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Mizuno: Sportswear (Breath Thermo, etc.)

Outline

Specialized sportswear exists for every sport, and the design of each product takes into account numerous considerations, including those relating to performance, comfort, ease of care, and designs which promote the competitive spirit. As a consequence, the technical development history of sporting goods manufacturers is often an illustration of how sportswear fabrics have evolved over time, and these two industries remain very closely linked: whether through collaborations with other fabric or materials manufacturers, or through the in-house development of functional fabrics, sporting goods manufacturers have always been involved in fabric manufacturing.

Mizuno is a Japanese sporting goods company which has extensive experience in the development of distinctive clothing materials for a wide range sportswear applications. In particular, the company is known as a pioneer in thermally insulating fabrics which are designed both to generate heat and to absorb moisture. These moisture-wicking, heat-generating fabrics are widely used today, not only for sports apparel, but also for everyday clothing and underwear. While this class of fabrics is now commonplace and numerous manufacturers have developed their own materials based on the technology, Mizuno developed the first such fabric, which now carries the trademark Breath Thermo.

The development of Breath Thermo began in 1992, when a sample of highly cross-linked acrylate fiber material was brought to the company. The material was naturally highly moisture absorbent, and the idea was born to adapt it as a high-performance thermal insulator by incorporating the principle of heat of adsorption (more on this below). The development team focused on water vapor emitted by the human body in its normal state, which is called insensible perspiration; in this form of perspiration, the moisture evaporates from the skin before it can form individual beads of sweat. When water molecules adsorb onto material fibers, their kinetic energy is converted into thermal energy—this is called heat of adsorption, and it can provide thermal insulation. The acrylate fiber brought to Mizuno was found to be extremely suitable for this application, both in its effectiveness as a moisture wicking material and its capacity for heat generation, and the development of products exploiting these properties began in earnest.

At the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, Breath Thermo was used as the inner padding material of the Japanese national team’s official ski suits. The material’s heat-generating and insulating properties were highly acclaimed at the time, and Mizuno decided to develop the material further, allowing it to be used in other textile products, not just padding. When the company entered the underwear market in 1997, it sold 12,000 pieces of underwear in a month, which was 1.5 times the expected number of sales. Now, in 2016, the company sells an extensive line of undergarments, including top and bottom underwear, arm warmers, tights, shirts, socks, and gloves, the range of which is comparable to that of dedicated underwear manufacturers. Furthermore, the company has licensed its materials to other businesses.

Some other characteristics of Breath Thermo include the following.
•    It has both high moisture adsorption and desorption capabilities, which makes it harder for excessive moisture to accumulate inside the fabric and make the wearer cold. Water desorption has a slight cooling effect due to negative heat of vaporization, but it is counterbalanced by the heat generated by water adsorption. As such, warmth within the garment is maintained by the following cycle: moisture adsorption --> heat generation --> moisture desorption --> moisture release --> moisture adsorption…
•    The effective moisture-wicking properties also make the garments more comfortable by preventing moisture build-up and stuffiness inside them.
•    It has deodorizing properties, which is extremely desirable for skin-contact materials, particularly in sportswear.

Sep 20, 2016

About the author
Hiromi Jitsukata is a reporter for Japanest NIPPON


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