Clothing retailers want you to stay cool, stay fresh

May 25th, 2010 by Sandra Barron

Summertime, and the business suits are cool

Summertime, and the business suits are cool

UNIQLO Dry

UNIQLO Dry

Summer in Japan is hot and humid. Newspapers wilt. Mold flourishes. Even non-electrically heated toilet seats feel pre-warmed. Subways set the air conditioning to arctic or just blast the fans to stir the muggy air around.

The Japanese government’s Cool Biz initiative launched in the summer of 2005 by then-Prime Minister Koizumi encourages workers to cope by taking off their ties and ditching their jackets. To cope, that is, with a carbon-emission reducing and sweat-increasing thermostat setting of 28 degrees Celsius. (Farenheit friends, let me save you a second. That’s an indoor temperature of 82 degrees.)

The jury may be out on how significant the emissions cut is and whether the initiative has helped or hurt the economy. But in the prospect of the workforce stewing in steamy offices all day, retailers have seen a great opportunity to push clothing lines with coolness built in. Ito Yokado also saw a ready-made tagline; its budget-conscious Power Cool and Mira-kool clothes are all categorized as “Cool Biz goods.” The company is just one of many retailers taking advantage of new fabric technology – anti-bacterial! anti-odor! – from manufacturers such as Toray and Asahi Kasei. They even say that washing won’t dilute the funk-busting properties.

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From Comme Ca Ism, one example of woven-in deodorant

Just in time for summer, Wacoal has put out a line of bras and other underthings made of a breathable fabric meant to reduce sweat. The bras are called “suusuu,” a word that hints at the idea of an absorbent fabric and invokes the feeling of a breeze. They have strategically placed strips of open mesh for ventilation. The Web site has a rollover “sweat body map” accompanied by infographics reflecting how people surveyed feel about sweat: the number one concern is shirt stains, followed by smell.

Uniqlo is following up the success of its slick winter Heattech layers with TECH Silky Dry innerwear for men and women. The women’s line of ultra-thin “air-conditioned” unmentionables is called Sarafine. Some of the camisoles come with removable underarm pads. For men, there are tops and bottoms made of slippery, stretchy Silky Dry. Both the men’s and women’s lines claim anti-odor, anti-bacterial properties.

In addition, Uniqlo has rolled out a UV-blocking line of knits. The UV Cut line is a collaboration with Anessa, a sunscreen from cosmetics maker Shiseido.

Can these fabrics really stand up to the heat and humidity that makes showering feel all but futile? It hasn’t been quite hot enough yet this year to fully test these. On those days when walking to the train in the morning feels like a full-on workout, any promise of coolness will probably find some sweaty takers.

Have you found any high-tech fabrics that actually help you keep cool? Any traditional tactics that work better?

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