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  1. Future Of Base Layers In The 21st Century

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    Future Of Base Layers In The 21st Century

    We are currently living through extraordinary times, with technological advances altering the way we live our day to day lives on an unprecedented scale. If you think about it, over the past thirty years we have seen the birth of the internet, introduction of not just hand held telephones but smart phones, music tapes to CD’s to streaming services and downloads, rise of ecommerce, tablet computers, social media, and wifi. But what about the future of base layers?

    You would think that the 21st century would be heralding in a new era of innovative yarns and fabrics to manage our bodies micro environment. Unfortunately reality is not as exciting. Since the introduction of synthetic yarn polymers polyamide, polypropylene, polyester and acrylic in the 1930s through to the 1950s their has been no major breakthrough in new synthetic yarn technology until the recent discovery of Graphene – and this is in it’s infancy stage. In fact a lot of ‘new’ yarns and fabrics are rehashes of existing technologies, just with more flashier images and branding.

    Do not be feel downhearted. Even though the core basics of synthetic base layers have not changed in more than sixty years, there are a lot of new developments in their construction and manufacturing that lifts them in to the 21st century.

    Knitting Technology

    One area that has drastically changed over the past 10 years is the technology employed in base layer manufacture. Traditional cut and sew methods are still the most popular production technique but this is being chased by semi-seamless and whole garment digital knitting machines. The benefit of these new machines is the electronic selection of needles, allowing you to knit totally different constructions within the same garment (body mapping) without having seams, such as in our Factor 1 Plus base layer range.

    Blended Yarns

    Since base layers were first developed there has always been a dividing line between natural yarn purists (such as wool wearers) and synthetic converts. This has now started to blur as natural and synthetic fibres are blended together to give you the benefit of both.

    A good example of this is in the Merino wool market where polyamide and/or elastane is mixed with the Merino wool fibres to add extra stability and better handling properties.

    Mimicking Nature

    Nature has been product developing for billions of years, which is why scientists are now starting to look at the natural world with more vigour as they have realised that nature has often solved problem before them.

    VELCRO was invented in 1948 after a Swiss inventor noticed burrs had stuck to his trousers and his dogs fur after walking in a field. More recently,
    a sugar found in crab shells called chitosan is being used to produce eco-friendly flame-retardant clothing.

    Base Layer Diversification

    When base layers were first conceived it was a one style fits all system. Very little choice was available, and the fabrics were based mainly on polyester. Roll forward forty years and the base layer landscape has changed drastically. With more people actually understanding the benefit of wearing them, there has been an explosion of styles and weights of base layers. This is only going to expand as digital knitting technology and sport specific clothing designers latch on to these new ideas and push base layers in to niche markets.

    Wearable Tech

    It has always been the holy grail of garment manufacturers and technologists to merge everyday electronic gadgets with clothing. However, the problem has always been with the miniaturisation of the technology and the longevity of it once it has been employed (the stretching and washing of fabrics is very destructive).

    Developments in flexible conductive material such as graphene eliminates a lot of these problems, and the improvements in nano-technology is seeing robust wearable modules being tested on base layers for the first time. One recent experiment we have been involved in has been integrating a heart monitor in to base layers for

    What Is The Future Of Base Layers?

    Even though the basic yarn technology employed in the production of most base layers has not changed since the middle of the twentieth century, there are lots of new advancements in their construction and the application of electronic soft technology to make them more than suited to the 21st century.

    The one area that will be a game changer for athletes and adventurers alike has already started with the advancement in digital knitting machines and body shape recognition software. Once these are refined and production costs reduced, it won’t be long until bespoke base layers will be produced for individuals remotely.

    The one thing that is for certain is that base layer design does not stand still. All it takes is a bit of ingenuity and the adoption of new technology. So with this in mind, what do you think the future of base layers will be?

  2. Why A Synthetic Base Layer Is Better Than Wool

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    Why A Synthetic Base Layer Is Better Than Wool

    Fashion always seems to go in full circles, and this is no more truer than with thermal underwear. For centuries wool had been the winter underwear of choice but this changed with the invention of man made yarns in the 1940s and 50s. New materials made from these raw materials lead to the spread of the synthetic base layer towards the end of the 20th century. However, over the past decade the market has seen a resurgence of performance woollen underwear, with synthetic base layers being much maligned, albeit by woollen vested interests.

    Before people start to dispose of their ‘plastic’ underwear and adopt a more ‘environmentally friendly’ woollen clothing system, they should really consider the following points:

    User Comfort

    Wool can be itchy. There is no getting away from it. If people have sensitive skin then it doesn’t matter how soft the wool actually is, it is going to irritate the wearer. Sometimes this can be psychosomatic, but that is no comfort if you are on top of a mountain scratching away.

    Synthetic fabrics on the other hand have a very soft handle, especially polyamide, that rarely irritates the skin. The long smooth fibre profile glides over the skin rather than scour it. This smoothness also helps other items of clothing to glide over a synthetic base layer, helping to prevent rubbing and chafing.

    Longer Lasting

    Being a natural product, wool will degrade over time. This was fashionably demonstrated by HRH Prince Charles who buried an old woollen jumper. Although this composting ability is seen as a major advantage it does have the disadvantage in that the longevity of a woollen base layer is short. You will be lucky if one set lasts you a season if used regularly.

    In comparison, a synthetic base layer will not degrade, well not in your lifetime anyway. Viewed mainly as a negative to the environmental lobby, this is in fact a positive – a thermal base layer for your lifetime. Most people only change their synthetic base layer if a) they loose it b) they boil wash it and shrink it c) change body shape that means the fit is no longer good d) fancy a different colour.

    Better Moisture Management

    Wool acts a bit like a sponge, soaking up moisture when in contact with it. Defenders of this process will state that it doesn’t feel wet, it’s just absorbed internally. OK, this is true for about 25% absorption, but if you fall in a body of water you are going to have a very heavy base layer. Just feel the weight of a washed jumper before the spin cycle.

    With a synthetic base layer basically being made form plastic, water absorption within the yarn is very low, and is in fact 0% in polypropylene base layers, effectively making them waterproof. The construction of the garment will dictate how much water is actually held (rather than absorbed) but this is often marginal. With these base layers, and especially polyamides, you can impregnate hydrophilic treatments in to the yarn itself to further aid moisture movement.

    Superior Washing

    Most people will have probably shrunk a woollen jumper at some point in their life. Its a natural reaction by the wool fibres to heat, water and mechanical action to want to revert back to their original curly shape. Think of straightened frizzy hair after getting rained on. Some woollen base layer can be washed on a cool cycle with no spin, but most recommend hand washing and line drying, which is ideal in the summer, but a pain in the bum in the winter when you are going to use them the most.

    Don’t get me wrong, synthetic base layers will shrink at high wash temperatures, but put them on a washing machine spin cycle at 30-40oC and you will have no issues. Due to their low water absorption, they will also dry much quicker.

    More Environmentally Friendly

    If you interviewed most outdoor enthusiasts, the vast majority would probably believe that woollen base layers are more environmentally friendly than synthetic versions. You can understand why. It’s a natural product that rots down and absorbed back in to the earth. But scratch a little further and all is not as it would seem. Wool is not something you just sheer off the back of a sheep and wear. There are a lot of energy intensive processes involved to get a finished product that is relatively soft and user friendly. So if you are having to buy one woollen base layer a year, over your lifetime that is a lot of energy and resources used.

    In contrast, a synthetic base layer may not be biodegradable but it will last a long time and is a lot more robust. You may only ever need one thermal set in your lifetime if you are lucky enough to stay the same shape. Once you have finished with, it can also be recycled in to the next base layer for someone else lifetime.

    Purchase Price

    For just coming off a sheeps back, the cost of a finished wool product is very expensive, mainly due to the amount of processes involved. A new set every year is going to be cost prohibitive to a lot of people, especially with the added risk of laundry damage and natural wear and tear.

    A good quality synthetic base layer of comparable weight and style will probably be around 15-25% cheaper. Once you start to multiply the cost by the lifetime of the garment, you are getting a lot more bang for your buck with a synthetic base layer.

    When Wool Should Be Used

    There are certain situations where we would advise woollen base layers to be used. If any person has the possibility of contact with fire such as in the aviation industry or the emergency services, then woollen base layers are ideal, as the fabric chars rather than burns. There are also industrial applications, such as welding, where sparks or high temperatures may be around the wearer.

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