Color Measurement in Treated Sportswear: Spectrophotometers Lead the Way to Innovation

Sportswear sales are quickly eclipsing more traditional varieties of apparel. Image Source: Unsplash user Scott Webb

The early 2000s were the era of premium jeans. Popularized by celebrities like Britney Spears, Mariah Carey, and Kanye West, premium denim brands popped up by the dozen, offering a plethora of washes and cuts. Even in the face of recession, companies like True Religion, 7 For All Mankind, and Hudson proliferated despite high prices, as consumers clamored to get their hands on an endless array of $300 pairs. Then something changed. Sales declined, shuttering what were once some of the most desirable denim brands on the planet and leaving others in uncertain futures.

What accounts for this market decline? The answer lies in sportswear. “Buyers are increasingly filling their closets with yoga pants and leggings, which they’re wearing not just to the gym, but also to run errands and meet up with friends,” says Abha Bhattarai in the Toronto Star. “True Religion’s $319 skinny jeans have been replaced by Lululemon’s $98 yoga pants.”1 Indeed, as brands like Rock & Republic filed for bankruptcy, purveyors of athletic wear saw generous increases in sales. In 2016, “sales of sportswear outpaced all other categories for the third year in a row, increasing just under 7% in 2016 and ‘causing growth in other categories to look rather tame in comparison.’”.2.

As the sportswear market grows, so too does competition. As Allied Market research notes, brands like Under Armour, Nike, and Lululemon are having to step up their game to maintain presence. “Partnerships and acquisitions are prime growth strategies adopted by these companies to sustain the intense competition in the market,” notes Allied Market Research.3 One of the most fundamental strategies, however, is the consistent production of high-quality products paired with new technologies that increase appeal to buyers. And spectrophotometers are playing a prime role.

Innovations like anti-microbial and UV-protectant fabric additives are becoming vital components of sportswear. Image Source: Pexels user Mabel Amber

New and Novel Fabric Treatments

Athletic wear doesn’t just have to look good, it has to perform. With this in mind, sportswear manufacturers are introducing new and novel products that go beyond traditional apparel to give consumers clothing that does double-duty both during workouts and everyday activities. Two of the most important features to emerge from this new area of athletic textiles are anti-microbial and UV-protecting fabric finishing additives.

“Anti-microbial treatments […] can make clothing – including smelly socks – permanently germ-free,” says Jeff McMahon.4 Using spray on solutions, these treatments inhibit the growth of bacteria, rendering them permanently germ-free and making them ideal for use in hospital and other healthcare settings. But manufacturers of athletic wear have quickly realized the potential of antimicrobial treatments in their own products, as the absence of bacteria minimizes or eliminates the undesirable smells so often associated with sportswear products. “Dirt and body oils are difficult to remove and can leave your activewear smelling funky after only a few washes,” explains Melissa Fehr, a sportswear designer in London.5 As such, antimicrobial solutions are highly attractive components of sports apparel and are currently employed by athletic wear giants like Lululemon as well as smaller upstarts.

But anti-microbial additives aren’t the only fabric treatment taking the sportswear world by storm. With widespread concern about UV ray exposure and the emergence of better technologies, interest in UV-protectant clothing as risen sharply in recent years, particularly in the athletic apparel intended for outdoor use. “Sun-safe clothing has come a long way since the scratchy garments introduced in the 1990s,” said Adriana Barton in The Globe and Mail. “Manufacturers used to rely on tight weaves to block out the sun’s rays. [But] today’s sun-protective sportswear is more breathable, lightweight, and stylish. Garment makers use a combination of special dyes, minerals or chemical treatments to increase an item’s ultraviolet-protection factor or UPF.”6 Built-in UV protection allows users to spend considerable amounts of time participating in sports activities without having to worry about sun damage, whether their concern is sunburn, premature aging, or skin cancer. As such, these fabrics are essential for many consumers and an invaluable part of many sportswear lines.

Spectrophotometers allow for accurate measurement of textile colors, allowing manufacturers to account for textile treatments. Image Source: Pexels user Scott Webb

Color Measurement of Treated Sportswear

As sportswear grows in popularity, color quality and variety are of utmost importance to attract consumers. These colors must not only be appealing, but consistent in order to fortify brand identity and desirability. However, the anti-microbial and UV-protectant chemicals added to modern sports apparel complicate the color creation process, as they may alter the color quality produced by untreated formulations. As such, it is imperative to carefully measure the color of treated fabrics to ensure accuracy and consistency.

Spectrophotometers are ideally suited to monitor textile colors owing to their sophisticated optical geometries and objective distillation of chromatic data. Regardless of fabric texture and finish, spectrophotometers are able to capture vital information regarding color quality and behavior to facilitate color matching and ensure consistency. This data may be used to identify the precise impact of fabric additives and treatments, allowing manufacturers to tailor recipes and account for color shifts.

The user-friendly designs of today’s spectrophotometers allow operators to conduct precise color analysis without extensive training or laborious and time-consuming sample preparation. As such, sportswear companies are able to easily integrate color measurement in their quality control protocols at critical phases of production, ensuring that all products released into the marketplace are accurately colored. This is particularly important when color is an integral part of brand identity, as it ensures consistency and easy recognizability.

HunterLab Innovation

For over 60 years, HunterLab has helped clothing manufacturers obtain accurate data regarding the color of their products to heighten the quality and facilitate innovation. Today, we offer a versatile range of handheld, benchtop, and inline spectrophotometers to ensure precise spectral analysis in any environment. These instruments represent the highest level of color measurement technology available on the market today, which is why 7 of the world’s top ten unwoven fabric manufacturers choose HunterLab products. Contact us to learn more about our spectrophotometers, customizable software packages, and world-class customer service.

  1. “Pricey Jean Manufacturers Going Bankrupt”, July 10, 2017, https://www.thestar.com/business/2017/07/10/pricey-jean-manufacturers-going-bankrupt.html
  2. “Sportswear is Carrying the Global Apparel Industry”, January 23, 2017, https://qz.com/889672/sportswear-is-carrying-the-global-apparel-industry/
  3. Sports Apparel Market by End User (Men, Women, Kids) and Mode of Sale (Retail stores, Supermarkets, Brand outlets, Discount stores, Online stores) – Global Opportunity Analysis and Industry Forecast, 2014 – 2020”, October 2015, https://www.alliedmarketresearch.com/sports-apparel-market
  4. “New Antibacterial Clothing: Secret Ingredient Revealed”, July 9, 2011, https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2011/07/09/new-antibacterial-clothing-secret-ingredient-revealed/#3974c5153250
  5. “A Guide to Activewear Fabrics”, https://www.seamwork.com/issues/2015/01/a-guide-to-activewear-fabrics
  6. “Save Your Skin with Sun-Protective Clothing”, June 3, 2016, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/health/save-your-skin-with-sun-protective-clothing/article30257991/