Unlike other categories of apparel, performance clothing aims to do more than simply cover the body, providing warmth and project an image of the wearer's status and wealth. It also delivers a message about its own functionality; that of 'being fit for purpose.' A new report predicts that performance apparel will see good growth in the future.


Clothing originally covered the body, providing warmth, protection and modesty. It then transmogrified into fashion, delivering a statement about status, wealth and sophistication. Today that statement has developed further into one about clothing that performs.


Performance apparel in this context is designed to cope with the demands of the wearer's circumstances, as well as combating environmental risks.
A new report on performance apparel published by just-style.com - 'Global market review of performance apparel: forecasts to 2010' - splits the sector into two: performance apparel for sportswear and performance apparel for industrial protective clothing.
In addition, those who wear performance apparel can also be split into two sub-sections: sports people who purchase garments themselves for use in their chosen sports, and workers whose employers provide them with protective apparel.
The 2004 world sports apparel market is estimated to be worth $55.5 billion. Of this, just less than 10 per cent is what can be classed as performance apparel.
As true performance wear retails at substantially higher prices per garment than lower-market T-shirts and shorts, the market figure in volume terms is a lot lower, with the performance sportswear market estimated to be worth $5.36bn.
Turning to the world workwear market, a previous just-style report calculated the sector to be worth $4.2bn. Of this, approximately 35 per cent is protective wear, leading to an estimated $1.48bn for the world market in these products.
On track for continued growth
Performance sportswear is on track to continue growing, with its strength lying primarily in its price flexibility - namely its ability to sell for higher prices the more complex its construction - rather than in volume growth.
just-style predicts that over the next six years, protective wear will increase in value by 15 per cent from $1.48bn to $1.70bn.
The total wholesale market for performance apparel is predicted to total $3.8bn in 2010.
To be performance targeted, sportswear and protective wear need to display certain characteristics.
In the underwear, lingerie and swimwear category for example, apparel needs to be aerodynamic in sports that reveal the underwear or that need specialised underwear. When outerwear is subjected to extreme weather conditions, the accompanying underwear needs to provide warmth. In all cases, breathability is an important feature.
For socks and hosiery, thermal insulation, waterproofness, breathability and anti-odour properties are all likely to be important characteristics.
Shirts and blouses have become mostly obsolete in the sports world. However, for protective apparel, the ability to resist odours, and to be breathable and anti-microbial is key.
T-Shirts, singlets and polos need to be aerodynamic if worn for cycling, running or skating and, for cooler weather sports, need to provide thermal insulation. For sweats and fleeces, thermal insulation and windproofness are paramount.
Although knitwear has practically disappeared from use within sport, it is still crops up in industrial protective wear and uses semi-scientific marketing.
For jackets, trousers and overalls, the ability to provide warmth, waterproofness and windproofness are essential requirements.
Breakthroughs in performance fabric
After advancements were made in poly-cotton blends and membrane technology in the sixties and seventies, breakthroughs in performance fabric slowed down for almost 20 years. However, over the last few years the industry has thrown up a number of new product innovations, primarily in fibre technologies.
The general trend of today's advancements tends to be combining fabric traits which were previously mutually exclusive - for example, being waterproof and breathable and defending against dirt while allowing soil release.
However, just-style's report questions whether or not these developments will be sufficient to salvage the flagging dyeing and finishing industries of the US and EU, or encourage low cost country spinners and weavers to target the higher end of the market.
Success in the future
The performance wear market's success in the future rests on two key factors the report believes: the willingness of consumers to pay the steep costs that state-of-the-art sportswear fabric entail, and the willingness of industrial buyers to pay the prices that the best protectivewear solutions demand.
just-style's report concludes that although performance apparel will see good growth in the future, marketers of products in the developed world must consider the issues that their lower cost and quota free rivals pose.
These are:
• Whether or not the brand marketing/service offer can sell within the developed world when competing with local producers;
• If a brand is strong enough to attract developing country suppliers as business partners;
• If the company has enough control over low cost suppliers to prevent them from breaking into the market on their own initiative; and
• Whether businesses should try to control supply, or to form strategic partnerships.

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