the sweat and moisture from your body, theoretically keeping you cooler or warmer and dryer. This material was also more resistant to fading, shrinking and wrinkling, although I’m not sure why you’d worry if your workout shirt was faded and/or wrinkled.
The 90s saw a huge turn in the tide of athletic/running apparel when these technical fabrics really hit the market strong. This gear was so much better than traditional cotton that athletes flocked to it. Nearly every athletic company in the world came out with its own version of Coolmax and even had various levels from the basic, entry level to the super duper deluxe version.
So now the problem of a wet, stretched out shirt and shorts had been solved. But there was still the chaffing problem, sometimes even worse than with the cotton shirts. And tech fabrics brought on a whole new problem, for some reason after absorbing sweat during a few workouts these fabrics could get pretty RANK! And the older they get, the more they hold the smell, even after multiple washings. They even make special laundry detergent designed to help with the problem, but sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. (QUICK TIP: You can also use vinegar in the wash, which works better than some of the detergents.)
Fabric technology is continuing its evolution and new products are going even further than ever before. Mizuno makes a fabric called “Breath Thermo” that actually has a chemical reaction and warms slightly when it gets wet. So when you’re working out in the cold, it warms you. They make everything from hats to gloves and from shirts to tights with this material and I love it.
Some manufacturers have other fabrics that are chemically treated to cool you in the heat. I’ve got some “wings” that are long sleeved and cover my shoulders. They cool my skin when I pour water on them. I know, you’re thinking, “Of course, you pour ice water on anything and it’s going to cool it.” But, they work even if you pour warm water on them. And they’re great for sun protection.
Today, there are as many different manufacturers and fabrics out there as you can imagine. But maybe one of the most interesting and promising was developed by a company headquartered in our own backyard.
tasc Performance, headquartered in New Orleans, has developed a fabric made from bamboo. The company found, through a two-year process of testing various alternative fabrics and materials, that bamboo offered all of the qualities they were looking for.
“Over our long family history in the apparel business, we have worked with a complex variety of raw materials, finishing methods and fabric blends,” said Todd Andrews, tasc Performance President. “We were never fully satisfied with the standard processes that yielded garments that either felt good but did not perform, like cotton; or garments that performed, but irritated the skin and retained odor, like polyester.”
In 2006, tasc started working with fabrics sourced from moso timber bamboo. Initially, the fabric had an amazing hand-feel but was very difficult to work with. But after two years of developing their unique BamCo® process, they came up with a fabric that feels better than cotton and performs as well (if not better) than traditional technical fabrics, with no chemical enhancements.
“The bamboo fabrics provide all the moisture-wicking, comfort and SPF properties of the polyester-based performance fabrics, but without the harsh chemicals,” Todd explained, “Polyester on its own does not offer any performance characteristics – the plastic yarn is treated with one chemical to wick moisture, one chemical to block the sun and yet another chemical to resist odor. So, at a minimum, three different and unique chemicals are applied to the garment for performance. In many cases, these chemicals will wash out of the fabric and are only guaranteed to be effective for a select number of trips through the washing machine. In addition, Polyester fabrics tend to hold on to the body’s sweat and moisture and promote the growth of bacteria – which is the real cause of gym odors on your workout apparel.”
One of my biggest complaints about traditional performance fabrics is that they work great in dry climates, Arizona, Colorado, etc. but in the deep south, not so much. Todd assures me tasc products are up to the task, “Our brand was born in New Orleans and our headquarters are still located there. We are certainly used to the heat and humidity of Southern life year round! Our apparel has been independently tested and proven to be a leader in moisture wicking fabrics and will definitely keep you feeling cool and comfortable even in the heat of a Mississippi summer!”
I haven’t had a chance to test their products in the heat yet but I can attest to their performance during the cold, and through a couple of the semi-warm spells we’ve had this winter. The fabric efficiently wicks the moisture away, the funkiness you get with the other fabrics is non-existent and they are so comfortable I want wear them all the time, not the case with my traditional technical clothes.
Today, tasc Performance has grown from their original fabric to include eight different fabrics designed for various activities and weather conditions.
It’s amazing to see how far athletic apparel technology has come. We’ve gone from working out in whatever we found in our closets to clothes specifically designed for every kind of weather condition imaginable. From cotton to man-made fabrics and now to bamboo; it makes me wonder what will be coming down the track next. For more information, visit tascperformance.com