Key Elements in Developing Performance Clothing


Emily Lane, Bret Schnitker


October 24, 2022


Emily Lane 00:09 

Welcome to Clothing Coulture, a fashion industry podcast at the intersection of technology and innovation. I'm Emily lane. 

Bret Schnitker 00:17 

I'm Bret Schnitker. We speak with experts and disruptors who are moving the industry forward 

Emily Lane 00:21 

and discuss solutions to real industry challenges. 

Bret Schnitker 00:24 

Clothing Coulture is brought to you by Stars Design Group, a global design and production house with more than 30 years of experience. 

Emily Lane 00:35 

Welcome back to another episode of Clothing Coulture. Today, we're going to be talking about performance clothing and different decisions that should be made along the way to make sure that your apparel design actually performs the way that it needs to. Now Bret performance clothing is a really big category. How would you describe performance wear? 

Bret Schnitker 00:59 

Yeah, I think it's, it's a piece of apparel that while most items in our culture have some aesthetic performance, where the ultimate goal is functionality, and you know, it takes it shape, like you mentioned, in so many different forms, when people think about performance, where they might think of the obvious, right, the two main kind of performance companies out there, you know, running clothing, things like that. But performance can be very, very wide, you know, mountain climbing clearly, even firemen, if you look at it, that's a functional garment, right form of performance where so it can take many shapes and forms. And understanding where you're fitting within that particular aspect of performance where you're gonna make a number of decisions based upon that. 

Emily Lane 01:49 

I can imagine and I think that there's probably decisions all throughout the process of the development cycle of a garment to make to again, ensure that you're really optimizing the performance side of that piece of apparel. 100%. Yeah, you kind of look at just the over arching steps along the way, you know, making sure you're understanding who is wearing the garment and how it needs to function and developing that design to the functional need fabric selection, technical finishes, garment construction, fit and spectrums, all of those things have considerations to make all along the way. So maybe let's start at the beginning of this cycle of where you're really understanding the wearer to help kind of determine, you know, what are some of those things that you really need to consider to make sure that it performs? 

Bret Schnitker 02:39 

Yeah, I think, again, for this particular category, it's important to do the research is to sit down and understand all of the parameters of that target consumer. Right. If your thinking is simple, it's probably not simple. For those that are out there running, it's not simple. But if you're thinking about a runner that might be in a more rainy climate, then in analyzing that, you know that the runner after he's exerting himself for a period of time, it's not all the time an issue of warmth, he's burning a lot of energy. So many times you want to be able to insulate, but not overheat. So you got to have a certain weight of garment. Let's say he's running in the rain all the time. So you're gonna look at that kind of type of person. And make some attributes fit to that simple is like a hood on a garment or water repellent or rain repellent. And then it can get much more complicated. Climate being a key. Sure, absolutely. Climate what that particular person is doing. 

Emily Lane 03:38 

So movement, yep. Right. Yeah, for sure. And then you talk about, you know, garment protection, like additives to make sure it's weatherproof, and so forth. And other I'm sure. A long list of things. Yeah. So after you understand how the garment needs to perform, you really start going into that functional design phase. What What should we be looking at? 

Bret Schnitker 04:02 

Yeah, so again, you know, kind of that look at the particular individual that you're building the garment for, you're going to be looking at things like in functional design, you're going to be looking at ergonomics, you're going to be looking at movement. In particular ways you're going to be looking at venting, resistance to elements, different ways to construct a garment in terms of like I mentioned, the hood, you know, the removable hood, the ability to layer and and layer, all those steps in that functional design. The actual design of the garment itself outside of the aesthetic is where you really start at the beginning. 

Emily Lane 04:40 

Right, I understand once you are through that design phase and fabric selection is probably pretty key too but it is suppose that might happen in tandem with 

Bret Schnitker 04:50 

will certainly be part of it. You know, you're going to analyze fabrics for requirements and look at the detail of fabrics. So let's use a basic shirt to begin with like a A poly spandex type garment. So you're going to analyze whether that person wants more compression or less compression spandex. When you're looking at that particular fabric, a lot of people think you add more spandex, you get more stretch, right? You add more spandex, you actually have more compression. So do you want the garment to provide more stability to the where you're going to add more spandex, you're going to look at the material, you're going to use the breathability aspect of that material, most polyesters and nylons. The y're hydrophobic. So if someone's running and perspiring, the fabric alone is going to get pretty uncomfortable, because you're going to these rivulets of perspiration running down your body. Cotton, on the other hand, will absorb that may not release it quickly, it's going to absorb it being hydrophilic hydrophobic. And so you're going to look at the actual content of the fabric, you're going to look at the structure of the fabric, because in some cases, performance, you're going to have some sort of an action. You know, and that action may require the fabric to be more durable than a typical fashion garment, if you will. So understanding all those elements and applying those into your fabric considerations are really critical. 

Emily Lane 06:10 

Oh, right, I would think so making sure that you don't get abrasion and you're making re really smart selections. 

Bret Schnitker 06:16 

And that gets down to the fiber. I mean, honestly. 

Emily Lane 06:18 

So we've talked about the fabric, but what about things like the actual thread that's bringing it together? Yeah, the 

Bret Schnitker 06:24 

sewing threads. So there's two steps that improve performance on a garment like that. Certain threads provide more stability, poly core threads, sometimes it's a thicker thread, not always, but can provide more stability. But it's also how that sewing thread attaches the garment together, you know, we've got all different types of stitches from basic safety such as that go very, very fast, that may not provide the durability, you want to more complicated things like mero stitches, or six over four flat locks. And those things seam to garment together in a way that provides more durability under demanding conditions. 

Emily Lane 07:02 

One of the things that I hear you often say is that everybody wants a garment to do something, even if they don't know what that something is. And one of those things that commonly comes up is wicking. Yeah. And what is interesting to me is how many people provide a different explanation for what wicking really is wicking, of course, being one of those finishes along the way. So I'd love it if you could help provide a little clarity on that. And then maybe also some additional insight on some technical finishes that can really add some attributes in performance. 

Bret Schnitker 07:34 

Sure, I think that people don't understand how complex those decisions are when you enter into these fabric finish worlds. And you're right, you know, people that are heavily into the space, they certainly understand what wicking is brief definition, it really takes hydrophobic fabrics like poly, that don't absorb water and creates an action where that water moves across the surface much more quickly and allows for evaporation, which creates a cooling effect. And there's tests to conduct how fast that water moves across the surface, how quickly the evaporation takes place. And even within wicking, there's kind of what we call kind of Vermouth on our martini working. After five washes, it's probably kind of temporary, to wicking components built into the actual yarn itself. And there's a lot all the way through it. And each one has different cost considerations. So other things like UPF, ultraviolet protection, warmth, and retention, far infrared, there's just this long list of performance things that you can add to garments. And it can be complex, because sometimes you'll place let's say if you using different treatments to achieve a multitude of performance enhancing effects, so the garment sometimes a specific decision you make for wicking and then a decision that you make for let's say, an anti soil, they cancel each other out. So you have to really understand the nuances and the variability is within those finishes for sure. 

Emily Lane 09:03 

I imagine that this is something that's ever evolving as 

Bret Schnitker 09:05 

well. Oh, technology is always evolve and it stars we've been involved in basic working to advance microencapsulation for years, there's the ability to encapsulate health additives into the fiber itself or the fabric itself and sometimes on the surface from a pleasing effect. You can have these things that as you buy friction to it, it releases scent. Or if you apply friction to the particular garment, it might release a vitamin E or something like that. There's some amazing things going on in the industry today. 

Emily Lane 09:35 

It almost sounds like super fabrics to me. Yeah, 

Bret Schnitker 09:38 

super fibers go all the way to things like nano ceramic coatings. Schoeller is a super Fabric Company that we've worked in the past and they have a particular thing not to advertise for Schoeller but I'm particular I really enjoy the work they do but they have a thing called coal black. It's a nano ceramic coating that refract sunlight energy you know if you have a dark garment, sunlight hits it at one to absorb the radiation of the sun, therefore, that garment gets a lot hotter than something like if you're wearing a white garment, which reflects sunlight energy. And so they've created this nano ceramic coating that you can apply, and then the dye bath that refracts that energy in the garment actually stays cooler. So there's just really exciting technologies that exist, 

Emily Lane 10:20 

my gosh. So I think also, along the way, talking about fit, and spec is also a key element. You know, I think when you're looking at some of the opportunities there, during actually the design process, you know, putting the garment on an avatar, putting it in motion and things like that really helping you again, see is this going to function the way that it needs to function for the wearer, or are there any other kind of additional differences and things that we should be looking at during this fit and spec fit? 

Bret Schnitker 10:51 

Again, it goes back to knowing your customer, because I would tell you in this performance world, in particular segments, you will have key demographics and body types. Sometimes in a particular performance situation, the body types we born linear, because by nature, they burn fat at a very, very steady rate, they're very much in shape. So they're going to have a different body type in general. So understanding that customer, and building garments to your demographic is super important. You can't just take a general specification for all of the apparel industry and apply it and you're probably going to lose some satisfaction. So creating your perfect customer, if you will, and the attributes and the body types that they are. And we all fit in three different body types, Endo, Ecto, and mesomorphic. They all have different shapes, and some of these performance categories, there'll be a higher prevalence of that particular body shape than others, not in every case. But understanding because we all come in different shapes and sizes, understanding what your customer is, is that foundation for building spec toward you know, satisfaction with a certain industry and then making learnings as you continue to go along to maybe tweaks back as you go along. But I think that you know, with Stars, one of the benefits that we have, and it's happening more readily is what you mentioned, you know, 3d prototyping has helped us make decisions much faster, because we can take an avatar in a virtual space that has the specific measurements for a key target demographic or a key target type of performance where and then take the pattern virtually apply that to that particular avatar, apply grid mapping, put them in motion, and you can really see where fabric is tighter if you're on a particular motion or fabric is looser and make fit adjustments in real time really, really quickly. And especially in the performance world, these particular things are really critical. 

Emily Lane 12:53 

Yeah, absolutely, I can share some of those kind of interesting examples of where, you know, putting an avatar in a certain position has maybe shifted some of the design attributes. 

Bret Schnitker 13:05 

Yeah, I think we had a certain customer that was in a kind of a performance bottom category. And they had run up pant for a number of years with this one to five star rating, there was a ton of feedback that as the individual got into a crouching position that in this particular category, they did quite a bit, you know, you'd get that quote clovers. Coming down the back, the back, the back rise would pull down and there would be some uncomfortability back there, probably for others, maybe a little breezy, and and then it was some tightness across the thighs that they were struggling with. You know, in the old days, you would take their garment, you kind of break it apart and you'd get their pattern, you try to work the pattern, you develop and build your own garment. Using your revised pattern, you'd get a fit model out there you get opinions, you get some visualization is that particular model crouched down in our world, we can actually take their pattern, put it into a virtual space on an avatar, take our pattern right beside it, put it into a space. In this particular case, we showed how we could balance that out and not have those issues and rectify those in a much quicker timeframe. Because we could put that avatar in motion, you saw immediately the visible differences. And there was a much quicker fix. Yeah. And this wasn't something that we particularly about the table, but it's a very good example, we produce for a very large Motorcycle Company. And when you think about even lifestyle or performance apparel for that company, you have to think about what that person's doing. Typically, that person's got their arms outstretched holding on to right, you know, the handles of the motorcycle. And so one of the things that they discovered after trial and error probably in the beginning, was that you needed to make the arm longer, even though that when you're wearing them in a typical environment hanging out at the bar, that there might seem a little long but the minute that you got on the bike, then all of a sudden they would help perform better. And some of those performance attributes, when you look at that are, they're under sunlight. So, so many times the shirts themselves are up of protection, they protect the writer from getting sunburned on the arms or whatever else. So 

Emily Lane 15:14 

it's fascinating. Are there decisions to be made at the trim phase? 

Bret Schnitker 15:19 

Yeah, trims are identifiable logos, things like that, then in the overall apparel space, but in the performance space, you know, we look toward trims that hold performance characteristics. So some of those trims could be reflective trims. And there's again, a wide variety of reflective choices, some that that certainly pass safety standards from a distance that a certain light source, etc. And so those are certainly important conditions, trims for sealing off water. So if you've got a rain jacket, and maybe a kind of a lower to moderate rain jacket in the fashion space, it's not built for what's happening today, actually. It's pouring. So those kind of fashion rain jackets and a lot of cases, water will start to seep through. So a trim choice if you're really trying to amp up the performance of a jacket. So in a torrential rainstorm, you don't get wet, you'd be using waterproof zippers, they're very specialized zippers that you can attach all over the garment. And then you can close that zipper up. And you can do that also to ensure in that particular case, for you hear the thunder, for that particular case, to make sure that you're going to stay dry, you're going to apply taped seams on the inside. So after the garment is all sewn, they actually apply this taping onto the garment. Because every time you're making a needle hole to so something little atoms of water can actually get through and the inside of your garment, you know, the where it can get wet. So there's all these different things that can be applied. And that's just a few examples of many. 

Emily Lane 17:02 

Yeah, I remember speaking of zippers, you're telling a story of again, getting in the mindset of who's going to be wearing it giving a project that the garment was going to be worn out on the open waters. And so understanding that it would be getting what a lot. And then, you know, discovering the need to make sure that the zippers won't rust 

Bret Schnitker 17:22 

well, that was particular to ocean going travel. So saltwater will occur metal zippers. So very quickly, you recognize you better not be using metal zippers for anything. That's yeah, in the midst of saltwater, 

Emily Lane 17:35 

so many decisions to be made all throughout the process, all of which I'm sure affect price point and of course, overall satisfaction. So there's a lot to weigh. Do you think as kind of key takeaways are there any of these things that you would prioritize over one or the other, 

Bret Schnitker 17:51 

listen in the performance world. And and I'm not talking about large scale, I think that there's maybe a different business model for maybe some large scale performance companies. But for those where there's this passion at heart for performance function should come first price should be a result. And they know sometimes in an environment like ours, that's a difficult conversation. But I believe and again, this world of one to five star ratings with a community of active people that will be wearing your garments, it's important to make sure that you know you're looking at the details. And you're really talking through those even seasoned experts like us after many years, without a lot of dialogue without actually working with those clients and experimenting with different items and different conditions, we can miss things because these different activities can have little twists and turns where the process of experimentation the process of application is super important, I think focusing on executing those obsessing about those details, executing those over time making learnings as things have been out there function super important in this area. And the end the result, I think whether the garments, a little more expensive or less expensive, customers who are really passionate about some of these key areas, the price is kind of secondary for them, right, because they have a need, they have a need. And they really want many times they invest a lot in new equipment in these particular demographics. So they're also kind of think the same about the apparel that they wear. 

Emily Lane 19:25 

One of my favorite case studies in this particular category was done by a brand that we love Three As Four, and you know, just looking again, at how vast this group of performances, they were hired by a symphony to create apparel for the performers of the symphony. And you know, that might not have been something that originally a lot of people out there would think that you know, musicians you would need performance where but what they did is they really got into the mindset of each player and the instrument that they played and the unique challenges that they have to address. As in designing clothes for each one of the instruments in the symphony and custom designed pieces for each wearer, and then of course, how improve their overall performance. It was just so fascinating to think. Yes, musicians require performance. Were also 

Bret Schnitker 20:15 

for sure a lot of people watch those who don't really think but try dragging a bow across for an hour or so. 

Emily Lane 20:22 

Right? Playing the timpani. Very physical. So yeah, so it's a very broad range of categories. A lot to consider and I think that you provided some great insight into all the various decisions along the way that can be made to really make sure that your garments perform, make sure to subscribe and stay apprised of upcoming episodes of Clothing Coulture 

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Key Elements in Developing Performance Clothing