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Smarter Clothing

Join Techno Mum as she looks at the ideas and engineering behind the gadgets!

On a hot day it can be uncomfortable to even go for a walk. Imagine being an athlete competing in a hot country and having to move quickly under pressure to win.  Similarly when it’s very cold, or wet it can be difficult to give your best performance.  So what’s the solution?


There are lots of things that can help to keep pro athletes comfortable, and the clothing they wear is an important factor.

Have you noticed that even our everyday clothing has some pretty advanced technology in it – cosy fleeces, and jackets made of breatheable Goretex?  The same fabrics are used in sportswear to keep us dry and warm.

And to keep us cool, all the big sports clothing companies have developed new materials and fabrics which are great for wicking away sweat whilst retaining moisture.  Again, athletes and non-athletes alike can benefit from the technology.


Gore-Tex was co-invented by Wilbert L. Gore and Gore’s son, Robert W. Gore. In 1969, Bob Gore stretched heated rods of a compound called polytetrafluoroethylene and created an expanded version which under the right conditions turned into a microporous (breathable) substance that stretched about 800% and that was around 70% air.


And its not just comfort – it can help to avoid injury too. You might not think that clothing could stop you getting injured but new materials really can.  Hockey players need to protect their ankles because of the speed of the game, so a tough material made from optic fibres is woven into their socks.

And today there are exciting new types of clothing based on compression.  By compressing limbs, it increases blood flow and protects muscles on impact.  They’re being used for a whole range of sports, from high impact sports like the high jump and triathlon, to everyday sport like jogging, cycling and even golf.  And as well as providing protection during sport, they can help with recovery afterwards. 


Some training gear has sensors in it so that coaches can monitor progress as people train but integrated fitness trackers can be incorporated into clothing that is worn whilst the athlete is competing to collect stats about their body functions and collect data about their performance.

It’s a technology that’s beginning to become more widely seen. On June 29, 2021 in the 2021 European Championships, Ukrainian football player Artem Dovbyk scored the game winning goal against Sweden to send his team to the quarter-finals of the Euro 2020. As Dovbyk and his team celebrated, he took off his shirt and appeared to reveal a sports bra – it wasn’t!  Dovbyk was actually wearing a fitness tracker from a company called STATSports.

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Of all the smart clothing that’s been developed, swimwear’s been one of the most controversial topics.  For many years nylon was the big innovation – stretchy and light, and quick to dry.  Then in the early 2000, Speedo released the LZR – a full body suit made of nylon and polyurethane.  It was the choice of many athletes at the Beijing Olympics and 94% of the races won and 98% of records broken were by swimmers in, guess what? The LZR! 

The suits were banned, as were any similar body suits. The Olympic Committee determined that the fabric of suits must be air permeable, and a suit may not have any fastening devices such as a zipper – this was to discourage the use of wetsuit like costumes.

The way LZR trapped air helped the swimmer stay afloat and the compression elements were thought to give an unfair advantage.

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Competitors are going to want to get the very best results and manufacturers want them to wear their brands and will put a lot of money into developing lighter, tougher, faster and smarter clothing to do the job.  And we all get the benefits – as the technology filters down into the shops on the high street.

For more information visit The IET.

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Techno Mum

Ever wondered how things work? Ask Techno Mum!

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