As performance garments become more popular and more end-users request them, distributors need to become educated on the nuances of the fabric. Mahoney said often “the end-user will just say, ‘I want a Nike type of product,’ [or] ‘I want an Under Armor type of product.’” The problem with this, Mahoney said, is “they don’t really even understand what they’re asking.”
Lea Robinson, vice president of marketing at Staton Corporate & Casual, Dallas, had the following advice for distributors: “You have to know your customer. You can guide them into the right product, but only after you’ve asked the right questions.” In what environments will the garment be used? Is it for a special event or giveaway? Is it for employees in the office or in the gym? But beyond this, Robinson stressed knowledge of the product features. “You must know the product you are trying to sell,” she said.
“The world half understands most of these technologies,” said Gardiner, citing one issue facing distributors. A key point of confusion tends to be between wicking and absorption. “Absorption means that the drop of sweat is picked up from the skin and absorbed into the [fabric] but not moved anywhere,” explained Gardiner. In this case, the moisture is no longer on the skin but is on the fabric next to the skin. “Moisture transport means that the moisture is picked up on your skin and literally moved through the fabric to the surface where it’s dispersed, and that’s quite different from absorption,” he said.
The nature of the fabrics is also frequently misunderstood. Moisture transport is not necessarily a property of the microfiber polyester from which technical fabrics tend to be made. Moisture transport is a property of the construction of the fabric, not the inherent composition of microfiber. Since moisture transport is not a property of the thread but is an engineered construction, it can be incorporated into blended materials to meet a specific function. For example, Gardiner said, a moisture wicking poly-microfiber garment may seem like a good idea for a chef or line cook as he or she will need to stay cool but polyester wouldn’t be a good choice for such an application because it is not as flame resistant as other fabrics and tends to retain odors.