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[Consumer] Early summer speeds up battle over cooling apparel

Mesh, metal and cool fabrics bring down temperatures to boost fashion’s slow season

Summer came early this year, with temperatures already surpassing 30 degrees Celsius by mid-May in Seoul.

The hot weather has prompted activewear companies to roll out daily wear made with fabrics that dry fast and keep wearers cool, boosting sales in an otherwise slow season for fashion.

“The release of (cooling fabrics) was definitely moved up this year,” said a spokesman from Kolon Industries, which makes the sportswear brand Kolon Sports.

“Last year, most of those products came out in the first week of May, but this year we saw brands putting out commercials by mid-April.”

Many products mainly used the usual materials such as mesh, however, there were also new releases that help wearers keep cool in innovative ways. 

Icer T-shirt by Kolon Sports (Kolon Industries)
Icer T-shirt by Kolon Sports (Kolon Industries)

For instance, Kolon Sports’ Icer Collection this year offers items that combine Kolon’s self-developed atto Ice Pack material, linen, and other materials.

The atto Ice Pack material is lined with micro-sized capsules filled with camphor tree oil, which is used as a cooling agent in cosmetic products such as cleansers. When the fabric brushes against the wearer’s skin, the capsules create a cooling sensation.

Meanwhile, Millet’s summer lineup this year includes the Cold Edge T-shirt. The fabric used for the collection is lined with special polymers that swell up when interacting with sweat to cool down the body. 

Alma T-shirt utilizing Cold Edge technology from Millet (Millet)
Alma T-shirt utilizing Cold Edge technology from Millet (Millet)

LF’s outdoor brand Lafuma also came out with its Fresh Ice line, which maximizes absorption of heat and the release of sweat.

In designing their summer collections, some companies made changes to existing fabric to enhance the comfort of wearers in hot weather.

Adidas’ new ClimaChill collection brings down body temperatures with aluminum dots that line the inside of the back and neck areas, which are most prone to sweating. Eider’s Ice T fabrics were upgraded to Ice T Metal, in which titanium dots cover the inside of its products.

The Kolon Sports spokesperson said that these types of performance activewear target a larger market, as they are modeled after daily casual wear and use comparatively more neutral colors.

The wider target group comes as sportswear companies have seen falling revenues over the past few years. According to data from the Korea Outdoor & Sports Industry Association early this year, the activewear industry saw its growth rates slump to a single digit after 2014, a stark contrast from the 30 percent growth it experienced in its heyday in the late 2000s.

The push away from sportswear toward casual designs also puts pressure on other fashion companies, to develop their own cool apparel for summer.

Samsung C&T brand Bean Pole has spruced up its summer Delight Linen collection, which blends linen and polyester for light clothing that allows people to keep cool. Delight Linen 2.0 has a crisp texture and absorbs heat quickly to keep the body from feeling overly hot or sticky, according to the company.

According to a Samsung C&T spokesman, the new linen collection targets businessmen or businesswomen who want to “dress appropriately” but feel light. Focusing on business-casual looks, Bean Pole’s summer collection allows businessmen to stay cool while still donning a shirt and jacket, he said.

In the same vein, Kolon’s menswear line GGIO2 came up with the Zero Gravity Air Jacket this summer. The Air Jacket uses mesh materials to reduce the jacket’s weight by 30 percent and allow for air to move through the fabric. 

UNIQLO’s Airism products for women (UNIQLO)
UNIQLO’s Airism products for women (UNIQLO)

Leading fast fashion brand UNIQLO has also thrown its hat in the ring with a performance innerwear line called AIRism. The line uses special fabric that was developed by UNIQLO in partnership with fabric makers Toray and Asahi Kasei. The products are designed to be fast-drying, odor-resistant and stretchy for maximum comfort, according to the company.

By Won Ho-jung (